Friday morning, May 31, protesters in yellow safety vests, parents with children in tow, a doctor with a bullhorn, kids in strollers and sidewalk chalk clutched signs, held space and raised awareness in front of Ventura’s Department of Public Health Office.

Throughout the state, similar protests occurred this month to oppose the newest vaccine bill racing through the Senate. SB 276 is aimed at California’s tiny population of 0.7 percent medical exemption holders. This percentage of families obtained medical exemptions through their physicians, allowing them to send their children to school without a complete immunization record, is now threatened again.

California eliminated religious and personal belief vaccine exemptions in 2016 under SB 277 by State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. Under SB 277, Pan agreed that doctor and patient relationship would be honored and it was left to the doctor’s discretion to provide exemptions based off of legitimate health reasons that the child should not receive any or some vaccines. The new bill, SB 276, removes the doctor’s input and hands it to the state’s run and appointed government officials at the California Department of Health.

No longer be a doctor involved and the decision for exemptions would be based on a narrow and strict list of contradictions and revoke previously given exemptions.  As the bill is currently written, even a sibling of a child that has died from a vaccine reaction will not be exempt. In addition, every existing and new medical exemption will have the children’s medical data gathered and put into a government database.

No information on how this private information will be safeguarded was given, raising concerns of how these children with legitimate vaccine exemptions will be protected against discrimination and tracking. The projected cost to the state is approximately $10 million a year to implement.

Pan has stated SB 276 will strengthen the oversight of the exemption process, claiming doctors are abusing the law by selling medical exemptions. However, since the passage of 277, the state’s medical board analysis has only had enough credible information to conduct one investigation related to medical exemptions.

The focus on the rise in measles cases, the highest number in 25 years. California’s vaccination rate increased after SB 277 to more than 95 percent statewide, greater than the percentage needed to achieve community immunity to prevent the spread of a measles outbreak.

One has to ask, with such high rates and compliance, why the fervor to impose such a dramatic law on California’s children? Opponents will be well-versed to tell you of Pan’s documented pharmaceutical contributions and questionable lobbying efforts. They will provide a plethora of peer-reviewed, evidence-based studies on the impacts of the untested vaccine schedule on infants and children. They have extensive knowledge of neurotoxins and metals in the brain, cutting edge science on genetic markers that pose risk factors with vaccine safety. They exude a sense of protection that extends beyond their own children, to future generations and of a better way to look at the divide that is so vehemently guarded between the two grains of thought. 

Those opposed are ready to drop the coined “antivaxxer” name that represents one part of the issue. The citizens in this growing awareness are made up of many “ex-vaxxers,” parents who once vaccinated their children on schedule to suffer injury or death, who were awarded money through VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) courts, or those who learned late that there was even such a court.

There are doctor whistle blowers, doctors who believe in vaccines but know there needs to be safer and more effective vaccines.  Doctors and parents who know there is a huge need for further research on epigenics and individualized vaccine risk. Looking collectively at the character of this group; these are educated and informed citizens, parents, grandparents and free thinkers. They reveal another side of the story and begin to shift the focus away from division and align with a common goal of safe, effective vaccinations, freedom of medical choice, parental rights and doctor-patient rights.  

SB277 has become a slippery slope that goes far beyond the vaccine debate.  It highlights crucial arguments and sheds light on the division that has grown and continues to raise big questions as to why we are mandating something on the most vulnerable and smallest percentage of our public.

Power to Speak is a column for readers and Ventura County residents to voice their opinions at longer length than letters.