Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The Last Defense of DeSantis’s Anti-Vaccine Campaign Goes Poof

The state’s vaccination rate is still high? Nope.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week, Chris Persaud of the Palm Beach Post reported out a devastating revelation about the impact of Ron DeSantis’s war on vaccines. The story has received barely any attention in the national press, even though it destroys the defense that DeSantis’s national supporters have made on behalf of his management of the coronavirus pandemic.

For over a year, DeSantis has been undermining vaccination in his state. His anti-vaccine campaign has included opposing state and local vaccine mandates, banning private business from requiring vaccines, punishing a state official merely for encouraging his staff to get vaccinated, refusing to say whether he personally got a booster dose, and appointing a vaccine skeptic as his top health official. Most recently, Florida became the only state not to recommend a COVID vaccine for people under 18.

The anti-vaccine movement loves DeSantis. But he has also maintained support among pro-vaccine conservatives. Their response to these moves all along has been to insist that none of it mattered because Florida’s vaccination rate was high. “Florida ranks 18th among the states in terms of the proportion of its adult population inoculated with at least one dose of the vaccine, and it has a higher full vaccination rate than states such as Illinois and Michigan,” wrote National Review. “The state had an above-average vaccination rate when compared with the rest of the country,” insisted Karol Markowicz.

There has been evidence all along that the statistics supporting this claim are wrong. Many towns in Florida report vaccine-uptake rates above 100 percent — a phenomenon that appears to be a result of tourists getting jabbed in Florida and being counted in the state’s total of residents getting doses.

However, DeSantis supporters on the right have not only ignored this anomaly, but they have insisted that anybody bringing it up is a crazy conspiracy theorist:

Rebekah Jones, for reference, is a former state employee who has alleged that the state is deliberately falsifying its vaccine stats. National Review effectively debunked her allegations — but what she got wrong was her accusation that DeSantis was cooking the books deliberately. The notion that the stats were flawed, due to tourists inflating the count, was always evident.

Persaud’s reporting finds that the numbers are inflated by more than 600,000. What’s more, he finds that other Florida officials — such as the mayor of Miami Beach — alerted DeSantis to the discrepancy, only to receive no response. Why would he act when the inflated numbers were so useful for his supporters in the conservative media to bat away concerns about his courtship of the anti-vaccine movement?

One obvious result of Florida’s poor rate of vaccination is that it has suffered worse than most other states during the most recent COVID wave. This chart also comes via Persaud:

Characteristically, DeSantis’s staff has responded to this reporting by heaping personal abuse on the reporter rather than either rebutting or acknowledging the facts. Also characteristically, DeSantis’s fans in the national press have responded by ignoring the story completely, even though it conclusively blows up the central fact they were using to defend his policies.

Last Defense of DeSantis’s Anti-Vaccine Campaign Goes Poof