Actress Jessica Biel is denying she's anti-vaccination after she lobbied with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. against a proposed bill in California that would tighten medical exemptions for vaccines.
"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 in a lengthy Instagram post on Thursday.
The actress, who has a 4-year-old son with husband Justin Timberlake, had lobbied with Kennedy, a well-known critic of vaccine mandates, on Tuesday in opposition to a California bill that would require the state Department of Public Health to make the final decisions on medical exemptions granted by physicians.
Biel mentioned state Senate Bill 277 in her Instagram post, but she appears to have been referring to bill 276, which passed the state Senate in May and is awaiting action in the state Assembly, according to Governing magazine.
Biel is known for her role in the television series "7th Heaven," which ran from 1996 to 2007. She went on to star in a number of other movies and TV shows, including USA's "The Sinner," which was recently renewed for a third season.
Under current law, California children must be fully vaccinated to attend public or private school unless a physician says there is a medical reason for the children to not get vaccines.
Valid medical reasons include when a child is undergoing chemotherapy, has a gelatin allergy or suffers from a severe immunodeficiency disorder, Governing magazine reports.
Until a few years ago, California parents were also able to claim personal-belief reasons for exempting their children from vaccination requirements.
But since the state ended personal-belief exemptions, the number of medical exemptions have more than tripled, "putting kids and communities at risk," said Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator who authored bill 276.
“Unscrupulous physicians are profiting from selling medical exemptions to parents seeking to evade laws" that protect children at school, Pan said.
The debate over vaccine exemptions has become heated in the face of a widespread measles outbreak in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that there have been more than 1,000 measles cases this year. In a May report, the CDC said that measles had reached their highest level in 27 years.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested he won't support the new state bill because he does not want "someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family," the Los Angeles Times reports.
Biel said in her Instagram post, "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. That’s why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill."
Her post on Thursday came after Kennedy Jr.'s post, which called her "courageous," sparked a wave of criticism from vaccine supporters.
Kennedy in a statement on Thursday criticized the California bill, saying decisions regarding medical exemptions for vaccines should come from doctors, not the government.
"I am not anti-vaccine. I am calling for safer vaccines and the right for doctors to determine if a patient is at high risk of adverse reactions to vaccines," he said. "We should all speak out against this clear case of government overreach."
The California bill would still allow medical exemptions when warranted, such as for a serious allergy to a vaccine component, according to Pan's senate office.