In the latest front of his war on wokeness, Ron DeSantis is battling science—again.
Earlier this week, the Florida governor discouraged Floridians under the age of 65 from taking the newest COVID-19 vaccine, making unsubstantiated and misleading claims about the booster that was recently approved by the CDC and FDA.
This was not a surprise. DeSantis has previously criticized the scientific community regarding COVID, and his reckless disregard for the truth is par for the course. (Pun intended, in light of recent revelations that he failed to disclose luxury gifts, including fancy golf trips.) But his latest attack on science is a dangerous political ploy that jeopardizes Americans’ health and lives.
Over the past few months, COVID has been spiking across the country. Public health experts—the people with highly-specialized training and experience in evaluating sickness, disease, and pandemics—have been clear about the reasons for this. They have attributed the increase to new variants, travel, and summer heat that results in more people staying inside in confined areas. Additionally, testing and treatment have become less available and more expensive since the national health emergency ended in May.
On Monday, the FDA approved updated vaccines that better target the current COVID variants. On Tuesday, the CDC recommended vaccination for people six months and older. Without missing a beat, on Wednesday DeSantis and Florida’s top health official contradicted the medical guidance and warned against the booster. They said they would not let Floridians be used as "guinea pigs" for a “hastily-approved” vaccine that had not been “proven to be safe or effective.”
DeSantis’ claims are misleading to say the least.
The FDA approved the booster based on known benefits and risks following the agency’s “rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.” The updated vaccine was formulated and produced using a similar process that relied on data collected from prior vaccines, which “hundreds of millions of people have safely received…under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” The FDA approval and CDC recommendations are, crucially, based on evidence—that fancy term for the available body of discernible facts and information. This is in contrast to the warnings from the governor—who is not a doctor—which are, as a clinician might say, “evidence-free.”
DeSantis’ warning was also unnecessarily provocative.
Comparing people to “guinea pigs” implies that the government is conducting wild experiments on human subjects. The provocation was not an accident. After all, this is a man who has reduced serious governance to performance art.
There is no valid reason to think DeSantis might be raising legitimate questions about the booster, at this point. Doing so would require ignoring the laundry list of reasons why no one should trust the advice.
His appointed surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is no more trustworthy a source. Lapado has been widely criticized for espousing dubious positions and inaccurate information. He’s admitted to altering findings on COVID vaccines to distort their safety and has exaggerated—if not lied—about his experience treating COVID patients.
And Ladapo has tried to justify his anti-vax positions based on outlandish claims like “the Biden admin only wants to control your behavior.” Earlier this year, the FDA and CDC sent Ladapo a letter correcting false information he was spreading about the pandemic.
DeSantis’ disinformation is especially frustrating, considering how hard he has flip-flopped on this issue.
He previously praised the vaccine as “saving lives” (back when it was politically expedient to say such things) and disclosed that he was vaccinated. Later, he attacked the science on vaccines and refused to disclose whether he was boosted. This was all transparently cynical. DeSantis wanted to distinguish himself from Trump, who has bragged about his Operation Warp Speed that led to the vaccine. Apparently, seeing the former president get booed for receiving a booster left a mark.
DeSantis’ flip-flop on COVID and vaccines has mirrored his shape-shifting on another hot-button scientific issue: climate change.
During his first campaign for governor in 2018, DeSantis hedged on taking an actual position on the issue. He claimed, bafflingly, that he was neither a climate change denier or believer. After winning office, he adopted a pro-environmental stance early in his administration that had some calling him the “Green Governor.” Over time, however, he became actively hostile about environmental issues.
Earlier this year, he took this hostility to fairly absurd lengths. His government has approved schools teaching kids total nonsense, such as the false claims that alternative energy sources pollute the earth and make life miserable. That same classroom instruction also compares climate activists to Nazis.
You can say one thing for the governor of Florida—he’s at least consistent in his inconsistency.
Whether it’s science or history or just about any public policy, DeSantis has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to spew half-truths and outright lies if he thinks it will help him politically.
During the current pandemic spike, DeSantis and other Republican presidential candidates have turned to fighting a fictitious bogeyman by railing against new vaccine mandates and lockdowns which, incidentally, absolutely no one is proposing. Unlike some of DeSantis’ other manufactured controversies—like his wars on woke poetry and woke pizza ovens—his war on the COVID booster risks lives.
While the decision to take the booster is indeed a personal choice, it is a choice that is best made with objective scientific advice from health care professionals who abide by the Hippocratic oath.
The data from those professionals is clear. It has been clear.
People who take the vaccine have a much lower risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death than those who do not. Boosters, meanwhile, have proven benefits over the initial vaccine.
For Ron DeSantis, however, it’s never been about data. It’s never been about health. His medical advice is neither objective nor scientific. He follows a different set of principles: those of utterly shameless and unrelenting personal ambition.