After making headlines for posing with Robert F. Kennedy to aide in lobbying for a bill that would limit the number of medical exemptions for vaccinations in the state of California, Jessica Biel said she's "not against vaccinations," and took to Instagram to clear her stance on the ongoing issue, which has become increasingly more divisive and alarming in recent months.
Amid one of the worst measles outbreak the United States has seen in decades, and a seemingly increasing amount of unscientific fodder regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations, Biel's advocacy with Kennedy was raising some eyebrows. Realizing that her intentions may be misinterpreted, she took to her own social media pages to clarify what she really thinks, and what she is advocating for.
"I am not against vaccinations — I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians," Biel wrote.
"My dearest friends have a child with a medical condition that warrants an exemption from vaccinations, and should this bill pass, it would greatly affect their family’s ability to care for their child in this state," she continued. "That’s why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill. 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."
On Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported that Biel had come together with Kennedy to lobby against SB 276, a bill that proposes to limit medical exemptions from vaccinations without "approval from a public state health officer." The Los Angeles Times reported that official estimates suggest it would reduce the rate of vaccine exemptions by nearly 40 percent, leading to the assumption that Biel was herself against vaccinations.
However, the bill's essential purpose was to limit the "disproportionate number of exemption requests" that are seen in states like California, as HuffPost reported. This could be a means through which some individuals who believe that vaccinations are dangerous or harmful to their children are skirting around being required to receive them.
The idea that vaccines are unsafe is a myth. According to PublicHealth, this idea can be traced back to a 1997 study originated by Andrew Wakefield, a UK-based surgeon. The article, which was published in The Lancet, suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was responsible for the increase in autism diagnoses in children.
However, as the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health has stated, the paper had seen been retracted and then discredited, on account of procedural errors, undisclosed "financial conflicts of interest," and other "ethical violations." Wakefield lost his medical license, and the NCBI attributed the following drop in vaccinations due to the paper itself. Ultimately, the retraction noted that there was "no correlation" between the MMR and Autism, debunking it completely.
However, the seed was planted in the public consciousness, it seems. Today, there are still many rumors gaining popularity that vaccinations are in some way unsafe or potentially harmful to children, which is not only not backed by any research, but also potentially more dangerous as herd immunity decreases and exposes children who legitimately cannot receive vaccinations due to potential life-threatening or ending diseases.
Celebrity endorsement is a powerful thing, and as we've seen in recent months, when an individual with a lot of clout advocates for policy and politics, people take note. This is why it is essential to hold all notable individuals accountable for what they are advocating for, and what the potential consequences could be.