It’s time for California Gov. Gavin Newsom to pick a side in the debate about vaccines. Will he choose science and public health? Or will he side with conspiracy theories and the spread of dangerous yet preventable diseases?
We think the choice is clear, but Newsom seems uncertain. After signaling his intention to sign Senate Bill 276 earlier this summer, the governor seems to be waffling at the last minute.
SB276, authored by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, aims to prevent “unscrupulous” doctors from providing baseless medical exemptions to parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children. The bill would crack down on doctors who allow parents to evade the state’s immunization laws by providing unjustified medical exemptions. It still would allow the statistically small percentage of children who need medical exemptions to get them.
Supporters of the bill argue that it’s necessary because the number of medical exemptions has more than quadrupled since the state banned exemptions based on “personal belief” in 2015, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Californians generally embrace modern science. Some 73 percent strongly support the state’s mandatory vaccine law, according to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Yet, a small but loud group of anti-vaccine activists have made SB276 — a straightforward public health bill rooted in medical science — into one of the year’s most contentious political debates.
Legislators supporting SB276 have been targeted with death threats and, in the case of Pan, physical violence. In August, an anti-vaccine activist assaulted Pan, a doctor, as he walked in downtown Sacramento.
The anti-vaccine movement is rooted in misinformation and anti-science paranoia. At its core, the anti-vaccination movement is not about vaccines. It’s an anti-government conspiracy theory. In order to believe the anti-vaccination line, you have to believe the government is working to cover up a big, harmful secret. It’s paranoid thinking.
Yet despite its unhinged nature, the anti-vaccine movement appears to have found sympathetic ears in the state Capitol. Senate Republicans voted against SB276, which passed with a vote of 28-11. And now Newsom is telegraphing some queasiness about signing the bill, despite expressing support earlier this summer.
With dangerous diseases like measles making an unwelcome comeback because of anti-vaccination paranoia, Newsom has every reason to sign SB276. It’s time for the governor to stop equivocating and make it clear where he stands on vaccinations.