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Thursday, March 23, 2023

DeSantis, Trump, and Antivaxxers

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

UnfortunatelyRepublican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers.   Even before COVID, they were fighting vaccine mandates and other public health measures. 

Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair:
On December 14, 2020, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, wearing a mask, watched expectantly as a FedEx truck backed up to a loading dock at Tampa General Hospital. The truck carried precious cargo: boxes of the very first COVID-19 vaccines. With a flourish, DeSantis signed the FedEx manifest. “Today, we will have shots going in arms,” he proudly declared.

By the end of last year, however, DeSantis’s vaccine cheerleading was a distant memory. On December 13, almost exactly two years after the FedEx delivery, he petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to let him empanel a statewide grand jury to investigate COVID-19 vaccine makers, particularly Pfizer and Moderna. “It is against the law to mislead and misrepresent, particularly when you’re talking about the efficacy of a drug,” DeSantis said, comparing the vaccine push to the profiteering that drove the deadly opioid epidemic.


Even a former senior Trump official who worked on Operation Warp Speed, the program that successfully accelerated vaccine development, acknowledges that DeSantis’s anti-vax 180 is “good politics.” Trump himself has drawn boos at his rallies when he mentions the vaccines. “There is a whole contingent of the GOP that don’t like vaccines,” the former official says.


In April 2019, DeSantis nominated Dr. Scott Rivkees to be Florida’s surgeon general. When DeSantis interviewed him for the job, “we talked about the importance of childhood vaccination,” says Rivkees, who is now a professor at the Brown University School of Public Health. “It was recognized as an important pillar of public health
At the end of September 2021, however, Rivkees left and [Joseph] Ladapo, a Harvard Medical School graduate and associate professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, was brought in.Ladapo had already gained notoriety for his critiques of school closures and “fear-fueled policy making” in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.I

In July 2020, he had joined a press conference outside the US Supreme Court to oppose lockdowns and mask-wearing, and tout unproven cures for COVID, such as hydroxychloroquine. The protest was organized by a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, whose founder was later convicted of breaking into the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection.

In his 2022 book, Transcend Fear: A Blueprint for Mindful Leadership in Public Health, Ladapo credits a segment by Fox News host Tucker Carlson with crystallizing his world view:
…I listened to Tucker talk about how the lockdowns were really an exercise in political power. As he spoke, it was as if something my subconscious self knew suddenly snapped right into my consciousness. He is exactly right, I remember thinking. The fact that a desire for political domination was a major motivation for early pandemic decisions is widely recognized now, but Tucker was prescient in his observation that day.
In short, Ladapo had concluded that the public health decisions made as a novel airborne pathogen surged throughout the world, killing millions and threatening to topple health care systems, resulted from the desire of medical elites to control populations.

This rising trope is echoed in the book’s foreword, written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in which he describes how “virtually every doctor in Germany” during the Third Reich “participated in Hitler’s worst atrocities.”

Dan Ladden-Hall at The Daily Beast:

Donald Trump’s latest attack on his likely GOP nomination rival Ron DeSantis appears to be that he’s not enough of an anti-vaxxer. On Wednesday night, Trump shared a post on his Truth Social platform calling the Florida Gov. “Ron DeSoros” as he appeared in a 2021 Fox News segment celebrating a 100-year-old WWII veteran being given a COVID vaccine. “This is a Classic,” Trump wrote as he shared the post. “So much for Ron and anti-vax. Besides, he got the vaccine and booster, just doesn’t talk about it. He also closed up Florida, and its beaches.”