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Opponents vow to overturn vaccination law at Santa Monica rally

Three days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed one of the nation's strictest mandatory vaccination bills, several hundred opponents rallied in Santa Monica on Friday and vowed to repeal it.

"I am not going to stop until the truth comes out — this is heinous, this is dangerous," said Silvana Appleman, an Agoura Hills grandmother who marched with the others from the Santa Monica Pier to City Hall, chanting, "parents call the shots" and "we're not going away."

The controversial legislation requires children entering school or day care to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, whooping cough and other diseases. Parents will no longer be able to cite religious or personal beliefs in seeking exemptions.

Children with documented medical conditions, such as allergies or immune system deficiencies, would be excused from immunizations. Parents who decline the vaccinations would have to enroll their children in a home-based private school or public independent study program based off campus.

The bill, prompted by concern about low vaccination rates in some communities and an outbreak of measles last winter at Disneyland that ultimately sickened 150 people, was one of the most contentious measures taken up by the Legislature this year.

Hearings attracted large and vocal crowds of parents who decried the bill as a violation of their right to protect their children's health, and of their children's right to a public education. Some parents and others also have cast mandatory vaccination as government overreach and an attack on liberty.

"No government will forcibly inject my child with anything. Over my dead body," one parent posted on the Facebook page for Friday's "Health Freedom Rally" in Santa Monica.

Similar sentiments about government intrusion prevailed at the gathering.

"I think this is possibly the most extreme invasion of our freedom as Americans," said Brenton Shelkey, 31, who held a sign that read, "Millennials against medical tyranny."

Most of those gathered at City Hall were young families, many with toddlers or children in strollers. Most carried signs with messages such as "my body, my choice," "vaccines kill," and "we are not going away."

Some rally-goers said they did not oppose vaccinations but objected to their being mandatory.

"I don't want vaccinations to go away, I just want them to be my choice," said Gina Camp, a Los Angeles mother of three. "It's my right and my husband's right to make those decisions with our doctor, not the government."

Speakers at the rally included Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study in the medical journal Lancet claimed a possible link between the measles vaccine and autism. The study was later debunked as fraudulent and retracted, but Wakefield remains a hero in the anti-vaccination movement.

"I have been in this for 20 years and I will fight this battle until I die, because your children are worth fighting for," he told the crowd, which gave him a rousing ovation.

Tony Muhammad, student Western regional minister in the nation of Islam, invited the audience to join in a multicultural, multi-religious effort to repeal the vaccination bill.

"I will be damned if I'll let anyone come into my house and tell me what to do with my children," he said.

In signing the bill Tuesday, Brown said the benefits of immunization clearly outweighed the risks, a view shared by public health officials and most doctors.

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases," Brown said in a statement. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

Sandy Fleming, one of the organizers of the Santa Monica rally, said she and others were saddened by Brown's signing of the bill, but not discouraged.

"The passion behind it will not die," Fleming, who has one child and was expecting another any day, said earlier this week. "When somebody comes between you and what you think is the right thing for your child, you never give up, you never ever stop."

On Wednesday, state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician and an author of the bill, defended it and pledged to fight a referendum effort launched the same day by former Assemblyman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks.

"Californians overwhelmingly support requiring vaccinations for school," Pan said. "Our bill was a reasonable, science-based approach to protecting children, and the most vulnerable among us, from dangerous diseases. Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent deadly communicable diseases."

kim.christensen@latimes.com

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