NEWBERRY, Fla. — Speaking in Alachua County Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to stand with Floridians in the fight against what he called "unlawful vaccine mandates."
What You Need To Know
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Newberry Monday
- During his speech, he called the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and those in some Florida municipalities, as "unlawful"
- He promised to "protect Floridians from federal and local government overreach"
Singling out President Joe Biden's recently announced vaccine mandates for millions of U.S. workers — as well as mandates in place in Gainesville and Orange County — DeSantis decried them as government overreach.
"What we are seeing out of Washington D.C. and local governments like the city of Gainesville and Orange County should alarm Floridians, and raises important questions — if you can have people like firefighters who put lives on the line every day forced to either lose their jobs or get the vaccine regardless of immunity, how does that protect our community or keep us safer?" he said, according to a release from the governor's office. "It doesn't ... these big government mandates strip away people's rights to make the best decision for themselves, be we are going to protect Floridians from federal and local government overreach."
In the release from this office, DeSantis alluded to SB2006 — which outlaws businesses and governmental entities from requiring proof of vaccination from customers under threat of a $5,000 fine — as a vehicle he may try to use to fight the employee vaccine mandates.
As COVID-19 infection rates soared, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings declared a state of emergency on July 28 and mandated that county employees — including first responders — be vaccinated.
"You might ask, 'Why am I doing this?'" Demings said at the time. "Because I want to show our residents and visitors that Orange County is being proactive in lowering the spread of the virus, and we remain focused on the number of hospitalizations."
County employees had until Aug. 31 to get their first dose and until the end of September to get their second, unless they received a one-dose vaccination. According to county data, of the 7,561 county employees, 779 have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,704 are now fully vaccinated.
No information was immediately available on the number employees who quit over the mandate or were disciplined or fired for non-compliance.
In Washington, Biden announced a vaccine mandate for federal employees and large businesses on Sept. 9, which could apply to as many as 100 million employees — or two thirds of the workforce — across the country.
"Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free,” Biden said from the White House on Sept. 9, later adding: “What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner.”
DeSantis was joined by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody Monday, who joined the governor in decrying governmental vaccine mandates.
"Seeking a vaccine is a decision based on personal medical history and individual circumstances," she said. "It's a decision I made earlier this year after consulting with my family and medical professionals. I want more eligible Floridians to seek out information about the vaccine and make a deliberate, informed decision about their health.
"However, the government forcing compliance by our first responders is wrong."
When he issued the Orange County vaccine mandate, Demings said it was an important step the county could take to help decrease the record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths being reported in Florida.
"Our goal is to mitigate the number of new cases," he said at the time. "Quite frankly, we believe that if we take these steps as a community, we will experience a significant decline in the virus in just a few weeks."
Biden made a similar plea when he announced the federal mandate on Sept. 9.
"This is not about freedom or personal choice," he said. "It's about protecting yourself and those around you, people you work with, the people you care about, people you love."
Orange County Fire Rescue firefighter Maria Bernard, though, argued that getting the vaccine should be her choice, and warned that forcing the issue would cause local governments to lose "potentially hundreds of firefighters."
That loss "will directly affect the safety of our citizens and our community," she said, according to the release from DeSantis' office. "It won't just be the unvaccinated that are affected. This is why we will fight this mandate and fight for our freedoms ... we know what is right for our bodies, we know how to weigh the risk versus the benefits for ourselves and do not need the overreach of government that is being imposed not only on us, but employees across Florida and the entire United States."
While COVID-19 hospitalizations in Central Florida have decreased at some facilities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 43% of Florida ICU beds are still filled by COVID patients.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 2,448 people died of COVID-19 between Sept. 3-9 — the largest one-week death toll since the pandemic started.
Overall, more than 48,000 Floridians have died of COVID-19.