SB 742 to Protect our Right to Free Speech and to Safely Receive Vaccines Passed by Senate Public Safety Committee

Anti-science extremists, who are often unmasked and unvaccinated use intimidation tactics and physical obstruction endangering patients and front-line workers at vaccine clinics

April 20, 2021

SACRAMENTO, CA – As health providers tirelessly work to vaccinate Californians and put an end to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has already led to the death of 500,000 people in the United States alone, the Senate Public Safety Committee passed SB 742 by Dr. Richard Pan to give public officials the tools they need to keep anti-science extremists from harassing and intimidating patients and front-line workers when getting the vaccine.  

“Through decades of research and science around immunology we have a chance to bring the pandemic to a close and we are finally starting to safely reopen our communities--but all that opportunity may be a loss if we don’t get enough people vaccinated,” said Dr. Richard Pan.  “While federal, state and local governments are doing better each day distributing COVID-19 vaccines and educating the public, anti-vaccine extremists are escalating their tactics to disrupt and stop these efforts. SB 742 will make sure people have ample opportunity to practice free speech while giving public officials tools to ensure patients and front-line workers at vaccine clinics are safe from intimidation, harassment, and physical obstruction.”

“Through the miracles of science, we now have a vaccine that literally separates life from death for vulnerable communities who have already suffered with long-standing inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. But now, to get the life-saving vaccine, vulnerable patients are struggling to navigate health systems, Internet sign-ups and transportation issues. We cannot allow obstruction, intimidation, hostility and harassment to be additional barriers for patients who need the vaccine,” said Dr. Atul Nakhasi, a physician at Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center, South Los Angeles and founder of #ThisisOurShot, a group of thousands of medical professionals from around the country educating people on the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“The COVID Vaccines are safe and effective - and in the United States alone, we have administered tens of millions of doses – 3 million Americans are vaccinated every day. Our children and our families have been through enough.  We have been waiting for this moment and have been working toward getting back to our lives.  We must ensure the safety of the public and professionals to accomplish this goal.” Said Catherine Flores Martin, Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, a statewide nonprofit with the mission of ensuring that everyone has access to lifesaving vaccines.

SB 742 will protect the rights of people to safely receive vaccinations without concern for intimidation or physical obstruction by protestors, while preserving the right of protesters to assemble. Specifically, under SB 742, a person would not be permitted to physically obstruct or intimidate at a vaccine clinic and all individuals who engage in pickets at a vaccine clinic would need to stay at a designated distance from the clinic. This bill sets violations of this law punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.

COVID-19 Vaccinations are given at a variety of vaccination sites, such as hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and other retail spaces and pop-up locations. The unprecedented scope of COVID-19 vaccination efforts has required the use of unconventional venues such as fairgrounds or stadiums for vaccination sites. However, the legal code has not yet evolved to account for these changes, and current laws do not adequately empower law enforcement to balance the first amendment rights to free speech with the right to receive healthcare at vaccination sites.

In the most talked about example, an anti-vaccine mob descended onto a large-scale vaccination site at Dodger stadium in Los Angeles, where they used intimidation and physical obstruction to keep people from getting vaccinated and they forced a temporary closure of the site. In the weeks since, anti-vaccine extremists have targeted other vaccine sites where they have tried to frighten community members with extreme anti-vaccine propaganda.

SB 742 will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee.