Gov. Ron DeSantis more fully embraced COVID-19 vaccine skepticism Tuesday, holding a panel discussion questioning the safety of the shots – which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems “safe and effective” – and announcing plans for a statewide grand jury to investigate vaccine “wrongdoing.”
DeSantis has long opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates and earlier had questioned the value of the shots for children, with Florida this year becoming the first state to not recommend COVID-19 vaccines for healthy young people.
But Tuesday’s panel discussion featuring contrarian doctors and scientists was the governor’s most aggressive effort yet to raise concerns about vaccines that he initially promoted aggressively when they were first released. Criticism of the vaccines has since grown, especially among conservatives, even as leading experts maintain they are safe.
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DeSantis on Tuesday repeatedly posed the question to his panelists of whether the vaccines are “safe and effective,” as the CDC says.
“The safe and effective terminology that’s been used… it’s a lie, it has to be,” said Dr. Joseph Fraiman, an emergency room physician in Louisiana.
Multiple panelists suggested the risks of the COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the benefits for certain populations, and DeSantis also raised the issue.
“It seems like with the mRNA (vaccine)… it’s like if you raise any type of cost benefit, kind of the powers that be want to squelch that,” DeSantis said.
The CDC says the “benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks” and recommends them for all eligible individuals age six months and older.
“Serious side effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely rare following any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination,” the CDC states.
In addition to questioning the safety of vaccines, DeSantis unveiled a pair of proposals to formally investigate some of his concerns about pandemic policy.
“There’s some people who want amnesty for things that happened during the pandemic… we’re not doing that here,” said Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general.
The governor is requesting the Florida Supreme Court empanel a statewide grand jury to investigate vaccine decision-making in Florida, and also is forming a “public health integrity committee” that he billed as an effort to review recommendations made by federal health authorities and possibly pushback against them.
“CDC will say these things and then people will think because they’re saying it we have to do it,” DeSantis said, adding: “So other governors and I have talked about the need to have a panel of experts who can counteract nonsense when it’s coming out of these institutions.”
The announcements and panel discussion Tuesday put DeSantis more squarely in line with COVID-19 vaccine skeptics as he considers running for president against Donald Trump, who oversaw the creation and early distribution of the vaccines.
Trump was booed after telling a crowd at one of his rallies that he received the COVID-19 booster shot at the height of the pandemic. DeSantis has refused to say if he received the booster.