Monday, March 16, 2020




          While the world waits for someone, somewhere, to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, it would be nice if residents in America’s most populous state could be sure their governor really is on board with vaccinations.

There is some reason to doubt he is. It’s true that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a legislative bill intended to close loopholes allowing some children to avoid vaccinations required for public school enrollment. And he’s demanded Californians take many coronavirus precautions, from closing all bars to forcing over-65s to stay home. But…

          Newsom only okayed last year’s SB 276 after intervening twice in the legislative process to make the measure far weaker than the original version proposed by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a pediatrician.

          For anyone who doubts the impact of vaccinations on diseases like measles, rubella, mumps, polio and whooping cough, diseases that once could become epidemic, a look at the spread of the coronavirus might be illuminating.

          Without a vaccine to hinder it, this virus sped around the world in two months, causing personal and financial panic. It halted most travel to Asia and Europe, the government warns Americans against cruises, sports events are cancelled, many restaurants are closed and thousands wear surgical masks.

          All this for a virus whose death toll is less severe than it was from some diseases for which vaccines are now well established.

          Last year, Newsom did as much as he could afford politically to ease the impact of SB 276 on anti-vaccination parents who believe the almost certainly fictitious side-effect of autism that’s claimed by discredited anti-vaxx leaders. Those parents say this supposed occasional side effect outweighs any risk of disease epidemics.

          Today’s stock market and multiple deaths from the coronavirus suggest otherwise.

Before SB 276, hundreds, maybe thousands, of parents located the few doctors who push the unproven autism claims and charged about $300 each to sign medical exemptions from the vaccination rules.

          Pan sought to close this loophole by having state health officials vet all such waivers, approving only those for children with organ transplants and a few other conditions.

          Newsom bridled. Last summer, he said, “I believe in immunizations; I do not subscribe to their point of view broadly. I back immunizations, however I do have concerns about a bureaucrat making a decision that is very personal…I think that’s just something we need to pause and think about.” Does this verbal mush mean he thinks vaccinations belong in the realm of personal choice, not public health necessity? He won’t say.

          Newsom essentially forced Pan to revise his bill so vetting will apply only to doctors who sign more than five waivers in any year. That seemed to satisfy Newsom – until late August, when he weighed in again, causing SB 276 to be further weakened. It no longer requires doctors to certify under penalty of perjury that what they’re saying is accurate. If they won’t do that, why believe them at all?

          Then, in February, Newsom’s “First Partner,” wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom, told anti-vaxx activists in Sacramento that “I think there needs to be more conversation around spreading out vaccines, around only giving children the vaccines that are most essential.” Does the former actress believe she knows which ones fit that bill? Does the governor share her belief?

          The First Partner asked the activists not to post her remarks on social media, but they did it anyway.

          A Newsom spokesperson later noted that the severely weakened law he signed is the position of his administration, but he has not pushed the health department to set up either the required vetting system or any oversight.

          Pan told a reporter, “This should absolutely be happening now.”

          What’s more, once a coronavirus vaccine arrives, it should be added to the required list to reduce risks from that sometimes deadly micro-organism.

          It adds up to a situation where the governor talks strongly about combating the coronavirus, but has gone easy on other diseases that could spread even faster than the new threat, including some with far greater risks of death or brain damage for those they infect.

       Which opens the question of how badly he actually wants a coronavirus vaccine.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

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