Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has long been hostile to public health measures meant to curtail COVID-19, signed four bills into law Thursday limiting vaccine requirements in the state.
The bills, which lawmakers passed during a special legislative session called specifically for this purpose, largely prevent employers from requiring their staff be vaccinated against the virus before returning to work ― something President Joe Biden’s administration has called on most companies to do.
With DeSantis’ signature, Florida is now the first state in the country to enact a law imposing possible fines on employers for vaccine mandates. The bills also allow employees to opt out of vaccine requirements by undergoing periodic testing or wearing protective equipment such as masks at work and repeals the authority of the state’s surgeon general to mandate vaccines.
Speaking from Brandon, Florida, on Thursday, the governor touted the bills’ quick movement through the legislature and said they were helping people keep their jobs.
“At the end of the day, nobody in Florida should be losing their job over these jabs,” he said, referring to the vaccines. “We want people to be able to work and want people to be able to provide for their families, want people to be able to have livelihoods. And that’s just the way it’s going to be in this state.”
While DeSantis and other Republicans were initially more aligned with Democrats and public health experts on pushing vaccines, there’s been a shift in the party as it became more apparent that opposition to vaccine mandates electrifies the GOP base, many of whom have unfounded, fringe beliefs that vaccines are dangerous.
DeSantis, whose message on the importance of vaccines was loud and clear when the shots began rolling out earlier this year, has cozied up to that fringe contingent in recent months and appeared alongside speakers spreading standard vaccine misinformation without correcting them. He now calls the vaccine “injections” or “jabs,” as he did in Brandon on Thursday, mimicking the rhetoric vaccine skeptics stick to at rallies and on social media.