Anti-vaccine activists in California area heatedly protested new limits on medical exemptions to vaccine requirements days after the bill was finalized amid a nationwide crisis of confidence in vaccinations.
First, protesters blocked the entrance to the state capitol Monday and repeatedly shut down the legislature with their demonstrations as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Then, a candlelight vigil Wednesday for children allegedly harmed or killed by vaccines included a photo of Ethan Lindenberger, who chose to be vaccinated against his parents’ wishes and has testified before Congress. Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of the anti-vaccine group Conscience Coalition, which organized the vigil, did not immediately respond to a question about why the photo was used.
The state legislative session closed Friday with a dramatic display from the gallery: A woman threw “a feminine hygiene device containing what appeared to be blood” at the senators from a balcony, the California Highway Patrol said.
“That’s for the dead babies!” she shouted as people gasped.
The tension comes as a wave of hesitancy about vaccines washes over some parents. Although vaccines prevent 2 million to 3 million deaths each year, the World Health Organization says many parents hesitate to vaccinate their children out of complacency, the inconvenience of accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence in vaccines’ effectiveness.
California’s bill, SB 276, creates a standardized medical exemption request form to be approved by the state’s public health officer. It also authorizes the health department to review requests for medical exemptions at schools where less than 95 percent of students are vaccinated, at schools that do not report their vaccination rates and from doctors who have written five or more waivers in a given year.
The woman who threw what the Sacramento Bee reports was a menstrual cup on Friday walked out of the chamber and into the hallway, where police said she was arrested on charges including assault and vandalism. “I’m doing this for the babies that died, so their voices can be heard,” the woman, identified as 43-year-old Rebecca Dalelio, said as she was being arrested. “Their blood is on your hands, you who make the laws.”
Three hours after the disruption, the state senators met in a conference room to finish the legislative session. Sen. Steve Glazer (D-7th Dist.) wrote on Twitter that the Senate floor “remains a crime scene.” He tweeted a photo of himself at a doctor’s appointment Saturday as a safety precaution because he was potentially exposed to blood.
“Still absorbing it all. But as my hat says Relax!” Glazer wrote. “Thankful that none of my Senate colleagues appear hurt and we finished our work.”
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-11th Dist.) wrote that anti-vaccine activists had “engaged in a harassment campaign all week” and that the red liquid had hit several of his colleagues.
“These anti-vaxxers are engaging in criminal behavior,” he wrote. “They’ve now repeatedly assaulted Senators & are engaging in harassing & intimidating behavior every single day, as we try to do the people’s work. They’re a cancer on the body politic & are attacking democracy.”
Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove (16th Dist.), who had opposed the vaccine bill, joined her Democratic colleagues in condemning the incident.
“Regardless of differences of opinions, there’s no place for this in our America,” she wrote.
The debate over the bill was mired in other drama this summer. An anti-vaccine activist was arrested in August for allegedly shoving one of the bill’s sponsors and live-streaming the encounter on Facebook. Actress Jessica Biel, known for her role on the series “7th Heaven,” made headlines in June for lobbying at the California capitol with prominent anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The United States is experiencing the greatest number of measles cases in a single year in 27 years. Fueling the outbreaks are anti-vaccine groups that have spread misinformation that lowered vaccination rates in vulnerable communities. New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was hard hit by misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, officials have said.