“Anti-vax quackery”: Experts “stunned” after DeSantis demands grand jury probe into COVID vaccines

Doctors "outraged" after DeSantis pushes investigation and truther panel to refute CDC public health guidance

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 14, 2022 9:18AM (EST)

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he will petition the state supreme court to impanel a grand jury to investigate "any and all wrongdoing" related to COVID-19 vaccines.

DeSantis held a roundtable with Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and physicians before announcing his plan. DeSantis did not specify what types of purported wrongdoing the grand jury would investigate but mentioned alleged "crimes" related to vaccines.

DeSantis suggested that the grand jury may target vaccine manufacturers, arguing that the companies had not provided their data to independent researchers even though studies by vaccine manufacturers have been published in peer-reviewed journals and reviewed by public health panels before being approved.

"We'll be able to get the data whether they want to give it or not," DeSantis said. "In Florida, it is illegal to mislead and misrepresent, especially when you are talking about the efficacy of a drug."

Ladapo, who has repeatedly pushed anti-vaccine talking points, said companies need to answer for instances of myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, that have been reported in rare cases.

"We will answer this question. It is a question that I am sure keeps the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna up late at night, hoping no one ever looks. But we're going to look here in Florida," he said, even though the risk of heart inflammation from COVID is far greater than from vaccination.

DeSantis said that he expects the Supreme Court to approve his request.

"That will come with legal processes that will be able to get more information and to bring legal accountability to those who committed misconduct," he said.

A spokesperson for Pfizer told The Washington Post that its COVID vaccines "have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, tens of billions of dollars in health care costs, and enabled people worldwide to go about their lives more freely."

DeSantis also announced that he would form a public health integrity committee that would include some of the physicians and scientists featured at the roundtable, which would refute public health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"Our CDC, at this point, anything they put out, you just assume, at this point, that it's not worth the paper it's printed on," the governor said.

DeSantis added that Ladapo would launch a study through the University of Florida to "assess sudden deaths of individuals in good health who received a Covid-19 vaccine."

The announcement came as DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender, seeks to outflank Trump on COVID policy. DeSantis was a "major booster of the vaccines last year and once called them lifesaving," NBC News reported, before turning against them last year. DeSantis, who leads Trump in recent polls, has also repeatedly criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci and public health agencies. Trump has responded by attacking DeSantis for ordering lockdowns in the state in the early part of the pandemic, though Florida was one of the first states to lift restrictions.

"Prior to this, his position was identical to Trump's, and he advocated the efficiency and safety of vaccines. That's his record," Trump ally Roger Stone told NBC News. Another Trump adviser told the outlet that Trump is "watching DeSantis and it pisses him off."

But while the Florida governor scores points with the GOP base, lawmakers and public health experts were aghast at the announcement.

"Florida is collapsing into anti-vax quackery," tweeted Florida state Rep. Carlos Smith, a Democrat.

Lisa Gwynn, the former president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told The Washington Post she and her colleagues were "stunned" by the governor's plan to counter federal public health guidance.

"This is just another example of politicizing health care," said Gwynn, a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System. "I really don't understand where they're going with it."

Gwynn was ousted from the state's Health Kids board of directors in June after she criticized Florida's decision to delay access to vaccines for kids under five.

"We know vaccines save lives. The data is very clear. Those of us in the scientific community are outraged by this," Gwynn said. "It's definitely eroding confidence in public health policies."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Covid Joseph Ladapo Politics Ron Desantis