Editorial: Attack on vaccine mandates is about saving jobs, not lives

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After attacking school districts over student mask mandates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now taking aim at vaccine mandates in the usual way — with a mix of disinformation, demagoguery and selective outrage.

With no apparent regard for health and safety, DeSantis threatened Monday to impose “millions and millions” of dollars in fines against cities and counties that make COVID-19 vaccinations a condition of employment, citing a new state law (SB 2006) that he says gives the state power to impose $5,000 fines against governments or businesses for each violation.

The obvious target of DeSantis’ orchestrated wrath is the city of Gainesville, where commissioners are requiring all city employees, including police officers and firefighters, to provide proof of vaccinations or face punishment leading to firings. Vaccine mandates are also in place in Orlando’s Orange County and Tallahassee’s Leon County.

“We are going to protect Florida jobs,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate.”

DeSantis stood Monday with several Gainesville employees who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the city’s vaccine mandate. That put the governor clearly on the side of disinformation as Darris Friend, a city utility employee, said: “The vaccine changes your RNA, so for me that’s a problem.”

Disinformation on display

That’s not true, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On its “Myths and Facts″ page, the CDC says: “COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way ... The material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.” It’s DNA that makes you you. Think of RNA, or ribonucleic acid, as a sort of messenger that takes genetic information to form proteins in your body. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, known as mRNA vaccines, deliver a strand of RNA that tells cells how to fight coronavirus. It in no way changes RNA in your body.

Another city worker challenging the mandate, Christine Damm, professed her love for her city. Then she suggested, with no proof, that the vaccine can kill you. With the governor by her side, Damm recalled how her children lost their grandmother last year (not to the virus), and said: “I will not put my children through the possibility of losing another maternal figure in their lives.”

We’re long past the point where Floridians can rely on DeSantis to separate pandemic fact from fiction.

But for the governor of the nation’s third-largest state to tacitly support such wildly inflammatory statements is reckless, when he should be doing everything in his power to get as many people vaccinated as possible in a state where nearly 50,000 have died from the virus. DeSantis claimed on Tuesday that he hadn’t heard Friend’s claim that the vaccine changes human RNA, despite the fact that he was standing next to the man and looking directly at him when it happened.

Why first responders, who witness COVID’s extreme destructive power on a daily basis, refuse to get vaccinated is puzzling and disappointing. More troubling is DeSantis’ willingness to unabashedly be their cheerleader when America is coping with a pandemic of the unvaccinated in a state where nearly 50,000 people have died from the virus.

For DeSantis, a political upside

What’s going on? Re-election politics, obviously. Monday’s event with Gainesville employees had all the trappings of a political rally with the requisite bashing of Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis told the crowd: “Look, I got my vaccine, but I ain’t gonna support no damn mandate, OK?”

DeSantis, running for a second term next year, sees a huge political upside in taking up the cause of police and firefighters facing the loss of their professional livelihoods at the hands of what many will see as heavy-handed government action.

He may well be right about that.

Witness the muted responses by DeSantis’ two leading Democratic challengers, Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried. After DeSantis’ staged event on Monday, neither Democrat rushed to defend local vaccine mandates, though Fried Tuesday demanded DeSantis criticize the disinformation spread in his presence by Gainesville employees. Every politician wants to be seen as an ally of public safety workers, and Democratic politicians in particular cannot be seen as enemies of public employees or the unions that represent them. DeSantis knows that.

Further proof of DeSantis’ political gamesmanship is that he avoids criticizing one of Florida’s biggest private employers, Disney, which also imposed a vaccine mandate on employees, with the concurrence of two of its largest unions.

Disney is a powerful political force and a leading contributor to the Republican Party of Florida. Gainesville is an island of liberalism in north-central Florida that will never vote to re-elect DeSantis.

If vaccine mandates are so terrible, DeSantis needs to be as forceful with others imposing them, subject to varying restrictions. They include the University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, Jackson Health System in Miami, Baptist Health of Jacksonville, the city of Tampa, the city of Delray Beach and the Palm Beach County Tax Collector.

DeSantis’ latest act of demagoguery might save jobs — including his own. But it won’t save lives.

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The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

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