Gov. DeSantis sneers at pols who take COVID vaccine; backs up Trump on relief bill criticism

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed priorities for the COVID vaccines during a news conference on Dec. 23, 2020. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Gov. Ron DeSantis took a shot, as it were, on Wednesday at politicians who “jump the line” for COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of health care workers, first responders, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s name didn’t come up, but Rubio had posted a photo on Twitter of himself receiving a COVID shot and has come under press criticism for it. DeSantis himself said last week that he would wait his turn among other members of his age and health cohorts.

“It makes no sense for someone that’s 42 to jump ahead of somebody that’s 70 years old,” the governor said, referring to his own age.

“I want to make sure that, if there’s one dose here in Pensacola left for this week, I want it to go to an elderly [person]. I don’t want it to go to me,” he said.

The governor also defended President Trump’s threatened veto the COVID-relief and defense funding bill that passed through Congress this week, which the president made good on later in the day. DeSantis complained the measure was rushed through following months of stalling and contained non-COVID-related spending.

“They’re sending money to Pakistan. They’re spending money on all these things. This is a situation where our country has had problems — let’s address those problems,” the governor said.

“Could you at least have waited another year for Pakistan? Could we have just not have sent all this money overseas given all that the country’s going through right now?”

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID vaccine on Dec. 23, 2020, during a news conference attended by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

DeSantis delivered the remarks during a news conference at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola, and watched as three medical workers were administered the Moderna vaccine.

A hospital representative said the first doses arrived Tuesday morning and that nearly 1,200 high-risk workers across the hospital chain had been inoculated already.

Around 367,000 does of that version arrived at 173 Florida hospitals on Monday, DeSantis said. That’s in addition to the first of 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that began to arrive last week.

Additionally, county health departments are receiving vaccines now and will begin inoculating older people as early as Monday, he said.

Later, DeSantis signed an executive order cementing his prioritization of people aged 65 and above for scarce doses. He also has emphasized long-term care facility patients and front-line health care workers.

The order says:

“During this first phase of vaccine administration, all providers administering any COVID-19 vaccine shall only vaccinate the following populations: Long-term care facility residents and staff; persons 65 years of age and older; and health care personnel with direct patient contact.”

In fact, according to data newly released by the Florida Department of Health, some 44 percent of doses administered thus far have gone to people aged 35 to 54, presumably representing health workers.

Shots for Congress

Rubio, 49, Florida’s senior senator, announced Saturday via Twitter that he’d taken a vaccine dose.

“I know I looked away from the needle. And yes, I know I need a tan. But I am so confident that the #Covid19 vaccine is safe & effective that I decided to take it myself,” he tweeted on Saturday.

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel survey published on Tuesday identified four Floridians who’d been vaccinated in addition to Rubio — U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala, and Darren Soto.

Rick Scott, 68, the state’s junior senator, has been infected with COVID already and may have acquired some immunity. An aide told the Sun-Sentinel that he would wait to consider whether to get the shot.

Leaders in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches are free to be vaccinated under a National Security Council policy intended to ensure continuity of government operations, according to a memo dated Dec. 17 by Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 80, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 78 and a childhood polio survivor, both have been vaccinated. Additional leaders who’ve taken the shot include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Mitt Romney, Sen. Joni Ernst, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“The small number of COVID19 vaccine doses we will be provided reflects a fraction of the first tranche of vaccines as it is distributed throughout the country,” Monahan wrote.

That hasn’t prevented a backlash and, by Tuesday, Rubio was protesting his inclusion by CNN among lawmakers who accepted the vaccine after playing down the pandemic. He noted that he had encouraged people including his colleagues to wear masks.

Count DeSantis among the critics. “We’re setting criteria and I’m going to follow the criteria we’ve set,” he said.

“People gotta do what they gotta do but, for me, I don’t think it’s justifiable for me to go ahead of the line.”

Even when doses arrive in large numbers, he suggested, it’s better they go to police, firefighters, teachers, utility workers and others in fields where outbreaks could force quarantines that could reduce responsiveness.

“But in terms of public officials jumping the line, you’re not going to see that with me,” DeSantis said.

He did add that he was open to hospitals vaccinating younger people with conditions including cancer that render them “extremely vulnerable to COVID,” urging medics to “use their medical judgment.”

Relief bill complaints

Regarding the relief bill, DeSantis, a former House member, decried the practice in Congress of dropping massive legislation negotiated by leadership with little time for members to review details in advance of a vote.

“They write a 5,000-page bill, they publish it at I think 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and then they pass it at 9 at night,” he said.

“I don’t know about you all, but I can’t read 5,000 pages in six hours. It just ain’t going to happen. And so there was a lot of stuff tucked into that bill that it’s going to take weeks for us to try to figure out,” he said.

He agreed with Trump that the bill needed to provide more assistance to working people who are suffering economically because of restrictions meant to ease COVID transmission, particularly in states with stricter lock-downs than Florida’s.

He also criticized Congress for including non-relief aid to overseas countries including Pakistan. That squared with complaints by Trump about foreign-aid provisions.

“I think it showed exactly why we need term limits for members of Congress, because they’re not going to change the way they do business. They’re going to continue doing it this way.”

DeSantis said he’d hoped for a relief bill as early as June, blaming Pelosi for the delay. He didn’t acknowledge that the House approved relief bills that died in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Neither did he acknowledge that the overseas aid measures he criticized were part of separate legislation, to keep the government programs running through September, that got folded into the relief package, as reported by the Phoenix Washington bureau.

Meanwhile, DeSantis defended his recent appearances at high school football games where crowds haven’t rigorously observed guidance to wear masks and maintain physical distance to prevent coronavirus transmission — examples here, here, and here.

He said he considers outdoor gatherings at low risk of transmission compared to those held indoors.

“I think the outdoor transmission has been close to zero,” he said. “There was really no inconsistency with anything I’ve said.”