What to Know About the Vaccination Bill Jessica Biel Is Opposing

Jessica Biel.
Jessica Biel. Photo: Gary Gershoff/WireImage

On Wednesday morning, Jezebel took notice of suspicious Instagram photos of actress Jessica Biel seemingly lobbying alongside Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a former environmental activist who has pivoted toward spewing baseless anti-vax claims. Before the day was over, the Daily Beast had confirmed that Biel was vocally opposing SB 276, a California bill pertaining to the medical exemption process for immunizations, at the California State Assembly.

But what, exactly, would this bill accomplish? Below, everything to know about SB 276.

What is the bill?

Earlier this year, California senator Richard Pan, a practicing pediatrician who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, introduced Senate Bill 276, which seeks to combat fake medical exemptions.

Wait, first, what exactly are medical exemptions?

In short, medical exemptions allow people — typically, children — to abstain from being immunized due to a medical condition. Per the National Vaccine Information Center, medical exemptions should be “very difficult to obtain because almost all medical reasons for delaying or withholding vaccines have been eliminated by government and medical trade officials.”

Except, under current California law, it hasn’t been so difficult.

Why is that so?

Currently, in California, doctors have the authority to grant medical exemptions to vaccination — they don’t have to get the approval of the state’s Department of Public Health. And, according to Kaiser Health News, this has resulted in doctors liberally allowing patients to claim unnecessary medical exemptions to being immunized.

The proof: In the past two years, the number of children in California who have been granted a medical exemption has tripled, according to California Healthline, which has serious implications. Like many states across the country, California has been fighting measles outbreaks, which have flourished in undervaccinated communities; in 2019 so far, the state has seen 51 confirmed cases, according to the California Department of Public Health.

(The reason the number of medical exemptions has gone up in the past few years is in part related to the passing of SB 277 in 2015. While that bill was restrictive on its face, as it got rid of California’s personal beliefs exemption, the Los Angeles Times reports that the state saw an increase in the number of parents claiming medical exemptions, many of which public health officials suspected were fake.)

So SB 276 would crack down on illegitimate medical exemptions?

Yes, that’s the goal. Were the bill to pass, California’s Department of Public Health would make the final decision regarding whether the underlying condition claimed in a doctor’s medical exemption met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. Per the Los Angeles Times, state health officials estimate that more than 40 percent of California’s yearly 11,500 medical exemptions would be denied under the legislation.

Which is why anti-vaxxers are opposed it, right?

Anti-vaxxers, many of whom have spoken out against the bill on social media, are vehemently opposed to it. The negative response to it has been so strong that Pan put out a “fact versus myth” sheet to combat disinformation.

Is the bill expected to pass?

As of now, it’s hard to say. The bill passed the senate in late May, but California governor Gavin Newsom appeared to criticize the bill, saying that he “wouldn’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.” (The bill will be considered by the Assembly this summer.)

But, as public health and medical experts have stressed, SB 276 would not just protect individual children, but the entire state of California.

“Vaccinating our patients is one of the most important tools pediatricians have to prevent illness and death,” Kris Calvin of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement. “It is the rare physician who does not take this responsibility to heart, but they put all of us, our children and our communities, at risk. By ensuring medical exemptions to vaccines are reviewed and valid, this bill will protect the health of California’s children and of our larger communities. It is a reasonable and urgently needed measure.”

What is SB276, the Vaccine Bill Jessica Biel is Fighting?