Actress Jessica Biel joined prominent anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. this week to lobby California lawmakers against a bill that would restrict vaccination exemptions — but she says she does not oppose vaccines.
Biel, who is best known for her role on the CW series "7th Heaven," wrote on Instagram that she supports children getting vaccinations but is concerned that the bill's medical exemption requirements are too strict. She said she worries about people such as her friends, whose child has a medical condition that requires exemption from vaccinations.
"That's why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill," Biel wrote Thursday. "Not because I don't believe in vaccinations, but because I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what's best for their patients and the ability to provide that treatment."
Photos that Kennedy posted on Instagram show Biel posing with lawmakers, sitting in meetings and standing in front of a sign welcoming her to the state Senate. Beneath a separate photo with Kennedy and state Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Los Angeles, Biel wrote that it had been great meeting with both of them. Burke sits on the assembly's health committee, where the anti-vaccination bill was referred Monday.
Kennedy's Instagram posts were first publicized by Jezebel.
Children's Health Defense - an anti-vaccination nonprofit where Kennedy serves as the chairman - directed a request for comment to Kennedy's publicist, who did not immediately respond. A representative for Biel also did not immediately respond to an email.
California lawmakers posted on social media to thank Biel for coming to Sacramento to discuss her opposition to the proposed restrictions on vaccination exemptions.
The vaccinations bill, SB 276, would create a standardized medical exemption request form that the state's public health officer or someone they designated would have to approve. The health officer would decide whether the request provides enough medical evidence to establish that the vaccination would be ill-advised based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state also would keep a database of approved exemption requests.
The bill has raised concern in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported that hundreds of parents flocked to the state Capitol in April to express heated opinions on both sides of the issue. Most people who spoke were opponents of the bill who said vaccines had hurt their children, the Times reported. One person called the measure a "crime against humanity," according to the Times.
Kennedy told the Daily Beast that he and Biel were concerned that SB 276 could force children to be vaccinated even if their doctors deem them "too fragile," but the state's health department disagrees. Biel was a well-informed and effective advocate against the bill, Kennedy said.
"She's upset about this issue because of its particular cruelty," Kennedy told the Daily Beast. "She has friends who have been vaccine-injured who would be forced to leave the state."
California health officials estimate that 40% of waiver requests will be denied, the Los Angeles Times reported. The bill's author, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, told the Times that too many students have been receiving exemptions for improper reasons, such as having asthma or diabetes.
The California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California and Vaccinate California co-sponsored the bill.
Kennedy has been advocating against mandatory vaccines for years. He has claimed that they cause autism - an assertion that many leading health and science organizations have debunked.
His siblings, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., as well as his niece Maeve Kennedy McKean, published a column in Politico Magazine in May stating that although they love Robert F. Kennedy Jr., "He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines."
The United States, meanwhile, is experiencing the highest number of measles cases since the disease was scientifically "eliminated" in 2000. Federal health officials in May said there were 971 cases in the first five months of the year, the highest total since 2,126 cases were reported in 1992. Officials have blamed the outbreak on anti-vaccine groups spreading misinformation about vaccine safety.