“We are here today to make it very clear that we are going to stand for the men and women who are serving us. We are going to protect Florida jobs,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Gainesville. “We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate.”
DeSantis announced the state filed a legal brief advocating the 200 first responders who are suing the city of Gainesville over its vaccine mandate. City officials have given employees until Sept. 30 to get vaccinated or face losing their jobs.
“I am standing up for the over 200 employees who have risked their jobs and bravely filed lawsuits against their city and said, 'You will not fire us over making our own personal medical decisions,'” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
DeSantis has placed himself as a fierce rival to COVID-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, and now, increasing demand for vaccine mandates. He has denounced President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.
In Gainesville, DeSantis introduced a group of first responders who are supposed to lose their jobs, even though many of them have recovered from COVID-19.
“If you are doing a mandate based off of this and you are really following the science, you would acknowledge the natural immunity, and instead, they ignore it,” DeSantis said. “So, it’s really about using government power and control to mandate much more than it is about the underlying medical issues that are involved.”
The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature enacted a law earlier this year forbidding schools, businesses, and governments from mandating vaccines. Those who do face a $5,000 fine for each violation.
DeSantis vowed to start fining governments including Gainesville, which has forced a Sep. 30 deadline for employees to get vaccinated, including those who have already recovered from COVID-19. Orange County officials have also imposed a vaccine mandate.
“If you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, that's millions and millions of dollars, potentially, in fines,” DeSantis said. “In Orange County, many, many more than that.”
DeSantis is also advancing to impede private businesses in Florida from imposing mandates.
“We are going to be working to provide protections for people” in the private sector, DeSantis said, “who certainly should not be losing their jobs.”
Critics of DeSantis highlight Florida’s summer rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and say the governor's fight to stop mask mandates in schools has led to the spread of the disease and the deaths of some children and teachers who contracted the virus.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are falling in Florida, according to new state statistics. The state’s vaccination rate is also declining.