George Boardman: Anti-vaxxer mayhem has Newsom running scared on exemption measure |

George Boardman: Anti-vaxxer mayhem has Newsom running scared on exemption measure

George Boardman
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Plug edition

PERSONAL LICENSE plate I like: AUB TAT2 … THE TECHIES who used to say “information should be free” are now selling it to the highest bidder … CBS13 News claims it’s getting answers for me, but it keeps asking questions that don’t interest me … I WONDER how many people at the Auburn Target store recently recognized Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” on the store’s music feed? ... YOU WILL probably dribble if you try to talk out of both sides of your mouth …

Take a close look at your children’s classmates, particularly if they’re in the first or second grade. Through no fault of their own, those cute little kids could be ticking time bombs.

Some of those children are dangerous because they haven’t been vaccinated, victims of parents who believe there is a government plot to hurt their children while ignoring the proven science that vaccinations are one of the great advances of mankind.

Because these parents can point to no science to back their claims, they resort to civil mayhem and loud discourse to try to thwart authority and draw the gullible and unthinking to their side. Just look at the experience of state Senator Richard Pan, who in real life is a pediatrician.

Pan wrote the legislation in 2015 abolishing the “personal belief” exemption allowing parents to enroll their children in public schools without proper immunization. When anti-vaxxers responded by finding unscrupulous doctors to write bogus medical exemptions, Pan introduced SB 276 to crack down on the practice.

How have Pan’s critics responded? Well, he has been demonized, targeted by recall campaigns, and threatened with death. Recently, he was physically assaulted by Austin Bennett, an anti-vaccination activist who is known for promoting conspiracy theories about chemtrails and mass shootings. “…yes, I pushed Richard Pan for lying, laughing at us, and for treason,” Bennett wrote about the incident he videotaped. (He received a misdemeanor citation from Sacramento police.)

The Sacramento Bee reported that co-sponsors of SB 276 “say they’ve been receiving death threats for months. Someone in June mailed Assembly members dozens of bricks etched with appeals to kill the measure. On Twitter, celebrities heckle vaccine proponents…”

Anti-vaxxers have ramped up the paranoia by accusing legislators of attempting to “sacrifice children,” claiming that “Any lawmaker who votes yes on SB 276 will have blood on their hands.”

When the bill came up for a vote before the Assembly Appropriations Committee August 30, opponents tried to derail the measure by standing on chairs, chanting slogans, and disrupting the proceedings.

All of this would be sad but laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that people are actually rallying to the cause. New York City just announced the end of its worst measles outbreak in 30 years, one of the reasons the U.S. is in danger of losing its measles elimination status.

In order for a disease to be declared eliminated, there must be no continuous transmission of it for more than 12 months. There have been more than 1,200 measles cases confirmed in 30 states so far this year — three times the number of cases confirmed in all of 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease was declared eliminated 19 years ago in what was considered one of public health’s greatest achievements. “We’re embarrassed, we’re chagrined,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The U.S. isn’t alone when it comes to losing the battle against diseases that can be eliminated. Europe reported more than 90,000 measles cases in the first half of 2019 — more than all of last year — and four countries have lost their measles-free designation: Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom.

Officials of the World Health Organization attribute the outbreak to a misinformation campaign about the MMR vaccine, which inoculates against measles, mumps and rubella. That has led to resistance to the vaccination in a number of developed countries.

To buy the anti-vaccination line, you have to believe the government and pharmaceutical companies are working proactively to harm children by — irony alert here — protecting them from deadly and debilitating diseases. It’s paranoid thinking, but it resonates with a small minority of people who fervently embrace the irrational fear of immunization.

Some opponents to Pan’s legislation — some of them possibly sincere — frame the issue as one of parental rights. “This is about personal freedom and the right of parents to make the best choices for their children,” said newly minted state Senator Brian Dahle after voting against Pan’s bill. “This bill goes too far. You’re telling everybody how to live their lives.”

(I wonder how Dahle views the mandate that children attend school and the laws prohibiting parents from physically abusing their children? After all, these are limitations on the ability of parents to raise their children as they see fit.)

Republicans in the state Assembly and all 11 GOP state senators voted against SB 276 when it passed both houses of the state Legislature last week. But if you live in the north end of the state, this sentiment crosses party lines. Elizabeth Betancourt, the sole Democrat seeking to replace Dahle in the state Assembly, said, “People should be able to control their own children’s health” when asked about vaccines at the Rood Center candidates forum last month.

After the state Senate approved the measure last week, dozens of protesters shut down the floor session with their chanting before heading to the governor’s office. “You are not representing California for all,” they yelled, with several holding upside down American flags.

The chants may have reached Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is now expressing reservations about the bill he endorsed in June. SB 276 currently requires doctors to certify under penalty of perjury that their medical exemptions are accurate. It also mandates scrutiny of doctors who have issued more than 5 exemptions, including exemptions made before the bill takes effect.

Newsom reportedly wants to eliminate the perjury penalty and the retroactive counting of exemptions. Pan said Newsom agreed to sign the bill as is, and he’s not interested in making any changes now.

One of Newsom’s top advisers now says his signature on the measure isn’t guaranteed. Newsom would “only put his signature on a bill that reflects his values,” chief strategist Daniel Zingale told reporters.

This is the second time Newsom’s tried to weaken the bill, strange behavior from a state leader who urges more spending on public health and touts the science behind laws to protect the public. What’s he afraid of? Time to show us some backbone, governor.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at

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