Dr. Richard Pan introduces Senate Bill 276 in March. Courtesy of Pan’s office

A pediatrician who is a California state Senator was assaulted in Sacramento Wednesday because of his support for strengthened vaccination rules.

Dr. Richard Pan, who authored Senate Bill 277 in 2015 and Senate Bill 276 this year to ensure more children are vaccinated against preventable diseases, was shoved from behind while walking with another legislator outside the Capitol.

Anti-vaccine activist Kenneth Austin Bennett was cited for suspicion of assault by the Sacramento Police Department. The incident was live streamed on Facebook.

Bennett had challenged the senator in the 2018 primary but did not qualify for the general election. He later filed a recall petition, alleging the Pan was committing treason by authoring bills to tighten vaccination requirements.

Pan was not injured, telling public radio station KQED that “he struck me pretty hard but I didn’t fall,” but the assault quickly drew sharp criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

“There is absolutely no reason for resorting to violence. We may not all agree on every piece of legislation, but that is no reason to resort to aggressive and harmful behavior,” said Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego. “My colleagues and I will do all we can to aid those investigating this matter and protect the elected leaders, staff, and visitors who work at and tour our Capitol each day.”

Former Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates, who represents parts of north San Diego County, condemned the attack as “not only against him, but also against the entire democratic process and every member of the Legislature.”

Pan’s latest bill was co-sponsored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, who has been a vocal supporter of efforts to increase vaccination rates.

The anti-vaccination movement has led to recent outbreaks of measles in Los Angeles and San Diego, resurrecting a disease that killed 500 Americans annually before the advent of a vaccine in the 1960s.

The movement often cites fraudulent research by a now-discredited British doctor who claimed vaccines lead to autism.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.