Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday that in an effort to "stand up for freedom," the state will be fining any local government that requires their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
He reiterated his position that vaccines are "available for all, but mandatory for none" and based his comments on legislation, SB 2006, that he signed in May. Among other things, the legislation bans businesses and local governments in the state from requiring people to prove they've been vaccinated or have recovered from a COVID infection to use their services.
"If a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law and you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation," DeSantis said Monday. "And so if you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, that's millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines."
SB 2006 does not prohibit governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.
DeSantis emphasized the issue as it relates to police, firefighters and other emergency responders, saying, "many of them have already had COVID. OK. Let's just be honest. ... The ones who have recovered have very strong immunity."
The CDC says people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had COVID because "research has not yet shown how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again after you recover from COVID-19." One study showed that unvaccinated people who already had COVID are more than twice as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID again.
"We are going to stand for the men and women who are serving us. We are going to protect Florida jobs. We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate," DeSantis said. "...You don't just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this issue, over what's basically a personal choice about their personal health."
A longtime Alachua County employee also spoke at the conference, saying he faces termination because he hasn't been vaccinated. For him, he said, "it's not about the vaccine; it's about mandatory vaccination."
"No one should tell you what to put in your body. I choose what goes in my body. Of course, I eat hamburgers and french fries, but that's my choice," he said, saying that nobody should force vegetarians to eat meat.
He also falsely claimed that the vaccine changes the body's RNA, a claim that health experts and scientists have continuously said is incorrect. The mRNA in the COVID vaccines teaches body cells to make a "" that resembles what's on top of the coronavirus, so that if coronavirus is detected in the body, the immune system can recognize it and attack it. The vaccine does not alter DNA.
For months, Florida has led the county in the number of COVID cases. There have been nearly 3.5 million cases and nearly 50,000 deaths in the state since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In Alachua County, where Gainesville is located, there have been more than 5,700 cases in the past 28 days, according to Johns Hopkins. Gainesville has been sued by 200 employees who claim vaccine mandates violate state law. But a city spokesperson told CBS Miami that the city retains the right to require such a mandate.
The counties that have been among the hardest hit by COVID are among those requiring county employees to be vaccinated. In August, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced that all county employees would have to show proof of their vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
Miami-Dade has continuously held the highest number of COVID cases in the state. There have been more than 58,300 cases in the past 28 days, according to Johns Hopkins.
"Our community has endured too much," Levine Cava said. "By getting vaccinated we can avoid any further pain, we can avoid losing any more of our fellow neighbors, co-workers and friends. We can avoid what is truly preventable."