On June 11, Jessica Biel became the latest celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement when she surfaced in California’s capitol to lobby against a state bill that would limit medical exemptions for immunizations without approval from a public health officer. Accompanying her was controversial activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the founder of Children’s Health Defense, which has claimed that vaccines are dangerous and unnecessary.
Multiple members of the state Assembly and state Senate welcomed her to Sacramento, posting grip-and-grin pictures to their social media accounts. Kennedy thanked her for being “courageous” on “a busy and productive day.” State Senate Bill 276, now making its way through the legislature, is meant to crack down on doctors who provide what sponsoring senator Richard Pan describes as “fake” medical exemptions.
Neither Biel nor Kennedy responded to THR‘s requests for comment by press time. But Biel explained her appearance and clarified her position on immunizations in an Instagram post early Thursday morning, writing in part that she is “not against vaccinations.”
Rosanna Arquette was among those to praise Biel for her involvement. “Thank you Jessica,” she wrote on Kennedy’s Instagram, adding thumbs-up and praying-hands emojis. Kimberly Van Der Beek, who parents five children with actor husband James, also lauded Biel “for enlightening people.” Others to offer kudos included actress and mother of two Rachael Harris (Suits, Luther).
Biel joins a high-profile cast of Hollywood names — including Robert De Niro, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy — to lend a voice to anti-vaccine views, which are flatly rejected by the scientific establishment. (SB 276’s co-sponsors are the California Medical Association, a physicians group; and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California.)
Earlier legislation to bolster vaccination rates among schoolchildren was first enacted following a statewide epidemic of whooping cough in 2014 and a prominent outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland in 2015. An investigation at the time by The Hollywood Reporter found that state-reported vaccine exemption rates at some preschools in wealthy, industry-oriented areas of L.A. were in line with those in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan.
The U.S. is currently in the midst of a major measles outbreak, the worst in two decades. California has been spared the worst of it, and experts believe the state’s recent exemption legislation has helped.
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June 13, 6:09 a.m. This story has been updated with Biel’s response to reports about her appearance.