Gov. Ron DeSantis, who initially encouraged vaccination among the elderly population, has received criticism for his shifting stance on COVID-19 vaccines as Republican sentiments changed. According to a recent report from The New York Times, this shift may have contributed to a spike in COVID-19 deaths in Florida during the Delta wave in the summer of 2021. The report highlights that the majority of COVID-19 deaths in Florida occurred after vaccines became readily available to all adults, unlike many Democratic-led states where deaths occurred before vaccine availability.
The Times also notes that Florida initially had a lower death rate compared to most states in the first year of the pandemic. The state prioritized vaccinating individuals aged 65 and older early on. However, as vaccines became more widely available to all adults, Governor DeSantis began emphasizing his opposition to mandates and expressing skepticism about the vaccines. This shift, along with declining vaccination rates among younger adults in Florida, had consequences when the Delta variant surged.
During the Delta wave, Florida had a higher death rate than many other states, accounting for 14% of deaths nationwide despite representing less than 7% of the country’s population. The analysis indicates that 9,000 of the 23,000 Floridian deaths were individuals under the age of 65, the majority of whom were either unvaccinated or had not completed their vaccination regimen.
In response to the surge in cases, Governor DeSantis began recommending vaccinations again. However, local officials noted the significant shift in his messaging from promoting vaccinations for the elderly to downplaying their usefulness.
While Florida’s death rate eventually decreased, and the overall numbers, adjusted for age, trended better than the national average, critics argue that Governor DeSantis’ pivots on vaccines are noteworthy. The Times suggests that his influence as a popular governor may have an impact on public perception and behavior regarding vaccinations.