Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) became a right-wing celebrity by defiantly ignoring public health guidance on large indoor gatherings and masking to slow the spread of COVID. But, for much of 2021, DeSantis maintained a scintilla of responsibility around vaccines, promoting them as safe and effective.
That time is now over.
DeSantis appeared at a press conference Monday alongside several Floridians who refuse to get vaccinated. He stood silently as some of these people used his platform to promote wild anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
For example, one City of Gainesville employee, Darius, stood next to DeSantis and falsely claimed that COVID vaccines "change your RNA."
This claim is totally false. The mRNA vaccines do not change the body's natural mRNA or DNA. Rather, the vaccine uses mRNA to instruct the body to make a harmless protein, which mimics the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus. That protein provokes the immune response to protect against COVID infections. Once the protein is created, the body breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA vaccine.
Darius went on to assert that the entire vaccination effort was part of a conspiracy to take away the liberty and freedom of Americans. "They’re taking away our liberty little by little. They’re using the vaccine for cover. Last year they took away our religious rights, they are not defending our freedom of speech, and this is just one way to take it to the next step," Darius said.
As Darius ranted, DeSantis stood silently and never made any effort to correct the record.
Next, Christine, another City of Gainesville employee, took to the podium and suggested that the vaccine was deadly. "If I’m dead, they suffer… I will not put my children through the possibility of losing another maternal figure in their lives," Christine said, explaining her decision not to get vaccinated.
But COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to billions of people and are extremely safe. COVID-19, on the other hand, can be deadly, especially if you are unvaccinated.
A number of Gainesville employees are suing the city over the vaccine mandate. Two Florida counties, Orange County and Leon County, have also imposed vaccine mandates for government employees.
DeSantis did not just give a platform to vaccine misinformation — he spread it himself. During the press conference, DeSantis described getting vaccinated as "basically a personal choice" about "individual health." But vaccines are important not just to protect yourself but to protect others. This is particularly true of children under 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and the immuno-compromised, who have a less robust immune response to vaccines. By framing the refusal to be vaccinated as a personal choice with no consequences for other people, DeSantis is validating that decision with false information.
DeSantis misrepresents Florida law
The formal purpose of DeSantis' press conference was to announce that he was cracking down on Florida municipalities, including the City of Gainesville, that imposed vaccine mandates on local government workers. DeSantis said he would "start issuing $5,000 fines to cities and counties that require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19." Because these fines would be imposed for each violation, the policy could expose Gainsville and other local governments to millions of dollars in penalties.
DeSantis said the fines were "required" under a new Florida law, SB 2006. But that law "prohibits businesses, local governments and schools from requiring customers, residents and students from showing proof of vaccination — so-called 'vaccine passports' — to receive services." It does not specifically prohibit local governments from requiring workers to get vaccines.
DeSantis' long, hot, deadly summer
All summer, DeSantis has been in denial.
In June, as the Delta variant began to take over, DeSantis dismissed concerns as fearmongering. "There has been a lot of talk about variants leading up to this. I think it gets put out there in ways designed to frighten people," DeSantis said on June 15, the day the CDC announced Delta was a "variant of concern."
In July, DeSantis said that the surge in cases was a "seasonal wave" that was "driven a lot by a lot of younger people" who are "not getting really sick."
DeSantis was wrong. In Florida, August was the deadliest month of the pandemic with more than 7,000 deaths. In Central Florida, hospitals were forced to order "fourteen portable refrigerated morgues" because they ran out of room to put bodies.
While DeSantis frequently brags that he "protected seniors," 800,000 seniors in Florida "are unvaccinated or only have partial protection." Florida also has "one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country for people living in nursing homes at about 74%." The highly contagious Delta variant spreads to unprotected populations easily.
And it's not just seniors that are dying. In the current wave, 40% of deaths are among people under 65. Nearly all of those people could avoid death if they were vaccinated. By offering encouragement to the holdouts, DeSantis is setting the stage for more carnage.
GM under fire for campaign contributions to GOP objectors
After January 6, General Motors said that it had "paused new political contributions" and future contributions would be guided by "character and public integrity criteria."
Since then, General Motors has donated $77,500 to 14 members of the House and Senate who voted to overturn the election. That total includes $10,000 to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). General Motors also donated $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is chaired by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who also voted to overturn the election.
Today, MoveOn is launching a new advertising campaign attacking General Motors for hypocrisy. An advanced copy was provided to Popular Information:
“If GM wants to preserve its legacy as leaders in the industry, then they need to honor their commitment to our democracy and refuse to fund those who played a role in trying to overthrow our government,” Rahna Epting, Executive Director of MoveOn Political Action said.
The scrutiny on General Motors comes after Toyota, which donated to dozens of Republican objectors after January 6, announced in July that it would stop.
"The General Motors employee-funded PAC supports the election of U.S. federal and state candidates from both sides of the aisle who foster sound business policies, support American workers and understand the importance of a robust domestic auto industry as we pursue an all-electric vehicle future," General Motors told Popular Information in response to a request for comment.
General Motors donations included a $1,000 check to Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Lummis voted to overturn the election in January. In August, Lummis voted against the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which included "$7.5 billion to build out a national network of EV [electric vehicle] chargers." Scott also voted against the package.
For more information on the status of corporate commitments after January 6, check out Popular Information's January 6 Corporate Accountability Index.