Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been walking a delicate balancing act on vaccinations, assiduously courting vaccine skeptics without going so far to the right that he lands in Marjorie Taylor Greene territory. What’s revealing about his line is that it keeps moving further and further to the right.
Last month, when asked by Fox News host Maria Bartiromo if he had received his booster shot, DeSantis changed the subject. (Bartiromo, shockingly, did not pin him down.) Asked today by the Washington Post, DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw presented this refusal to answer as a matter of principle. Pushaw is “not privy to the governor’s private medical decisions and … unable to share information about his booster status or plans,” reports the Post. “Governor DeSantis has consistently said that vaccination (and by extension, boosters) should be a personal choice, and anyone who has questions or concerns should consult with a healthcare provider,” Pushaw wrote.
This, however, was not always DeSantis’s position. Last spring, DeSantis told the news media he would let it know if and when he received his first dose. “I’m not sure we’re going to do it on-camera, we’ll see. If you guys want a gun show, maybe we can do it, but probably better off not,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “We will let you know when I get the jab.” Soon after, his spokesperson disclosed that he received a dose of Johnson & Johnson.
So DeSantis’s position that his vaccination status is a completely private issue is new. I asked Pushaw to explain the change. She refused to answer the question, instead insisting again upon his right to privacy, declining to explain why DeSantis was insistent on maintaining his privacy now but not last year:
We have no way of knowing what caused DeSantis’s change of heart. The explanation that is most consistent with his public behavior is that he’s continually extending himself to maintain the support of the anti-vaxxers who clearly form an important part of his base.
DeSantis started by attacking vaccine mandates — not only banning cities from requiring their employees get vaccines, but even banning private entities like cruise ships from insisting their passengers get jabbed. Then he appeared at a rally with an anti-vaxx activist who falsely claimed the vaccine “changes your RNA,” refusing to contradict this absurd lie. Then he hired as the state’s top health official an anti-vaxx nut who stood next to DeSantis as he ranted:
“People being forced to put something in their bodies that we don’t know all there is to know about yet. No matter what people on TV tell you, it’s not true. We’re going to learn more about the safety of these vaccines. We’re finding that some of these vaccines, the protection from infection is less than 40 percent. We’re going to learn more about the safety of these vaccines, right?”
Then, for good measure, DeSantis called for Anthony Fauci to be thrown in jail.
If DeSantis has suddenly arrived at the principled conclusion that he can no longer disclose his vaccination status for reasons he won’t share, that is his right. But it is a bad principle. DeSantis has spent the better part of a year encouraging vaccine skeptics to hold out, and turned his office into a platform to broadcast anti-scientific nonsense. If he admitted he has personally taken a complete vaccine regimen, it would at least mitigate a small amount of the harm he’s perpetrated. Alas, even that small step is now too far for him.