June 13, 2019

On Wednesday, actress Jessica Biel came out as an "anti-vaxx activist," as The Daily Beast put it, joining anti-vaccination crusader Robert Kennedy Jr. at the California legislature to lobby against a bill that would make it harder to opt out of vaccinating children for medical reasons. This wasn't an activity Biel's publicist highlighted.

Biel and her husband, Justin Timberlake, didn't comment on her activities at the legislature — though her perceived anti-vaccination lobbying was unpopular in the comments under an unrelated tweet — but Kennedy told The Daily Beast that Biel was an "extremely well-informed" and "very effective advocate." He described her as "for safe vaccines and for medical freedom," adding, "She has friends who have been vaccine-injured who would be forced to leave the state." Biel has not publicly commented on vaccinations, though there were tabloid reports in 2015 that she and Timberlake planned to not vaccinate their children.

Vaccinations are in the news because of a large outbreak of the measles that started in low-vaccination areas around the country, and Kennedy's relatives have sharply criticized his anti-vaccination advocacy, especially his repeatedly disproved claim that vaccines cause autism.

"The children who need medical exemptions will not have a problem getting them if SB 276 becomes law," said Leah Russin, executive director of Vaccinate California, which backs the bill, along with the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California. "People who are on immuno-suppressant drugs will not have a problem getting a medical exemption — and in fact, the people who truly need medical exemptions desperately need everyone else to be vaccinated. That's why they support this bill."

"A Hollywood celebrity and the head of an environmental organization should not have credibility on an issue about how to regulate the medical profession," Russin added. "It's the Jenny McCarthy show all over again." Peter Weber

April 27, 2018

The flu is one of the most common diseases on the planet. And yet despite extensive study, scientists have never come up with a solution that can protect us completely from the fast-evolving virus.

But soon, that may change.

Bill Gates announced Friday that he will be throwing his hat — and $12 million — into the ring of influenza research, Quartz reported. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will partner with Larry Page, the CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, to create a fund of $12 million to support research into a universal flu vaccine, Gates explained.

"There is a significant probability" of a worldwide flu pandemic within our lifetimes, Gates said at the announcement, which was held at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society in Boston. After several influenza epidemics over the past few years, including the past flu season in the U.S., "this could be an important first step" in helping to prevent that catastrophic scenario, Gates said.

Gates also stressed the importance of the U.S.'s involvement in developing this vaccine, as few other countries have "the depth of scientific or technical expertise" required to take on a challenge this big, The Washington Post reported.

Read more about Gates' announcement at Quartz. Shivani Ishwar

June 29, 2015

California legislators voted Monday to eliminate the state's personal belief exemption for required school vaccinations, The Associated Press reports. Only Mississippi and West Virginia have similarly strict laws on the books. Democratic senators introduced the bill after more than 100 people were infected in a measles outbreak originating at Disneyland, sparking a nationwide debate on whether vaccines should be mandatory.

The measure would not affect medical exemptions the state allows children with serious health issues. It would also grandfather in students with existing personal belief exemptions until their next vaccine checkpoint.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has not yet said whether he'll sign the bill, which doesn't have enough support to override a veto. Julie Kliegman

April 13, 2015

Australia has taken a stand against the anti-vaccination movement.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced what he's calling a "no jab, no pay" policy, where parents who refuse to vaccinate their children won't be given government welfare benefits. The law is expected to take effect early next year.

Previously, Australia's welfare beneficiaries could receive childcare money if they had "a philosophical or religious objection to vaccines," BBC News reports, but Abbott said the law will "soon be substantially tightened."

In a statement, Abbott said that the decision not to vaccinate children "is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments."

The news comes as the U.S. and some parts of Europe have seen a resurgence in measles, for which the anti-vaccination movement has been deemed responsible, at least in part. Meghan DeMaria

March 2, 2015

A new survey published in the journal Pediatrics found that a majority of doctors will agree to parents' requests to delay their children's vaccinations.

Ninety-three percent of the 534 primary care doctors surveyed said that they were asked to postpone vaccinations by at least one parent a month. One-third of doctors said they "often" or "always" agreed to the delays, and another third said they "sometimes" agreed to delay vaccinations, even though the delay would increase children's risk of developing measles and other illnesses.

"It is sad that we are willing to let children walk out of our offices vulnerable to potentially fatal infections," Dr. Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told The New York Times. "There's a fatigue here, and there's a kind of learned helplessness." Meghan DeMaria

February 10, 2015

A new poll from the Pew Research Center has revealed that nearly one in 10 Americans believe that vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella aren't safe for children.

The vaccine distrust spanned party lines, too — five percent of Republicans and nine percent of Democrats believed vaccines are unsafe. Only 83 percent of those polled believe the measles vaccine is safe for healthy children, while nine percent believe vaccines are unsafe, and seven percent said they "don't know."

The news comes as the CDC releases its latest figures on the measles outbreak: 121 people have been infected with measles in the U.S. from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6. Meghan DeMaria

February 7, 2015

University of California hopefuls (and parents of UC hopefuls) should head for a doctor's office, Time reports.

Beginning in 2017, the University of California's 10 campuses will require incoming students to be vaccinated against a number of diseases, including, "measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, meningococcus, tetanus, and whooping cough," according to a statement from the UC.

While the school's new policy has reportedly been in development for nearly a year, the announcement comes during a time of strong debate about whether or not to make vaccinations mandatory. And California has been at the center of a measles outbreak, which began at Disneyland in December and has since spread to 14 other states. Sarah Eberspacher

See More Speed Reads