Last week, Jazmine, age 13, was game enough to go to Sacramento with me to spend the day. Now we didn't go to the Mall, Museum or to any of the regular tourist attractions. Jazmine went with me to check out a protest against SB277. After the protest, we had pizza in Sen. Richard Pan's office and then she sat for six hours as we watched the Assembly Health Committee debate SB277.
In case you haven't been following the news lately, SB277 is a bill that would require students who attend public and private school in California to be vaccinated for 10 vaccine preventable diseases. It would do away with the "Personal Belief Exemption" that has led to pockets of unvaccinated children through out the Yuppie/Granola/Wealthy pockets of California. I wrote about SB277 for the CNR. An article that, as usual, was disabused and praised, maligned and applauded. Some called it Pro-Vax propaganda. Some called it "balanced". I called it the truth, as I see it.
I worked on that article for 8 months. I first pitched the idea back in October. I read books on both sides of the issue; my G-mail Alerts were set for 8 months to topics like "measles" and "pertussis" and "vaccination". I estimate that I probably read 2,000 articles on the topic. Or, as the Anti-Vax people say: I did my own research.
This is an issue that divides my friends. I have Left leaning friends who hate vaccinations and think that they are just a tool of making money for big business. They think that vaccines cause all sorts of maladies like autism and that they contain poisons like mercury and formaldehyde. I have Granola Hippy friends that believe in anything natural. They read websites run by Mercola and GreenMedInfo and other sites that promulgate the "Natural Living Idol" so often found amongst urban liberals who love cannabis, hate GMO's and buy all their veggies at the Farmers' Market. I also have friends who remember what life was like before vaccines. There is an age gap, as the younger you are, the more likely you will be to be Anti-Vax.
I believe in Government and I believe that Government can make a difference in people's lives. It was through Government Vaccination programs that Small Pox was eliminated. Government programs eliminated polio in North and South America. Last month, Rubella was declared to be eliminated in the western hemisphere by Government Action. I believe in public health. As a person with Socialist tendencies, I believe in being Social. I believe in Herd Immunity (although that is not a matter of belief and if anybody argues against the concept you should immediately start edging towards the door because you have run across a person that is totally out-of-touch with reality). I believe that we should vaccinate ourselves so that we can help others.
Reading through the arguments of both sides, I have become a vaccine advocate.
Jazmine and I made it early to the Anti-Vax rally. I milled around--reading the signs. Much has been made that the Anti-Vax Movement is a movement of Mothers. That is obviously true as I roamed amongst all the women in Red Shirts at the Rally. It is an overwhelmingly White, Middle Class, Educated, Sustainable Living/Gluten Free Movement. It was an influx of Suburban Moms.
I listened to the speeches. I heard Assemblyman Patterson say that not letting unvaccinated children attend public schools was similar to sending kids to Internment Camps or Concentration Camps (he soon backed off of that statement). I heard Assemblywoman Shannon Grove talk about how this bill pretty much is an attack upon our Freedom. This Assemblywoman went on to make the national news by stating that the drought in California is God's punishment of this Jezebel state for actually providing some semblance of access to abortion services.
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove addresses the rally.
And then the Nation of Islam guy, Brother Tony Mohammed showed up. He brought a message from Louis Farrakhan, that the Black Community is against this "heinous bill". It was strange to see all the White Christian Moms who live in all white school districts, applauding the impeccably dressed Nation of Islam guy (with his ever present bodyguard behind him--lessons learned from Malcom X).
His speech was rather stirring.
Then came Brian Hooker. Brian lives in Redding, California and teaches at a Podunk school there with a nursing program that exposes future RN's to Anti-Vax propaganda. Brian is besainted in the Anti-Vax community for outing a secretly recorded tape that purports to prove that the CDC has known about an Autism/MMR Vaccine connection since 2004. He took the stage and went through all the talking points. He had the gall to say that more people die from Vaccinations than from all public infectious diseases. Lots of hyperbole.
Brian Hooker addresses the rally.
At the back of the crowd, Dr. Bob Sears hung out. I can pick out Sears in a crowd now, having heard him talk so many times. I had to leave before he talked. And I had to leave before the Rock Star, Barb Fisher, founder of the National Vaccine Information Center and, really, the person who started the whole Anti-Vax Movement in the US back in 1980. She has made a life of spreading Anti-Vax propaganda.
But Jaz and I had to leave because we had an appointment to have lunch in Dr. Pan's office. It was a few hundred yards, four flights, and a total shift in World View to go to Dr. Pan's office for pizza. The Pro-Vax people were there. One of the founders of Vaccinate California, Leah Russein, who has become a friend through out this ordeal, paced the halls with her toddler in a sling, trying to get the poor lad to sleep. Leah was an environmental aide to Diane Feinstein before becoming a mother and starting this shoe-string organization four months ago. And no, the group doesn't get any money from Pharmaceutical companies. We had lots of pizza but Senator Pan wasn't as available. Or maybe he doesn't like pizza.
Off to the hearing. We were able to secure seats in the Assembly Hearing room. Jazmine and I had decent seats. Behind us sat, Bob Sears. Also Toni Mark, an MD who has said some rather startling New Agey things and has been profiled by Oprah; she was bragging about her role in the anti-vaccine movie that has just come out called "Bought". Brother Tony Mohammed sat behind us too--with his silent body guard
We sat in our seats for an hour before the hearing started. The hearing lasted five hours, before the vote. Dr. Pan and Sen. Ben Allen, endured the whole thing standing in front of the Committee. First the pro-SB277 side talked for 25 minutes; then the Anti-Vax people which included Jay Gordon MD and the afore mentioned Barb Loe Fisher.
Then came the public testimony and around 1,000 Red T-Shirt Wearing Moms (mostly) testified their opposition to this bill. A few of us got up to state our support of the measure. After the parade of Red Shirts that took a couple of hours for them to have their say, the Assemblymembers talked. And asked questions of Dr. Pan.
It was impressive to see them grapple with the issue. Most buy into the science that vaccines are important. Those who were opposed to the bill gave eloquent speeches about parental rights and the like. It was obvious they had put some thought into it. One lawmaker, Autumn Burke, admitted that her own child was being vaccinated on a slower schedule. Burke abstained from the vote. But in the end, SB277 passed the Committee by a 12-6 partisan vote. It now goes to the Assembly floor.
As the vote was announced, it was mostly anti-vax people left. They hollered at the lawmakers "Merck Won". They hollered "Fascists!". Lots of anger. Jazzy and I waited for the crowd to leave. A Seargant at Arms noticed that we were still in the Chamber and was worried for Jazmine and my safety amongst the Anti-Vax crowd. Two of them, big guys, took us aside and led us down a back stairway to safety, away from the crowd that believes that Vaccines are poison and the cause of many problems.
Driving home, sadness descended over me. The world views of the Anti-Vaxxers and the Pro-Vaccine people are so very far apart. There is no middle ground. The AVers inhabit a part of the political spectrum all their own. Some of which I find sympathetic (which is part of the appeal of the movement). What populist isn't Anti-Corporate and Anti-Profit? What Environmentalist isn't sympathetic to all things natural? Things like proper nutrition and boosting the immune system the old fashioned way?
Government isn't exactly a trustworthy Institution. We have the Military/Industrial complexes. We have revolving doors between the CDC and Big Pharma. What self respecting Radical wouldn't be opposed to such things? Government has given us wars. Government has bolstered the wrong industries like Big Oil and enhanced Gas Extraction.
We don't trust Government anymore. We don't trust Big Corporations. The Anti-Vax Movement takes advantage of those warranted concerns.
That's the appeal of the movement. The Rich have always wanted the Poor to endure the risk when it comes to vaccines. Ever since the 1830's, the rich wanted the poor and minorities to get crude vaccinations for small pox. Even back then, the rich wanted to hide in the Herd. Even in the 1850's, the phenomena of Herd Immunity was noticed.
It isn't a very long stretch from the Rich imposing the small pox laws of the 1850's to the Wealthy White Privileged wanting to duck out of being Vax'd in this modern decade. The motives are much the same: Let others bear the risk.
But then you look at the data. The real data. Vaccines are safe. They don't cause autism. And they have helped you to live 30 years longer than prior to their invention. We need them. There is nothing good, or natural, about Whooping Cough or Measles. Diphtheria is back in Spain, it kills one in six and it is a plane ride away.
And there are pockets of rich kids, a reservoir, waiting to be infected. That needs to stop. We need SB277.