DeSantis: Any local government in Florida that requires workers to be vaccinated will be fined $5,000 per violation

The good news is that this rule applies only to governments, not to businesses. Because DeSantis has strained to ease pressure on the unvaccinated to get their shots (banning vaccine passports, for instance, including for cruise lines), there’s been some confusion about whether his executive orders prevent private employers from requiring their workers to be immunized. They don’t. That’s a notable and welcome case of him still respecting the ethic of “my business, my rules.”

Although why he respects it in the case of vaccine mandates for workers but not vaccine passports for customers remains unclear to me. Maybe there’s some nuance in Florida law that would make it difficult for him to block business owners from setting rules for staff. Or maybe it’s just old-fashioned lobbyist pressure from rich donors who don’t want to have to work around a bunch of unvaccinated subordinates.

Either way, he made clear today that his defense of the unvaccinated isn’t limited to protecting them from vaccine passport requirements. They also won’t have to get immunized if they work for a state or local agency in Florida, he assured them.

Presumably this means public school districts can’t require teachers to get vaccinated even though elementary school teachers face a cohort of unvaccinated children every day at work. Question: Is DeSantis also going to ban schools from mandating the COVID vaccine for children? I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t given how ferociously he’s battled to protect parental choice over mask-wearing in schools. Parents will be even touchier about a mandate that requires their kids to get a shot.

But he’d better be careful about how he frames his support for that mandate. Republicans are playing a dangerous game now.

For instance, I think Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts did as good a job as one could do yesterday in defending his opposition to COVID vaccine mandates in schools. The COVID shot is new, he argued, and parents don’t trust it yet. And children’s risk from COVID is sufficiently low that it’s unclear if there’d be more of a benefit than a risk to them in getting jabbed. If you’re going to resist a mandate, that’s the way to do it — there’s not a strong enough case to require this particular shot.

The way some Republican governors are talking, though, makes you wonder if they’ll support any vaccine mandate in the future. Watch Ricketts:

He’s talking down the vaccine there by suggesting that a shot that’s new yet fully approved by the FDA is somehow suspect. Nonetheless, he’s right as an empirical matter that people are more reluctant to get a vaccine that’s less than a year old than they are one that’s been around for generations.

DeSantis explained his opposition to government employer vaccine mandates in these terms today:

Regarding local proposals, a fired up DeSantis vowed he was “not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate.”

“While a lot of these politicians were on Zoom, these folks were out there protecting us, day in and day out,” DeSantis said about first responders, defending vaccine abstinence as a “personal choice” about one’s health…

DeSantis invoked 9/11 in his comments also, implying vaccine mandates proposed around 9/11 disrespected first responders.

It’s “frustrating to see that not respected more,” DeSantis said. “You’re threatening to take someone’s job away. You’re not respecting the people that are working hard to keep us safe.”

We must stand for the rights of police and firefighters to refuse vaccination if they so choose … even though they’re among the few people in America who can enter your home without your permission and leave behind whatever germs they might be carrying if they have a compelling enough reason to do so. Just as DeSantis privileges the unvaccinated customer’s rights over the pro-mandate business owner’s, he’s privileging the unvaccinated cop’s rights over your rights to be safe in your own home.

And unlike Ricketts, he’s not framing his objection in terms specific to the COVID vaccine. He’s talking about freedom, agency, choice — all concepts that would logically apply just as strongly to a parent’s hypothetical right to exempt their child from any school vaccine mandate, not just one for COVID. If freedom trumps all, including the common interest in preventing outbreaks in the classroom, why shouldn’t parents in Florida also be able to enroll their kids in school even if they haven’t had their measles vaccine, say?

DeSantis got a surprise reminder at today’s press conference of who he’s climbing into bed with:

The GOP base is broadly anti-mandate but within that group is a large sub-segment that’s anti-vax, and the anti-vaxxers could be influential in the 2024 primary. DeSantis is pro-vax but adamantly anti-mandate in hopes of staying on their good side. But the more broadly he draws his anti-mandate philosophy, the more broadly anti-vaxxers will try to leverage it to resist mandates for other vaccines. How long will it be before anti-vax sentiment becomes so identified with populism that ambitious Republican politicians feel obliged to take across-the-board anti-mandate positions on vaccines to mollify them?

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