DeSantis press conference spreads anti-vaccine lie

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At a press conference Monday that aimed to promote “the protection of Florida freedoms,” Gov. Ron DeSantis called on anti-vaccine residents to stand behind the state seal and explain their opposition vaccine in front of the gathered media. One of DeSantis’ featured speakers falsely stated that “the vaccine changes your RNA” – the sort of claim frequently made by anti-vax conspiracy theorists.

Without correcting the record, Governor DeSantis then took the microphone and invited another woman who said she would not get the vaccine because it is “my body, my choice.”

It doesn’t seem like the type of press conference you would host if you encouraged people in your state to get hold of a life-saving vaccine that could have averted thousands of deaths in the state’s latest wave.

The remark regarding vaccines and RNA came from Darris Friend, an employee of an electric utility in Gainesville, Florida who is join a trial to reverse local requirements that he be vaccinated. Introducing Friend and the other speakers, DeSantis said he will “protect their jobs” and that people with such views should not be “treated like chopped liver”. Here is a transcript of the relevant part of the discussion:

RON DESANTIS: So we have Darris Friend here, he’s eligible to retire in a year and a half. Now that he’s threatened with dismissal, he could lose his pension, but he thinks it’s a matter of principle, so he’s ready to stand up. So here is Darris.

FRIEND DARRIS: Okay thank you so i have no speech and forgive me for sweating i was on the road trying to get you all to come here to see the governor so thanks for coming today hui.

So like the governor said, I’ve been in town since 1999. I’m about a year and a half from retirement, and for me it’s not about the vaccine. This is compulsory vaccination. No one should tell you what to put in your body. I choose what goes on in my body, of course I eat burgers and fries but it’s my choice what I put in it. So there are people who choose to eat non-GMO foods, or they are vegetarians, or they are, they don’t want to eat foods that have been grown with pesticides and herbicides. No one should force these people to eat meat or vegetables grown with pesticides or herbicides.

The vaccine changes your RNA. So for me that’s a problem.

So, I am here with you, we do not want to have the vaccine, it is about our freedom and our freedom. It is not about the vaccine. Uh, they’re taking away our freedom and our freedom little by little, that’s – they’re using the vaccine as a blanket. Last year they took away our religious rights. They are not defending our freedom of expression. And that’s just one way to take us to the next step.

So thank you for coming today, and thank you, Governor.

Here is the clip:

DeSantis, after giving the mike to this non-scientist to express his point of view on science, did not correct the remark about vaccines.

Let’s review the relevant scientific facts:

  • First, all vaccines carry risks, although the risks associated with COVID vaccines available in the United States are significantly lower than the risks of COVID itself.
  • Second, there is a glaring misconception among certain types of anti-vaccines that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines modify DNA. They don’t. (This is one of the a lot of false rumors circulating on how these vaccines work.)
  • Third, the claim that these vaccines alter your body’s RNA is also false. They work by introducing a small amount of RNA (you can read more about mRNA here) in your body; it temporarily “teaches” your cells how to make the coronavirus spike protein, and then breaks down quickly in your body; but the native RNA that is already in your cells will not be changed by the introduction of the vaccine.
  • Fourth, if you’re worried about RNA getting into your cells, know that the viruses that cause the flu and the common cold are RNA viruses and they don’t change your body’s DNA or RNA either. .
  • Fifth, if anyone is concerned about an mRNA vaccine, they have the option of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is not an mRNA vaccine, although, again, the J&J vaccine, like all vaccines. , carries its own risks.

IIn another press conference earlier Monday, DeSantis doubled down on its long-standing opposition to vaccination warrants. This week Florida will start paying a fine counties and cities that require vaccines for government employees or businesses that require vaccines for customers. The fines will be $ 5,000 by incident– which, DeSantis said, could result in “millions and millions of dollars in potential fines” for any given entity.

After Norwegian Cruise Line opposed Florida law prohibiting companies from requiring proof of vaccination, a federal court last month temporarily enjoined law enforcement against this company. DeSantis spokespersons have understandably blamed the judges appointed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and DeSantis is considering appealing.

His plan to fine counties and cities for protecting their workforce is also doomed to end up in court.

It is true that, unlike some of his Republican counterparts, Governor DeSantis promoted the vaccine when it was released, long before it was approved by the FDA. But its promotion was quite limited in nature and scope, and it did not last long. DeSantis could and should have spent more time promoting the widely available and largely free vaccine in a state where 35 percent of adults (and 45% of the total population) are still unvaccinated, contributing to an ugly fifth wave of COVID:

(Courtesy of New York Times)

DeSantis has been criticized for choosing to promote Regeneron therapy for COVID, which benefited one of his political financiers. (He called for foul play from the press for reporting it.)

The line about DeSantis in the conservative media is that he’s “Trump without the cringe.” Like other 2024 hopefuls, this is going to require creative positioning – they can’t stray too far from Trump but don’t want to get too close to him either. In the case of DeSantis, its political positioning could cost lives.


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