Walters: Newsom vacillates on vaccinations, again
Is California ready for Vax War II? More pointedly, is Gov. Gavin Newsom ready?
Three years ago, the Capitol was wracked by one of the most heated conflicts in its history — legislation to make it more difficult for parents to exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations if they attended public schools. A bill sought to close a loophole that allowed doctors to approve exemptions without specifying reasons, leading to doctor-shopping by anti-vaccination parents.
Hundreds of opponents besieged the Capitol, claiming the legislation would violate parental rights and require vaccines that could trigger autism or other adverse reactions. The measure’s author, Sacramento Sen. Richard Pan, and other backers were accosted and threatened, and on the final night of the legislative session, someone in the Senate gallery threw a cup of what authorities said “appeared to be blood” onto the Senate floor.
Eventually, the bill passed and was signed by Newsom in his first year as governor, but he engaged in some bizarre political theater before finally acceding.
As the bill was moving through the Legislature, Newsom suddenly demanded a number of changes that weakened its provisions. “I’m a parent,” Newsom said at one point. “I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.”
After two weeks of private negotiations, he finally accepted a revised version, telling a reporter, “All those amendments, if they’re made, stamp of approval.”
Two-plus months later, however, Newsom did another 180-degree pivot, demanding more changes. Eventually, a final compromise was reached, but Newsom had violated one of the Capitol’s unwritten rules of conduct: Once you make a deal, you don’t renege. It drove a wedge between the new governor and lawmakers that affected other issues.
The possibility of renewing superheated vaccination warfare arose this week when Pan, a physician, introduced legislation to close what he regards as a huge loophole in Newsom’s promise to have all school children vaccinated against COVID-19 when vaccines are available for youngsters.
“We have to be willing to take a stand,” Pan said. “We need to be able to respond to this pandemic and future pandemics, but there is this asymmetrical warfare going on right now, and we’re seeing the anti-vaccine movement trafficking in misinformation, threats, and violence.”
Once again, Newsom’s position is uncertain.
When he announced the school vaccination mandate in October, Newsom boasted that California was the first state to impose such a requirement.
“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps and rubella, (so) there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” Newsom said. “Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom.”
That would seem to be a strong endorsement of mandatory vaccinations. However, Newsom subsequently watered it down, at least verbally, by repeatedly reminding parents that they could opt out under state law’s “personal belief” exemption. Pan’s new bill would eliminate that exemption, leaving only precise medical conditions as a way to avoid vaccination.
Newsom’s new fence-straddling is not going unnoticed.
“He’s trying to be comforting and nonconfrontational, but it sends a message that if you don’t want to get the vaccine, don’t get it,” Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition, told CaliforniaHealthline. “Gov. Newsom struggles with this — he’s trying to have it both ways.”
Yes he is.
Dan Walters is a columnist for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.
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