Antivaxers in the wake of SB 276 and SB 714

As I mentioned the other day, SB 276 and SB 714 are now law in California, having passed the legislature and been signed into law on Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom, even as California’s antivaccine movement tried desperately to portray itself as the “new civil rights movement” even as it consorted with the white supremacist California State Militia. Although imperfect, SB 276 and SB 714 (mostly) took care of the most glaring hole in SB 277, the law passed in 2015 that eliminated nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates in California. Yes, Monday was truly a monumental day in the annals of protecting children from the ideological scientific ignorance of their parents and stomping on antivaccine quacks who had been flooding the state with “medical exemption” letters for indications not supported by science and medicine. I must confess, though, that I was just waiting for antivax reactions to the passage of these new laws protecting children from harmful and potentially fatal infectious diseases. For instance, it didn’t take the Thinking Drinking Mom’s Revolution to weigh in. (OK, their chosen name is Thinking Moms’ Revolution or TMR, but I simply like to harp on their oft-mentioned love of wine.)

It’s actually rather odd. TMR’s blog has been pretty fallow lately, with only three posts in the last month and a half, if you count the latest on SB 276, The Real Reason for Vaccine Mandates. Our wine-loving friends used to be one of the most active voices in the antivaccine movement, and, yet, in the run-up to the votes on SB 276…nothing. Come to think of it, before I get to TMR’s typically brain dead take on vaccine mandates in general and SB 276 in particular, I can’t help but note something very odd. There’s nothing about SB 276 on Natural News.

Let me repeat that. There’s nothing about SB 276 on Natural News. (At least, there wasn’t last night when I wrote this.) Seriously. You’d think that by now Mike Adams would have written multiple screeds about how SB 276 is the end of American freedom, thanks to the evil socialist—nay, Communist!—Senator Dr. Richard Pan, but there’s nothing. You’d think he’d have been castigating the California legislature for weeks (or even months) now, given that SB 276 was first introduced into the California legislature for consideration several months ago, in his usual histrionic and, let’s face it, batshit nuts manner. Similarly, the other major quack website, that of Joe Mercola, has no mention of the passage of SB 276. True, it mentions the Star Wars cosplay protest against SB 276, a protest I discussed a while back when antivaxers descended in a fit of irony (given how the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015 shaped California vaccine policy) with signs proclaiming their antivax stance. I thought this very odd. Let’s look at the antivaxers who actually did comment on the final passage of SB 276 and its companion bill SB 714 first, though.

First up, there’s everybody’s favorite merry band of antivaxers, the crew at Age of Autism (AoA):

On this day, almost two decades ago, Americans faced a trauma unrivaled since World War II. During World War II, the Greatest Generation responded with a swift and effective attack, the nation banded together in sacrifice, and then in the decades that followed, the nation prospered and we became the beacon of freedom for the world. After 9/11, America responded with swift words, more than one war that has no end and American citizens willingly gave up freedom after freedom, out of fear. FEAR IS A LIAR. On September 9, California took away the right for its citizens to secure a medical exemption from their doctor. They criminalized the doctor patient relationship. They threaten both the doctors and the patients. Out of a fear of measles. A manufactured war on measles. FEAR IS A LIAR. When Americans face prohibition, they do not stop engaging in the activity.

As I read the title of the article, Governor Newsom Just Created a Market for Back Alley Exemptions via his Prohibition Bills, I couldn’t help but shake my head. What, exactly, are they trying to say here? That the “right” not to be vaccinated is like the right to an abortion? That antivax parents will now somehow go into back alleys to meet with antivax-sympathetic doctors to get “medical exemptions” to school vaccine mandates? How would that even work? After all, SB 276 and SB 714 mandate the use of a standardized state form, and all exemptions will be recorded in a database; so even a “back alley” exemption wouldn’t be very “back alley” given that it would be in the database with all the other medical exemptions. It doesn’t even make sense. I suspect that whoever wrote this gem was a little too enamored of the metaphor she’d chosen and didn’t actually think it through. That’s no surprise, it is AoA. As for SB 276 “criminalizing the doctor-patient relationship,” that’s a particularly annoying antivaccine trope that really does irritate the hell out of me. It does nothing of the sort. It simply puts antivaccine doctors on notice that they are expected to adhere to the standard of care when it comes to medical exemptions.

Next up, we have John Gilmore of the Autism Action Network, who makes a rather unfortunate analogy as he reminisces about 9/11 and the fall of the World Trade Center Towers, drawing a line to the “plight” of antivaxers:

Later, that awful day, my wife and I received the devastating confirmation that our fears about our younger son Luke were correct, and that he had autism. We didn’t know it at the time but our experience with Luke was a common one. Following a fever after getting a group of shots, Luke lost his few words, began to appear deaf, lost any sense of pain, and began odd repetitive behaviors. That news turned our personal lives upside down, on 9/11 the entire world seemed upside down.

Because, apparently, your child getting an autism diagnosis is just like thousands of Americans being killed on 9/11. (It really tells you what these parents think of their own autistic children, doesn’t it?) And, apparently, three mothers disrupting the California Assembly to protest SB 276 is just like Rosa Parks, too:

This morning I was thinking about that day 18 years ago, and what is happening now. Several days ago, three brave parents in Sacramento took the step we all knew was coming, just like Rosa Parks more than half a century ago on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, they refused to comply with injustice and conducted civil disobedience leading to their arrest. No doubt this this will be the first of many to come.

Yes, civil disobedience in the service of protest is a hallowed American tradition, but it needs to be emphasized yet again: Antivaxers protesting for their “right” not to vaccinated is not the “new civil rights movement.” They have every right to protest against SB 276 and SB 714, but they dishonor the memory of the Selma marchers and every person who died fighting for equal rights by comparing their desire to have the “right” to let their children remain disease vectors to the battle to end segregation and achieve equal rights for African-Americans, particularly given that these antivaxers tend to be overwhelmingly white and affluent. They do love to cosplay persecuted minorities, though.

And, no, antivaxers are not going to be killed:

In our efforts to keep our rights in New York we were called Nazis, lunatics, and every expletive you have ever heard. Far more troubling, a former Obama administration official in an editorial published in a newspaper owned by the richest man in the world called parents who question the good intentions of the vaccine cartel, “terrorists.” “Terrorists.” Just like the hijackers on 9/11. And we all know what happens to terrorists.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call antivaxers “terrorists,” but they do harm society. Their rhetoric is also increasingly resembling that of terrorists, full of violent imagery. It also didn’t help the SB 276 protesters’ cause when they teamed up with the xenophobic and nativist California State Militia, a group known for cosplaying soldiers patrolling the southern border looking for brown people trying to cross.

Finally, let’s get back to the “Thinking Moms,” who think they know the “real” reason for increasingly strict school vaccine mandates. Of course, they don’t believe that it’s about public health, even though it is. Oh, no. To them, it has to be about “control” and punishment. To make the argument, they draft someone named Ted Kuntz as the male auxiliary to their coffee klatch:

The argument made for denying a public education to children who are unvaccinated or selectively vaccinated is the risk they pose to the immune-compromised who can’t be vaccinated. It’s a heart-warming story motivated out of compassion for those children who are medically fragile. Or is it? If we take these pro-mandate advocates at their word, then it would follow that we also cannot allow any child or adult to attend our public schools and day cares who isn’t fully immunized. This means not just being vaccinated, but rather genuinely immunized against infectious diseases.

You can see where this is going:

So, this begs the question(s):

  1. Are immune-compromised children who can’t be vaccinated allowed to attend school and day care?
  2. Is the 10% of the population who are non-responders to artificial immune stimulation allowed to attend schools and day cares?
  3. Is the significant percent of the population whose antibody levels have waned allowed to attend schools, day cares and other public spaces?
  4. Is titre testing being conducted to determine who has adequate antibody levels and therefore safe to attend school and day care?
  5. And, if disease transmission is really what the proponents of vaccine mandates are worried about, then shouldn’t children recently vaccinated with live-virus vaccines also be excluded from schools and public spaces until the viral shedding has ceased?

If vaccine mandate proponents aren’t demanding all of these individuals be excluded from schools, day cares and other public spaces, then one has to wonder whether the transmission of disease and the safety of the school environment really is their primary concern.

Let’s answer Mr. Kuntz’s “concerns”:

  1. Yes. That’s what herd immunity is for, doofus.
  2. Yes. That’s what herd immunity is for, doofus.
  3. Yes. Antibody levels don’t necessarily correlate with immunity. Central memory established by vaccination is sufficient under most circumstances to confer protection, and there isn’t always a good surrogate for immunity for certain vaccines. Basically, titers are an imperfect measure of immunity.
  4. No. It’s expensive and unnecessary. Again, titers are a very imperfect measure of immunity. Susceptibility to disease as determined by epidemiology is what matters in determining the vaccine schedule. That’s why the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meets three times a year to review data and decide how many doses of each vaccine at what ages are needed to provide optimal protection given the resources available and practicalities of vaccinating.
  5. No. Live-virus vaccines, even though they can shed, do not transmit disease. There was a time when, out of an abundance of caution, cancer centers used to recommend that children immunosuppressed due to chemotherapy stay away from recently vaccinated children, they no longer do.

For example, antivaxers like to point to this insert from Johns Hopkins:

Looks pretty damning, doesn’t it? However, years ago, Johns Hopkins changed its policy based on evidence:

Dr. Vincent Iannelli explains:

Guidelines from the Immune Deficiency Foundation state: “Close contacts of patients with compromised immunity should not receive live oral poliovirus vaccine because they might shed the virus and infect a patient with compromised immunity. Close contacts can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity.”

The oral polio vaccine, of course, has not been used in the US for many years. All the other live virus vaccines can be given to siblings and close contacts of immunosuppressed people safely.

Of course, it’s all just a smokescreen for Mr. Kuntz to claim that vaccine mandates are just a pretext for the government to take away his rights:

What is obvious, if we dare to think, is that vaccine mandates are not about making the public space safer. Vaccine mandates and school expulsion are punishment for challenging vaccine ideology. Vaccine mandates are a crude and heartless means to coerce families to vaccinate their children by creating hardship and threatening the future of their children. When you examine the justification given for eroding parental rights, the medical right to informed consent and constitutional rights, it isn’t what they claim it is. It isn’t about medical risk. It isn’t about compassion for the medically fragile. This is the sham of the medical industry. This is the deception of the vaccine lobbyists. This is the lie perpetuated by the mainstream media.

Parental “rights” are not and never have been absolute. Parents do not own their children, and children have a right as autonomous beings not to be medically neglected, which is what leaving them unvaccinated is. When parental decisions are clearly harmful to the child, such as the decision not to protect the child from serious and potentially fatal illnesses because of pseudoscience and fear based on conspiracy theories about big pharma and government (which Mr. Kuntz demonstrates in abundance), the state does have a duty to step in, however reluctantly.

While I’m happy that SB 276 and SB 714 finally passed, I do have some concerns. I worry that, as happened four years ago after the passage of SB 277, the law that originally eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates in California whose flaws were mostly fixed by SB 276 and SB 714, antivaxers became more extreme after that. Now, given their rhetoric, I fear that they’re becoming increasingly radicalized. It’s not an unjustified fear, either. After all, the protests over SB 276 and SB 714 brought antivaxers and the militia movement together in California. I hope I’m wrong, but, given incidents like the assault on Sen. Richard Pan, I fear that I might not be.