Florida's DeSantis is in a standoff with the cruise ship industry, CDC over vaccinations

The Celebrity Edge ship.
The Celebrity Edge ship. Sebastien Salom Gomis/AFP via Getty Images

Celebrity Cruises announced Wednesday that it got the green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to embark on the first U.S. cruise with paying customers in more than a year. The Celebrity Edge will set sail from Fort Lauderdale on June 26 — maybe.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Thursday that Celebrity's requirement that 95 percent of all passengers over 16 be fully vaccinated "violates the spirit" of an executive order he issued barring "vaccine passports," as well as a state law that goes into effect July 1. If the cruise line, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, follows through, it will be "subject to a fine of $5,000" for each customer asked to show vaccination status, the governor's office said.

The CDC requires that 95 percent of cruise ship passengers and 98 percent of crew members be fully vaccinated on non-volunteer cruises, and Celebrity said it plans to stick with those rules. "Our commitment to sail with fully vaccinated crew members and guests still stands, as it is a meaningful layer to ensure we make every effort to help keep safe our guests, crew, and the communities we visit," Celebrity spokeswoman Susan Lomax told USA Today.

DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw argued it's "discriminatory, unethical, and harmful for society" to require that cruise ship passengers be vaccinated, and "not only violates civil liberties, but also discriminates against families with children who enjoy vacations." The CDC has "no legal authority" to set requirements for cruise lines, she said.

The CDC's authority trumps DeSantis when it comes to health requirements on cruise ships, but a cruise line would probably have to take the governor to court to make that clear, Jim Walker, a maritime and cruise ship attorney from Miami, told USA Today. "It is conceivable that Gov. DeSantis could blink, so to speak, and the Florida statute could be withdrawn, but he seems committed to making a direct political move catering to his base."

Celebrity "can legally ask you for proof of vaccination," Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health and law professor at the University of South Florida, told WTSP 10 Tampa Bay. "They're not a Florida company. I don't think any of them really are." And cruise ships are requiring vaccinations "to protect not just themselves and the other passengers," he added. "It really protects the economic viability of the cruise ship industry."