Vaccine bill SB 276 is not ‘California for All,’ opposition says

Heidi Munoz Gleisner, Tara Thornton and Denise Aguilar stand in protest at an Aug. 28 rally in Sacramento against Senate Bill 276, a bill that would tighten the rules on giving exemptions for vaccines. The group stood on chairs chanting, “You have not represented California for all.” Sandra Efraimson photo

Vaccine bill Senate Bill 276, which narrows the guidelines of medical exemptions and continues forced vaccinations, along with its companion bill, Senate Bill 714 were both signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday, Sept. 10, and several local mothers are not happy about it.

“This has directly affected my family,” Sandra Efraimson, a former registered nurse who lives in Murrieta with her husband and son, said.

“My son had a vaccine reaction to his one year series of vaccines, and unfortunately the pediatrician did not seem to be knowledgeable enough to recognize the injury immediately,” Efraimson said. She had previously worked at a nonprofit mobile clinic that also offered vaccines.

“In that year I studied the subject. I was under the impression that these injuries happened in very low numbers, one-in-a-million type of numbers, and I came to find out that the more research I do there isn’t actually clear data to show that,” Efraimson said. “The injuries in our case were not recognized by the doctors.”

The Democratic governor acted without comment less than an hour after lawmakers sent him changes he demanded as a condition of approving the bills.

Legislators passed the second of two measures as protests by hundreds of emotional opponents boiled over, with dissenters delaying Senate debate for nearly two hours by shouting and pounding on walls and doors.

Others were detained by police earlier while blocking entrances to the Capitol as lawmakers scrambled to act on bills before their scheduled adjournment Friday, Sept. 13.

Lawmakers sent Newsom the initial bill last week aimed at doctors who allegedly sell fraudulent medical exemptions. Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of San Francisco agreed to also carry follow-up legislation that among other things would give school children grace periods that could last several years on existing medical exemptions.

The two bills are needed to “keep children safe from preventable diseases,” Pan claimed.

Protesters forced delays in both the Assembly and Senate. They unfurled an upside-down American flag from the Senate’s public gallery in a traditional signal of distress and chanted “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply.”

They later returned to the Assembly, where they continued shouting “Kill the bill” and “Protect our children” as lawmakers considered other legislation.

More than 600 parents and opponents who will be affected if Senate Bill 276 is signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom pose for a photo during a rally in front of the California Capitol building in Sacramento. Sandra Efraimson photo

Opposition speaks out

Christina Hildebrand, who started the nonprofit A Voice for Choice Advocacy back in 2015, has been following the new bill since its predecessor, Senate Bill 277, which took away the ability to obtain medical exemptions for religious or personal beliefs.

“At that point, with SB 277, a parent could no longer make a choice of whether to vaccinate or not if they wanted them to go to public or private school,” Hildebrand said.

She said she doesn’t believe SB 276 is necessary, as it harms the relationship between patient and doctor.

“When SB 277 was passed in 2015 there were a number of legislators very adamant that they would only pass this bill if the medical exemption was broad, robust and at the discretion of the doctor, and Gov. Jerry Brown said that in his signing statement,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a vaccine schedule of when parents should have their child vaccinated. SB 276 will continue to push required vaccinations and prevent many from receiving exemptions, according to Hildebrand.

“There are points being made that there is collusion between the California Medical Association, who is a sponsor of SB 276 and the medical board,” Hildebrand said. She goes further to state that 60% of the physicians on the medical board are members of the CMA, yet only 20% of physicians are CMA members. “The CMA doesn’t really represent physicians, yet they’re overrepresenting the medical board,” she said.

Those pushing the bill forward argued that doctors have been writing false medical exemptions, and this bill will seek to eliminate that.

“I would say the fraudulent medical exemptions are based on false premises,” Hildebrand said. “We haven’t seen any doctor come up for a false medical exemption, and while there are investigations going on, there are no doctors being accused of it.”

“The common misconception of parents and people fighting this bill is that we’re anti-vaxxers, but the true majority of us were once for it, we were pro-vaxxers, and something happened to our children that made us think about what was happening and what was causing their reactions, and in most cases it was immediately after,” Veronica Pechecko, a parent of a vaccine-injured child, said.

During the heated discussions, before votes on the bills, Republicans in both chambers objected that there were no public committee hearings before the Assembly approved the measure with a 43-14 vote and the Senate followed on a 27-11 roll call.

“This goes past vaccines and is again a major government overreach,” Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia, said. “Our medically fragile children are what are at stake.”

Governor asks for changes

Newsom demanded a phase-out period for medical exemptions similar to one allowed when California eliminated personal belief vaccine exemptions in 2015. A kindergartener with an exemption could retain it through sixth grade, for instance, while a seventh-grader could be exempted through high school.

The companion bill also would allow officials to revoke any medical exemptions written by a doctor who has faced disciplinary action.

The bill would make it clear that enforcement will start next year, meaning doctors who previously granted a high number of medical exemptions won’t face scrutiny.

Lawmakers express concern

Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa grew emotional as he recalled a developmentally disabled cousin who died at a young age.

“That’s what these people fear,” Moorlach said of protesters. “We’ve got to hit the pause button.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Stone of Temecula asked protesters to “Watch your democratic process with respect,” after a shouting opponent was removed from the gallery by officers.

He also said it is unfair to label dissenters as “extremists” and “antivaxers” when they are concerned about the health and welfare of their children.

Opponents tell their stories

Several opponents of the bill were detained before the legislative session as they blocked entrances to the Capitol, including two women who briefly chained themselves to outside doorways.

About 200 opponents earlier filled the hallway in front of the governor’s office, asking Newsom to veto both vaccine bills. They later chanted “Where is Newsom?” and “Veto the bill” from the Senate gallery before leaving when they were threatened with being arrested for an unlawful protest.

Pechecko’s son was born three weeks premature. He spent several months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for complications before being discharged and received a set of shots during his second appointment post NICU.

“He had a severe reaction,” Pechecko said. “He got the shots, and we brought him home. He started running a really high fever and because he was a preemie, we called the office and they told us to bring him back in.”

Pechecko was a new mom, and at first she didn’t link it to the vaccinations.

“I was never given any informed consent, where they give you the vaccine inserts with the pros and cons, the risks, side effects, negative outcomes that may occur with sets of vaccines or single vaccines,” Pechecko said. “I just did what my doctor told me.”

Efraimson said they don’t talk much about the harmful effects in nursing school.

“Nurses are told vaccines are great, and we should tell everyone to get vaccines,” Efraimson said. “What I see is doctors and nurses not recognizing the injuries and not reporting them correctly, and then the data reflecting incorrectly out of the CDC and these politicians are using that data to make these bills.

“I had all of the recommended vaccines when I was pregnant with him, up to the age of one with what was recommended by the CDC schedule, and from that one year series it included Measles-Mumps-Rubella and Varicella vaccine, which are the live viruses, and that was when he regressed into what was starting to be described as autism. Really, he had digestive issues, he started getting recurring rashes and behaviors that looked like he was having a lot of pain, and it was pretty horrible to watch,” Efraimson said.

Vaccine manufacturers protected

Vaccine manufacturers are currently protected under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which went into effect Oct. 1, 1988. The current total of payouts to victims of vaccine injury was estimated at $4 billion as of December 2018 by Health Resources and Services Administration, and these payouts are decided by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in vaccine court, which is paid by taxpayers, leaving vaccine manufacturers in the clear, free of being liable according to U.S. code.

“These politicians and pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to be responsible for our children getting sick, or permanently injured, we’re the ones that are going to have to deal with the fallout of that,” Pechecko said.

For Pechecko, it comes down to medical freedom and constitutional rights.

“We should have the choice to have body autonomy, and the choice to partake in medications or pharmaceuticals or biologics, because there is no liability for vaccine manufacturers,” she said. “We’re all for ‘my body my choice’ except for when it comes to vaccinations.”

Another issue of concern for Pechecko comes down to education; she is worried the bills could create a ripple effect.

“We are fortunate to be able to homeschool, but a lot of people cannot. There are single income families, single mothers that are going to be faced with taking that risk of choosing between forced vaccinations in order to be able to send them to school,” she said.

“They say that most of California is approving this bill, but what I’m finding is that most people don’t know about it, if at all,” Efraimson said.

“Victory for science over fear”

Vaccinate California executive director Leah Russin called the agreement “a victory for science over fear and for sound public health policy over conspiracy and misinformation.”

Kris Calvin, CEO of American Academy of Pediatrics of California, said her group supports the amendments.

“We are perfectly satisfied that this bill will satisfy its objective of making sure that bogus medical exemptions are uncovered … while protecting valid medical exemptions,” Calvin said.

But for those who are against the legislation, the governor signing the bill into law was a disappointment.

“Gov. Newsom has this slogan, ‘California for All’, but this is definitely not California for all,” Pechecko said.

The Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this story.

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at