Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called on state lawmakers to establish permanent penalties for companies that require all employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, his latest step in scaling back pandemic mitigation efforts.
The proposal would indefinitely extend measures signed by DeSantis in 2021 that made Florida the first state in the country to threaten businesses with fines if they required workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Those measures pitted DeSantis and Florida against the federal government over President Joe Biden’s efforts to get the nation’s workforce vaccinated, a clash that helped boost the Republican governor’s popularity among conservatives.
Now, as DeSantis considers a run for president, he’s reigniting that battle.
This time, DeSantis has completely encouraged skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines, highlighting a position far to the right of his main potential rival for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump, who continues to consider the development of vaccines as one of their own. main achievements of the administration.
“They were wrong about the lockdowns,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “They were wrong about mask mandates. They were wrong about school closings. They were wrong about mRNA shots. They were wrong about vax passports and vaccine mandates.”
DeSantis wants to make permanent laws passed in November 2021 after calling a special session in response to the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate. Those measures, set to expire at the end of June, included bans on mask requirements in schools and the government and banned vaccines as a condition for travel.
DeSantis had called on lawmakers to ban vaccine mandates and impose punitive penalties on companies that don’t comply, and threatened to withdraw state protections against Covid-19-related companies from any companies that followed Biden’s mandate. But the Republican-controlled legislature wouldn’t get that far. Instead, the bill that ended up on DeSantis’ desk said that companies could require vaccination as a condition of employment if workers can qualify for a medical or religious exemption, a natural immunity test or by undergoing to regular tests for Covid-19. .
It’s unclear whether DeSantis would expand existing limitations on vaccine requirements or suggest new legislation that would prohibit any company from making vaccines a condition of employment.
In addition to proposing permanent bans on strict mask and vaccine mandates, DeSantis also wants to prevent doctors from losing their medical licenses if they take positions that contradict the medical consensus. During Tuesday’s event in Panama City Beach, DeSantis welcomed to the stage a local dermatologist who has been spreading baseless Covid-19 conspiracies on Twitter.
“We want our doctors, especially our doctors, to be protected with the freedom to be able to tell the truth,” DeSantis said.
After Tuesday’s announcement, state House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, called DeSantis “the number one peddler of a dangerous message from the anti-vax establishment.”
“It’s a false ideology with real consequences: more than 84,000 dead Floridians and counting,” Driskell said. “Masks work, the CDC has proven it. mRNA vaccines work.”
DeSantis’ more recent skepticism about vaccines is a reversal of his efforts in early 2021, when his administration worked aggressively to make vaccinations available to seniors and the governor boasted about the speed of the state at the time of distributing the vaccine.
“Florida leads the nation in vaccines for those 65 and older with a senior-first approach,” said a January 2021 news release from her office.
At one point, DeSantis appeared on Fox News alongside a 100-year-old World War II veteran receiving a dose live on air. In a press conference in July 2021, DeSantis gave full support of the effectiveness of the vaccine against the Covid-19 virus.
“If you’re vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from Covid is effectively zero,” he said at the time. “These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
However, as DeSantis set his sights on a possible showdown with Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024, his public support for the vaccine began to wane. He declined to say whether he had received a booster shot, a stance Trump called “gutless” in a 2022 interview, and has made Florida an outlier in his approach to the vaccine in recent months. Under DeSantis, Florida became the only state to recommend against vaccinating children, and the state Department of Health has also discouraged men under 40 from getting the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine because of concerns about side effects.
Cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart and heart lining, are rare after mRNA vaccines, although they are more likely to occur in young men. The risk of heart inflammation is much greater from Covid-19 than from vaccination.
DeSantis in December also successfully lobbied the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a grand jury to investigate the development, distribution and promotion of the vaccine.