Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is raising concerns about what actions he could take if he were successful in his expected 2024 presidential bid after recently doubling down on his attacks on federal health policies.
The Republican governor on Tuesday announced plans to form a committee to counter guidance from U.S. health agencies. He also called for a statewide grand jury investigation into “any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to COVID-19 vaccines.”
“In Florida, you know, it is against the law to mislead and to misrepresent, particularly when you’re talking about the efficacy of a drug,” DeSantis said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
DeSantis was light on specifics during the press conference but a press release from his office accused the Biden administration and vaccine makers of “ignoring real-life adverse events” after vaccination, citing conditions like myocarditis. Myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart, is a rare event that has been linked to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines particularly among young men.
“With these new actions, we will shed light on the forces that have obscured truthful communication about the COVID-19 vaccines,” Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said in a statement.
Public health experts have long called out the politicization of the COVID-19 vaccine as harmful. An analysis from the Commonwealth Fund and the Yale School of Public Health published this week estimated that the shots prevented more than 3.2 million deaths and 18.5 million hospitalizations in the U.S.
“The unprecedented pace at which vaccines were developed and deployed has saved many lives and allowed for safer easing of COVID-19 restrictions and reopening of businesses, schools, and other activities,” the report stated.
The Florida governor’s stance is increasing concerns among public health experts about what a potential DeSantis presidency would bring for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and others that are committed to the pursuit of reliable and politically objective scientific conclusions – even when they prove unpopular.
“Can you imagine what happens to HHS Federal agencies such as FDA, CDC, NIH if the Florida Governor becomes POTUS and he populates the leadership of those agencies with members of his so-called integrity committee? OMG, what a horror show,” tweeted Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.
DeSantis has long questioned the shots, going as far as recommending against healthy children getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We know vaccines save lives. The data is very clear. Those of us in the scientific community are outraged by this,” Lisa Gwynn, the former president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told The Washington Post. “It’s definitely eroding confidence in public health policies.”
DeSantis is notably going further than comments from former President Donald Trump, who – on occasion – advocated for the COVID-19 vaccine and took credit for its development during his administration.
But Trump’s endorsement of the shot was sometimes met with pushback from his followers, who have gone as far as to boo such comments from him during rallies.
Although Trump was outwardly critical of his own administration’s science and health policies – highlighted by his consistent criticisms of the FDA, CDC and leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, along with amplifying partisan skepticism of climate change – DeSantis appears ready to go a step further in an attempt to solidify his base.
DeSantis appears to be out-Trumping Trump as many speculate that the Florida governor will run against the former president in the 2024 presidential election. Trump officially launched his campaign for president last month.
While DeSantis hasn’t made his bid official yet, his strategy so far of delivering an amplified version of Trump’s message in a different package could be working.
A new poll out Wednesday pitted the two against each other and reported that DeSantis would soundly beat Trump 52% to 38% among likely GOP primary voters in a hypothetical head-to-head presidential primary bid.