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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Injects Presidential Politics Into the Covid Vaccine Debate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Injects Presidential Politics Into the Covid Vaccine Debate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) observes as Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo addresses the media during a 2021 press conference in Kissimmee, Florida. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

As Americans consider whether to take advice from federal health officials and get an , Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is drumming the message that ignited his national political career: Ignore what the federal government tells you about covid-19.

Last week 鈥 as polling showed him running a distant second to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination 鈥 DeSantis convened a virtual roundtable featuring a panel of covid vaccine skeptics. Their mission: to swat away the FDA鈥檚 findings that the new shots are safe and effective for those 6 months and older.

Instead, they advised those younger than 65 , suggesting without evidence that the shots could be harmful.

鈥淚 will not stand by and let the FDA and CDC use healthy Floridians as guinea pigs for new booster shots that have not been proven to be safe or effective,鈥 said DeSantis, contradicting the . 鈥淥nce again, Florida is the first state in the nation to stand up and provide guidance based on truth, not Washington edicts.鈥

Backing up DeSantis was the handpicked keeper of his public health strategy: his state鈥檚 surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo.

鈥淢y judgment is that it鈥檚 not a good decision for young people and for people who are not at high risk at this point in the pandemic,鈥 Ladapo said.

Ladapo has come under fire from public health experts since DeSantis tapped him for the role. He has been for promoting misinformation about covid and vaccines generally. And a report by the faculty of the University of Florida鈥檚 College of Medicine in a state health department study that suggested receiving an mRNA vaccine against covid increased the risk of death among young men.

Ladapo personally altered the study鈥檚 findings, . And the risk of cardiac complications among young men is up to 5.6 times as high after covid infection as after covid vaccination.

With public health officials facing an uphill battle to persuade Americans to get one of the updated vaccines 鈥 just 17% received the 2022 booster 鈥 DeSantis鈥 tactic could further depress uptake by stoking doubts about the vaccines.

DeSantis is 鈥減laying with fire, and this is about life and death,鈥 said Donna Shalala, who served as U.S. 国产精品视频 and Human Services secretary during the Clinton administration and later represented Florida in Congress.

鈥淏ut I think people will see it for what it is: a desperate attempt at very high risk to people in Florida to reposition himself,鈥 she said.

DeSantis trails Trump by more than 40 points, on average, in polls of GOP primary voters, a gap that has widened despite the governor鈥檚 recent efforts to reboot his campaign.

More than have died from covid-19.

And, while there have been a few serious side effects associated with covid vaccines, their incidence is rare and several studies have shown that vaccinated people of death from non-covid causes than those who are unvaccinated. More than of covid vaccines have been administered in the U.S., according to Our World in Data.

That information was not mentioned in the discussion last week, when the panel 鈥 which notably included no vaccine or infectious disease experts 鈥 said without evidence that the shots might have 鈥渘egative efficacy鈥 or even cause increased infection from the virus.

DeSantis and Ladapo said they were troubled by the lack of human trials before the latest covid vaccines were authorized 鈥 though they did not address why they might be less concerned about the risks for those age 65 and older.

Annual flu vaccines also do not undergo clinical testing on humans. But Ladapo called it 鈥渟leight of hand鈥 to compare the covid boosters to the flu vaccine, because it has been around for decades. 鈥淚t is a completely different phenomenon,鈥 he said.

The Florida 国产精品视频 Department did not respond to questions about whether it recommends the flu vaccine in light of its dearth of human testing.

, a vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins University who watched the roundtable, said he took issue with the claim that there wasn’t clinical data supporting the new vaccines鈥 safe use. Like the flu vaccine, the primary covid vaccines went through clinical trials, and there wouldn鈥檛 be time to conduct one every time a new strain emerges, he said.

The discussion was not a robust debate around scientific uncertainty among experts, Salmon said. He noted the panelists鈥 lack of expertise and training in vaccines and infectious disease, saying they instead leaned on their positions as physicians, academics, and the Florida surgeon general to give them credibility.

鈥淭hey don’t know covid,鈥 Salmon said. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e cherry-picking facts to defend their position. And they don鈥檛 have the expertise to make those decisions for a large number of people.鈥

鈥淚t felt to me like they were trying to sow doubt,鈥 he said, 鈥渁nd that鈥檚 dangerous.鈥

KFF polling shows that , and many are uncertain about the veracity of claims about the covid vaccines.

DeSantis built his national reputation on bucking the medical establishment and ending 2020鈥檚 pandemic lockdown earlier in Florida than many other states did. He also has gained a following 鈥 鈥 by criticizing the federal government under President Joe Biden and guidance from the nation鈥檚 former top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, who left his post at the National Institutes of 国产精品视频 in December.

DeSantis鈥 handling of the covid response helped propel him to a massive reelection victory last year and to the front of the pack of 2024 Republican presidential contenders this spring.

, chair of the International Relations and Political Science Department at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, said he is not surprised by DeSantis鈥 approach to the updated vaccines given his polling numbers, his reputation for pushing 鈥渕edical freedom,鈥 and his general vaccine policies.

鈥淗e needs to remain relevant and set himself apart from other candidates,鈥 he said.

Last year, DeSantis after Florida came under fire for being the only state not to preorder doses ahead of the federal government鈥檚 approval of vaccination for children under 5.

This year, DeSantis urged Florida鈥檚 GOP-controlled legislature to approve pandemic-related legislation that runs counter to some public health recommendations, including measures to permanently ban school mask mandates and bar businesses from firing employees who don鈥檛 get vaccinated.

, a political historian at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said DeSantis鈥 messaging on the new covid vaccines shows his desire to distance himself from Trump 鈥 even though Trump鈥檚 2018 endorsement led to his winning the Florida governor鈥檚 race.

鈥淭his is a way for him to exploit the issue, though it may come at the expense of lives of anyone who would listen to him in Florida and elsewhere,鈥 he said.