Many Republicans remain suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccine despite its proven safety and effectiveness.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis held a town hall on Tuesday during which he announced he would seek to impanel a grand jury to investigate "any wrongdoing" by COVID-19 vaccine makers.
“We are going to work to hold these manufacturers accountable for this mRNA [vaccine] because they said there was no side effects, and we know that there have been, and there have been a lot,” DeSantis said, according to NBC News affiliate WFLA in Tampa.
Vaccine manufacturers have been upfront with the public about the vaccine’s possible side effects, including fever, aches, and rarer ones such as allergic reactions and myocarditis — or inflammation of the heart.
During the event, which DeSantis called a "COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Accountability Roundtable," anti-vaccine figures talked about the perils of the vaccines — including myocarditis — even though studies have shown they are safe and effective and have saved more than 3 million lives and prevented 18 million hospitalizations since their release.
Floridians who claimed to be "injured" by the COVID-19 vaccine also spoke at the event, attributing health problems they have to the vaccine. They included Steven Ordonia, who set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help him fight against "Phizer [sic]," which he claims injured him with the vaccine.
After the so-called "vaccine-injured" people spoke, DeSantis then touted his record of opposing vaccine mandates in his state.
"You had a lot of elites in this country trying to condition society so that if you didn't bend the knee then you were basically a second-class citizen, and so in Florida, we rejected that and made sure that people could make their own decisions," DeSantis said.
DeSantis hosted the event as speculation mounts about whether he'll challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Much of the Republican base opposes vaccine mandates and COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
According to polling and updated data on vaccination rates, Republicans are less likely to support vaccine requirements and less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Studies also found that more Republicans died from the disease than Democrats after vaccines became available, as fewer Republicans got vaccinated..
A Morning Consult survey released on Nov. 17 found 84% of Democrats are vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to just 63% of Republicans.
In September, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a working paper that found "Republican-leaning counties have had higher COVID-19 death rates than Democrat-leaning counties," and that there is "evidence of a link between political party affiliation and vaccination views."
DeSantis' anti-vaccine event came as new polling released on Tuesday showed him gaining on Trump in a potential 2024 presidential primary matchup.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found 56% of Republican primary voters would support DeSantis, while just 33% would back Trump. Meanwhile, a Morning Consult survey released Tuesday found Trump leading DeSantis 49%-21%.
DeSantis has not yet said whether he plans to run for president in 2024.
Amanda Carpenter, a Republican strategist who opposes Trump, said DeSantis' roundtable was an effort to outflank Trump with conservatives.
"Ron is now talking about how he rejected vaccine mandates and passports. Part of positioning to attack Trump from the right," Carpenter tweeted. "Who thinks that is a good idea. To be more anti-vax than Trump. Is there nothing else Ron could do here..."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.