How Anti-Vaccine Activists Doomed a Bill in New Jersey

Last year, New York lawmakers passed a bill ending all non-medical exemptions and religious exemptions to immunization after a measles outbreak, and New Jersey was set to follow by mandating students at any public or private school receive vaccines. But after the bill passed the Assembly, an amendment was added excluding private schools, and critics argued that would have allowed only the affluent to have a choice in vaccination. The bill was torpedoed after a vigorous campaign by angry parents, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group and anti-vaccine celebrities rallied to outmatch those pushing the bill.  Social media allowed opponents to reach directly into lawmakers’ private lives and some politicians’ family members were even contacted by phone. Del Bigtree, producer of “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appeared at a rally in the state capital.

New York, California, Mississippi and West Virginia, have ended religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccination, and there is legislation pending to do so in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Maine lawmakers also approved ending most non-medical exemptions last year, but, under heavy pressure from groups opposed to mandatory vaccines, will ask voters to decide the fate of the policy in a March ballot referendum.

Angry parents, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group and anti-vaccine celebrities rallied to outmatch one of the state’s most powerful elected leaders.

As a measles outbreak raged last year, New York lawmakers passed a bill ending all nonmedical exemptions to immunization, handing supporters of such efforts across the nation a major victory.

Then the focus shifted to New Jersey, where an even more sweeping bill had been making its way through the State Legislature that would have barred nearly all exemptions to vaccines for students at any public or private school, including colleges, which were not covered by the New York law.

But on Monday the bill collapsed in spectacular fashion, torpedoed by angry parents and the mobilization of national anti-vaccine celebrities who were able to outmatch one of the state’s most powerful elected leaders.

The story of how they succeeded involves a wide range of forces in New Jersey and beyond that coalesced to doom the bill at a time when a spate of deaths from measles has been reported in Samoa, a Pacific island nation that had a low vaccination rate, and public health officials are urging greater flu vaccination because of more severe strains this year.
An influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization that had remained largely silent as the New York bill was being debated deliberately pivoted, opting to vocally oppose the New Jersey legislation on grounds of religious freedom.

Grass-root parent groups successfully leveraged social media and conservative talk radio in their effort to convince most Republican leaders to line up against the bill. A Facebook page named Occupy Trenton urged parents to converge at the State House. And, in the final week of debate, appearances by a Kennedy scion and a contrarian filmmaker helped fuel a libertarian argument that parents, not government, should control their children’s health care.

The intense protest left two Democratic senators with cold feet that no degree of political cajoling — or a private question-and-answer session for lawmakers with three pediatricians from the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics — could thaw.

“I have never seen an issue that brought together grass-roots people like this,” said Senator Robert Singer, a Republican who opposed the legislation.

He represents Lakewood, which includes a heavily Orthodox Jewish community that is home to one of the largest yeshivas in the world. But he said many of the thousands of calls and emails his office received over the last month were from non-Orthodox families.
“Many were not Republicans; many were independents and Democrats,” he said. Parents told him they feared their children would be harmed if they followed the mandatory vaccination schedule. “I saw people call me, scared,” Mr. Singer said.

Doctors and public health experts have said the legislation was needed to halt the uptick in the number of unvaccinated children in New Jersey, and to prevent the kind of measles outbreak that occurred in the region last year. They emphasized that there was an overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective.

The bill passed last month in the Assembly. But lawmakers who supported the legislation also may have made a political miscalculation when they introduced an amendment that excluded private schools to win the vote of a Republican needed to achieve a majority in the Senate. Instead, opponents, including an African-American Democratic assemblyman, argued that this amounted to segregation that would allow only the affluent a choice about vaccination.
Both sides have described the clash in New Jersey as a key front in a nationwide conflict, and perhaps the biggest victory for vaccine skeptics seeking to counter a growing effort to end religious exemptions to childhood vaccines.

“We’re ready to go to war on this,” the powerful Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney, said after it was clear the bill did not have the votes it needed to pass on the final day of New Jersey’s two-year legislative session. A new bill was introduced on Tuesday, and Mr. Sweeney, a Democrat, has vowed that it will eventually pass. The state’s Democratic governor, Philip D. Murphy, had not taken a public stance on the bill, a factor that Mr. Sweeney said was not helpful during the negotiations.
On Wednesday, Daniel Bryan, a senior adviser to the governor, said Mr. Murphy had “made his position on the importance of vaccinations crystal clear.” The governor, he added, was “disappointed that legislation supporting that goal didn’t reach his desk, but he remains optimistic that it will in the future.
Beside New York, a small group of other states, including California, Mississippi and West Virginia, have ended religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccination, and there is legislation pending to do so in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Maine lawmakers also approved ending most nonmedical exemptions last year, but, under heavy pressure from groups opposed to mandatory vaccines, will ask voters to decide the fate of the policy in a March ballot referendum.

“New Jersey is the state that is arguably the home of the pharmaceutical industry, and we just won in their backyard,” said Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist who lives in Texas and flew in to lead a daylong protest on Monday in Trenton.

It was the second appearance within a week by Mr. Bigtree, who produced a documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” and hosts an online anti-vaccination show. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who campaigns against vaccines as a director of the Children’s Health Defense network, also appeared last week at a rally in the state capital.

Their star appeal became instant fodder for Facebook groups that many protesters cited as key organizing tools.

“Technology is a huge piece of it,” said Sue Collins, a founder of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccine Choice. “Everybody has access to everybody, and they’re holding it in their hands all day long.”

The omnipresence of social media also gave opponents the ability to reach directly into lawmakers’ private lives.
Senator Richard J. Codey, a Democrat and a former New Jersey governor, said his son got calls at home. Francine Weinberg, a daughter of one of the bill’s sponsors who lives in California, said she had to adjust her Facebook page’s privacy settings to end the string of attacks from commenters.

“I call it the politics of harassment,” said Ms. Weinberg, whose mother, Senator Loretta Weinberg, was a primary sponsor of the legislation.

“And that’s really what it felt like,” Senator Weinberg added.

Among the radio personalities who opposed the bill was Bill Spadea, a Republican who supports President Trump and hosts a morning show on one of New Jersey’s largest radio stations.

“That’s what it looks like when New Jerseyans fight back against government intrusion into our families,” he wrote on Twitter, sharing a video of protesters outside the State House on Monday.

Avi Schnall, New Jersey’s director of Agudath Israel of America, a nationwide umbrella organization of ultra-Orthodox Jews, said the group had decided to publicly oppose the New Jersey legislation after regretting it had not done more to stop the measure in New York.

“We learned from our mistake,” he said in an interview last month.

Last spring, the organization had quietly opposed the New York bill, but the context had been different: The debate was taking place during an outbreak centered in the Orthodox community.

As a group, Orthodox Jews, most of whom do vaccinate their children, did not want to appear opposed to immunization. But the underlying principle of religious accommodation, the organization finally decided, was one worth fighting for, in part because there are rare cases in which a rabbi might decide a vaccination was unwarranted.

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California’s New Vaccine Law Against Medical Exemptions Puts Vulnerable Children in Danger

A new law in California bans medical exemptions for vaccines, putting thousands of vulnerable children in harms way. The law prevents doctors from exempting children who are at risk of life-threatening reactions to vaccines. California is one of three states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, that reject exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons. Three women are seeking to place a referendum to repeal the new law on the next ballot. They need 623,000 signatures on a petition within 90 days of the bill being enacted to have their repeal put on the 2020 ballot. -GEG




Need to Know Reader Who Protested California’s Mandatory Vaccines Was Threatened with Arrest by Democrat Lawmakers!

One of our readers attended a protest in California’s capitol against SB276, which removes almost all medical exemptions from mandatory children’s vaccines. All of the Democrat committee lawmakers voted to pass it for a final vote, and the parents protested shouting, “You have not represented California for all!” The lawmakers threatened to arrest the concerned parents, inspiring the parents to stand up against the tyrants.

Email from Nick Daugherty,  a Need to Know reader, following a protest last Friday in Sacramento:

“We had a little bit of a “Tiananmen Square” standoff in Sacramento just an hour or two ago with vaccines. After legislators voted to bring SB276 out of the suspense file (thus, reviving it to be pushed through for a final vote), parents and protestors refused to leave and stood on their chairs and begin shouting at legislators, “You have not represented California for all!” (video attached) The chairwoman (Lorena Gonzalez) pushing this bill along with Pan threatened to have them all arrested, and the parents said, “Bring it on.” Sheriffs on duty refused to do anything. Over and over they shouted, nonstop for over an hour, until the assembly adjourned the meeting, unable to continue because of the noise. Finally the press showed up (LA Times, Sac Bee, AP) and interviewed the parents. We’ll see how they spin it. What a day. Unclear if this will really help anything, but it has definitely invigorated the movement to stand up, be a presence, even if it means facing arrest by the state.”

Link for video from protest:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/0g7v7ntd4bublqg/IMG_3594.MOV?dl=0

Sacramento Bee video of parents with vaccine injured children from protest:

 




Sacramento: Democrats Unanimously Pass Mandatory Vaccine Bill Eliminating Exemptions in Committee to Final Vote!

California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan who in 2012 authored a mandatory vaccine bill for children, faced opposition with his new bill that would eliminate almost all vaccine medical exemptions. State bureaucrats, not physicians, would be in charge of deciding whether children may receive medical exemptions. Pan received $432K from healthcare/medical interests, yet he claims the contributions did not influence his votes.
Senator Pan argued that, in the first four months of 2019, 465 measles cases had been reported across 19 states, a number far surpassing last year’s number of cases. However, the parent-opponents of SB 276 did their homework and found that more than half of the adult measles cases in California were vaccinated! -GEG

Despite threats of arrests by the California Highway Patrol, opponents of SB 276 by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) who attended the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Friday at the California State Capitol, stood on chairs and voiced their opposition to the bill which will end all medical exemptions to state mandated childhood vaccinations.

Most of the parents protesting already have “vaccine-injured” children, and want the medical exemption for their other children.

Committee Chairwoman Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez opened the hearing Friday announcing that she would take SB 276 out of the order of bills scheduled “for the people who traveled.” And then she announced that the bill was passed out of the committee “on a ‘B’ roll call,” meaning all committee Democrats voted “yes” to pass it out, and all Republicans voted “no.”

That’s when the shouting and chanting started.

“You have not represented California for all,” the SB 276 opponents chanted, and chanted and chanted, while Gonzalez carried on with her hearing.

In prior hearings on SB 276, Sen. Pan said, “I want to make sure that every child who needs a medical exemption gets one. That is part of the purpose of this bill.”

But it hasn’t worked out that way.

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California Punishes Doctor who Wrote Vaccine Exemption for 2-Year Old Boy

The Medical Board of California has suspended Dr. Robert Sears, a pediatrician who gave a vaccine exemption to a 2-year old boy after his mother reported that previous immunizations made the boy’s body limp, and caused him to lose urinary functions. The agency is threatening to revoke Dr. Sears’ medical license. The case is setting a precedent for doctors who choose not to follow the state’s strict vaccine schedules. All requested exemptions must be approved by the State Department of Public Health.

In a decision that could signal how California’s fierce vaccine debates will play out in the coming years, the Medical Board of California has ordered 35 months’ probation for Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician well-known for being sympathetic to parents opposed to vaccines.

In 2016, the board threatened to revoke Sears’ medical license for wrongly writing a doctor’s note for a 2-year-old boy that exempted him from all childhood vaccinations. This week, the medical board settled on a lesser punishment.

Sears can keep practicing medicine but will be required to take 40 hours of medical education courses a year, as well as an ethics class, and also be monitored by a fellow doctor. He also must notify all hospital and medical facilities where he practices of the order and is not allowed to supervise physician assistants or nurse practicioners.

The doctor’s supporters expressed relief that he was not more severely punished, while critics were pleased that the state did more than simply reprimand him, as some had feared.

“It’s not a trivial decision, it’s not a slap on the hand,” said UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss. “It really is strongly limiting his ability to practice … he’s a doctor under supervision now.”

Sears found himself in hot water because, according to the medical board, he wrote a vaccine exemption for a young boy without obtaining even basic medical information, such as the child’s history of vaccines. He took the boy’s mother at her word when she said her son lost urinary function and went limp in response to previous immunizations, according to the filing.

Sears settled his case so he would not have to go to trial. Probation is the most common punishment for doctors in California accused of wrongdoing. In the last fiscal year, the board took away 57 licenses, while putting 197 doctors on probation.

“Many parents, myself included, are relieved that Dr. Sears will maintain his practice and continue to serve his patients that rely on him,” said Rebecca Estepp, who is part of an advocacy group that supports alternative vaccine schedules.

Sears’ battle, however, does not appear to be over. In a Facebook post Friday, he denied any wrongdoing.

“Isn’t it my job to listen to my patients and believe what a parent says happened to her baby? Isn’t that what all doctors do with their patients?” Sears wrote. “After all, I don’t want a child to receive a medical treatment that could cause more harm. I am going to first do no harm, every time.”

Sears also said that the medical board has four more cases lined up accusing him of writing improper vaccine exemptions. Officials from the medical board said investigations are confidential and that they could not confirm there are more cases against Sears.

“It seems there is an attempt to keep me on probation for the rest of my medical career,” Sears wrote.

Vaccine exemptions have become a central part of the immunization debate in California in recent years.

After a measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland, California passed a tough inoculation law in 2015. The new law, known as SB 277, prevents parents from citing religious or other personal beliefs to get out of vaccinating their children. Now children must have a doctor’s note if they don’t have their shots.

Read full article here…