Senate Bill 276 would make it harder for parents to avoid vaccinating their children by requiring the state health department to review and individually approve or deny all requests for a medical exemption to school immunization requirements. The bill passed the state Senate in May and now goes to the Assembly for consideration.
Speaking to reporters at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco on Saturday, Newsom suggested that lawmakers “need to pause and think” about the bill’s implications.
“I like doctor-patient relationships. Bureaucratic relationships are more challenging for me,” Newsom said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m a parent. I don’t want someone that the governor appointed to make a decision for my family.”
Kennedy, whose own family members have publicly condemned his outspoken anti-vaccine views, applauded Newsom’s comments as “wise and sober opposition to a draconian proposal.”
In a long Facebook post on Monday, Kennedy claimed the California Democratic Party is on “the brink of compelling risky medical procedures — involving a long list of unnecessary, untested, zero liability drugs — on vulnerable children.”
“Gov. Newsom broke the spell with a few carefully chosen words of common sense,” he wrote.
Newsom’s comments and Kennedy’s subsequent praise come a time when the U.S. is experiencing its worst measles outbreak in 25 years. The outbreak has affected 981 people across the country, 46 of whom are in California, and it’s spreading largely within “communities with pockets of unvaccinated people,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anti-vaccine activists consistently and falsely claim that the MMR vaccine ― which protects against measles, mumps and rubella ― is linked to autism in children. Kennedy himself drew criticism in 2015 for using the term “holocaust” to describe the number of children diagnosed with autism and linking the disorder to vaccines.
Newsom’s office on Tuesday referred HuffPost to additional clarifying comments that the governor made on Monday.
“I’m a strong advocate and have been for decades, a very vocal advocate for vaccinations,” Newsom told reporters on Monday. “That’s not the question. The question is around abuse of exemptions. The question is how best to address that issue.”
The governor expressed concern that the bill would create “a new bureaucracy that creates some red flags for folks.” He said his viewpoint isn’t “ideological” but merely “pragmatic and practical.”
Asked whether he would sign the bill if it passes the California state Assembly, Newsom said he hasn’t had “a chance to read the detail.”
State Sen. Richard Pan (D), who introduced SB 276, said Monday that he had reached out to Newsom to address the governor’s reservations.
“I am working with the governor on how to implement a California solution to eliminating the danger of fake medical exemptions so we can protect our schools and children from preventable diseases,” Pan told the Los Angeles Times.