Responding to California Senate Bill 276 and Its Amendments, Anti-Vaccine Activists Turn to Racist Tropes and Cyberbullying of Legislators

In our last blog post, we presented several examples of how anti-vaccine people and organizations have promoted and committed violence against those they disagree with. Some of those examples included online bullying and abuse through defamatory statements and threats. Today, the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus (APILC) published a post on their Facebook page where they denounced racist online postings from anti-vaccine people. One of those people is Rob Schneider, an actor and comedian who at one time had a television series on Netflix.

This is not Mr. Schneider’s first foray into the cultural discussion on vaccination. In 2015, he left what was described as a “disturbing” voice message on the answering service of a California state Assemblywoman. The posts denounced by APILC includes Mr. Schneider’s comparison of Richard Pan, MD, to Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China and author of several atrocities within China and the expansion of Communism around China’s sphere of influence in the post-World War 2 era. Dr. Pan is a child of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States. (This is apparently not the first time Mr. Schneider has engaged in questionable racial speech that some deem to be racist.)

In another post denounced by APILC, “Christine Lee” posted a photoshopped poster of members of the California Legislature who have Asian heritage. In the text of the posting, she asks several leading questions, such as “Notice anything else about them?” after pointing out that they are “all doctors-turned-politicians.” (The implication being that they are all of Asian descent?) “Christine Lee” has since turned her Twitter account private.

The final posting being denounced is that of “Cathy S-R,” a self-described “Doctor of Chiropractic, medical freedom supporter, informed consent, dog/cat lover.” In her posting to Twitter, she asks Dr. Pan if he is an American citizen, though this information is easy to find (and non-citizens are not allowed to hold public office in the California Assembly). She then contradicts her initial insinuation about Dr. Pan’s citizenship by stating that Dr. Pan “[m]ake [his] country proud.” “Cathy S-R” has not made her Twitter account private as of the writing of this blog post and continues to post accusatory and conspiratory statements about California’s vaccine requirements.

Presumably, these harassing posts are responding to Senate Bill 276, a bill to close loopholes on medical vaccine exemptions in California. After Senate Bill 277 was passed in 2015, personal belief exemptions were done away with when it came to immunizing children in California who were going to school. As a result, anti-vaccine parents sought out medical exemptions are higher rates, and at least one physician got in trouble with the medical board over issuing medical exemptions that were allegedly not based on medical science. Senate Bill 276 was supposed to help prevent fraudulent medical exemptions, but Governor Gavin Newsom had his doubts.

To allay Governor Newsom’s concerns, Dr. Pan negotiated a compromise additional bill, Senate Bill 714. That bill would re-write some provisions in Senate Bill 276 to align with some of the governor’s concerns. For example, it would grandfather in medical exemptions written before the end of this year, but it would require exemptions to be re-visited by physicians at various stages as children go through their education. Governor Newsom is expected to sign both bills into law, and that is what has many anti-vaccine activists seemingly willing to stray into racist tropes to voice their disagreement.


Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen