UNION TOWNSHIP – Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20th Dist.) fought hard against a bill that called for the elimination of religious exemptions for vaccinations, calling it government overreach.

That controveesial bill, which included an 11th-hour amendment from Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon that created a carve-out for private schools and day care centers, died in the lame duck session last week thanks in great part to Holley’s efforts.

Holley’s stand against the bill and stance on the hot-button issue of vaccinations caught the attention of Robert Kennedy Jr. The prominent anti-vaccination lobbyist and direct descendent of political royalty attended a fundraiser for Holley at da Benito restaurant on Tuesday.

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During the event, Kennedy praised Holley for taking a stance against vaccinations even as big pharma looks to use its vast resources to influence politicians and control the free press, he claimed.

Kennedy linked the rise in autism, food allergies, diabetes, asthma and other health issues to vaccinations created by companies that are immune to liability but also make large profits selling such medical devices as EpiPens, albuterol inhalers and Adderall to treat illnesses.

“The politicians are gone and no one will stand up against them (vaccination manufacturers),” he said. “When he (Holley) stood up, I wanted to come out to New Jersey. I fell in love with this guy. He values brotherhood and sisterhood. They come not from blood, but they come from shared values. I feel like I was raised in the same household because of the deep passion and care that we have for the environment, for clean water for kids, for social justice. We make sure we include all people in our society.”

Holley said the vaccination bill “was a no-vote from the get-go.” He said that he has “strong concerns about what is being inserted into these vaccinations.”

Furthermore, he views his anti-vax stance as a continuation of his social justice work that has included the restoration of voting rights to people on parole and sponsorship of sweeping expungement legislation.

Holley said the carve-out provision added to Bill 2173 by O’Scanlan created an inequity that would have divided New Jersey students down socio-economic lines.

“When we start to talk about segregating kids versus those who can afford to go to private schools and private daycare, why are we carving them out and allowing others to do it?” Holley said. “We’re now in 2020 and that brings another level of segregation. All of the accomplishments that I have mentioned of all the social justice things that we have done to get us out of that... to bring us back to that? That’s a non-starter for me. So, I’m supporting the parents. I’m supporting the kids. I’m going to continue to vote no. I believe the parents should have a religious choice, a religious choice to vaccinate their kids and not government. It’s a government overreach.”

Supporters of vaccination say thy have kept children healthy and have saved millions of lives for more than 50 years. Most childhood vaccines are 90% to 99% effective in preventing disease. And if a vaccinated child does get the disease, the symptoms are usually less serious than in a child who hasn’t been vaccinated. There may be mild side effects, like swelling where the shot was given, but they do not last long. And it is rare for side effects to be serious.

Supporters also note that before a vaccine is licensed in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews all aspects of development, including where and how the vaccine is made and the studies that have been conducted in people who received the vaccine. The FDA will not license a vaccine unless it meets standards for effectiveness (how well the vaccine works) and safety. Results of studies get reviewed again by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians before a licensed vaccine is officially recommended to be given to children. Every lot of vaccine is tested to ensure quality (including safety) before the vaccine reaches the public. In addition, FDA regularly inspects places where vaccines are made.

At yesterday's event, Kennedy said he not only shares Holley’s anti-vax views, but also sees some of his late father in the way Holley unites people.

Kennedy relayed a story about the train ride from New York Penn Station to Washington, where the Kennedy family was going to bury his father’s body after he was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. The people who turned out to pay their respects along the route represented a cross-section of America. From the train's windows he saw tens of thousands of people – priests, hippies, parents holding up their babies, all of them – united under his father’s ideals.

He said that President Donald Trump, by contrast, is “destroying the reputation of America.”

“That’s not a way to govern,” Kennedy said. “What my father tried to do and what Jamel is doing, is to do something much more difficult which is to ask people to find the heroes in themselves, to feel like they’re part of a larger community, to transcend their narrow self-interest and take risks in the hope that they can build something that is as significant and meaningful and enduring and take a risk by leaving their self-interest behind.”