And DeSantis, one of the leading Republican voices against federal vaccine demands, wants to go even further. He says his state can pay the fines for companies that flout the federal vaccine mandate – and it will do so with coronavirus relief aid signed by Biden.
“It’s an important fight,” DeSantis recently told business leaders. “And it’s a fight we’re happy to join.”
Just a few months ago, a majority of Americans lived in a state that offered people money or other gifts if they were vaccinated against the coronavirus. Democratic and Republican governors of more than a dozen states have started lotteries, promising new vaccines a chance to win $ 1 million and sometimes more.
But DeSantis’ push to use taxpayer dollars to compensate people who defy vaccination mandates is the latest example of the rapidly changing policy around vaccines and it could become a model for other Republican leaders seeking to line up with an increasingly vocal minority of Americans refusing to get the hang of it. DeSantis, a potential candidate for 2024 and one of his party’s most popular figures, has often set the tone for other Republican governors by responding to the pandemic and pushing back the Biden administration.
If more states follow, it could weaken Biden’s sharpest tool – the threat of lost earnings – in his drive to encourage vaccinations. Growing resistance has created more uncertainty about America’s response to the pandemic amid a winter wave causing another wave of hospitalizations in the north and mountains to the west. Meanwhile, a new variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, has entered the United States, officials confirmed on Wednesday, shaking markets and executives.
Crystal Watson, professor of public health risk assessment at Johns Hopkins University, fears these states will give people a reason not to get vaccinated and create a safe haven for the virus at a time when states United should take the turn against the pandemic.
“The more we have high levels of traffic in our communities, the more we will see worrying variations,” said Crystal Watson, professor of public health risk assessment at Johns Hopkins University. “From a scientific point of view, from a public health point of view, creating support for people who will not get vaccinated is really damaging.”
“You should encourage people to make good decisions”
In the midst of Florida’s special session on vaccine mandates last month, some Democrats took issue with lawmakers giving benefits to the unvaccinated. They noted that five months earlier, DeSantis, like many Republican leaders, had halted emergency aid to the unemployed in an attempt to jumpstart the job market.
State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, proposed an amendment that would ensure that unemployment benefits would go to workers who did not feel safe at work and quit their jobs because their employer did not demand no vaccines. In the Republican-dominated legislature, his amendment was ruled out of order.
“They didn’t even want to hear it,” Eskamani said. “These are the same Republicans who say they want a small government and let people decide for themselves. But not only are you promoting policies that are contrary to public health, but you are rewarding them for it. You should push for it. people to fix decisions. “
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said it was wrong to characterize Florida’s new unemployment law as a taxpayer-funded incentive for the unvaccinated. She said the bill clarified what is already the law in Florida, which states that an employee is eligible for unemployment benefits if they are terminated as a result of an illegal policy. DeSantis signed a bill banning strict vaccine mandates.
“Most people prefer to keep their jobs and their income steady, and that has always been the goal of the special session,” said Pushaw. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be fired for a personal medical decision to receive unemployment assistance which is usually less than their former income.”
The Biden administration declined to comment. Watson, the Johns Hopkins professor, said the new laws were “very contradictory to the public health message which is based on science and evidence.”
“It’s really dangerous from that point of view,” Watson said.
After signing the Iowa bill, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement it’s about ensuring health decisions stay personal.
“I think the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and we’ve provided the Iowans with the information they need to determine what’s best for them and their families,” Reynolds said, “but no Iowan should. being forced to lose their job or livelihood on the COVID-19 vaccine. ”
Carrots vs sticks
Several studies have shown that state lotteries make little difference in tackling vaccine hesitancy. In October, in the face of stagnant vaccination rates, the Biden administration went from carrot to stick.
Biden bet that most companies would implement vaccination mandates for their workers if threatened with fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was believed that employees would ultimately choose a safe and effective vaccine rather than lose their jobs.
In some parts of the country, the idea worked as expected. More than 92% of the federal workforce received at least one dose of the vaccine after Biden made vaccination a condition of employment, the Office of Management and Budget said late last month . Many cities, including New York City, have assigned immunization mandates a sharp increase in immunization among government officials.
But Republican leaders across the country have backed down. Eleven states have banned vaccines or are forcing companies and governments to offer exemptions, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Florida, for example, has made it so that almost anyone can get an exemption on religious or medical grounds, through testing or by demonstrating a previous medical exemption.
The Biden administration, already facing legal hurdles over its vaccine mandates, now faces widespread uncertainty in the business world over how to proceed. Disney last week announced it would stop mandating vaccines on its Florida employees after DeSantis signed a law requiring employers to allow vaccine exemptions.
Speaking from Air Force One last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Disney’s decision shows how DeSantis is moving the country in the wrong direction in its fight against the coronavirus. .
“They are based in Florida, and obviously the governor has always taken steps to back down when it comes to fighting the pandemic, not forward,” Psaki said.
OSHA has suspended the application of Biden’s new vaccine mandate for private companies with 100 or more workers after a federal appeals court halted implementation. Meanwhile, a Missouri federal judge partially blocked another federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers on Monday, and a touching federal judge on Tuesday took similar action against Biden’s mandate for federal contractors.
The Biden administration has encouraged companies to comply with warrants while courts resolve legal issues. DeSantis urged Florida businesses to do the opposite, or they could be fined up to $ 50,000 for breaking the new state law.
Even though the courts side with Biden, DeSantis told the National Federation of Independent Businesses last month that he has a plan to fight OSHA sanctions.
“If it gets to the point where they’re trying to enforce, you know my point would be not to comply, and we’ll be backing the legislature by taking some of the stimulus money and using it to. pay the fines imposed on companies incurring for not complying, ”DeSantis said.
Pushaw said the idea was “an option” but added that it “is not needed at this time” due to actions taken by federal courts to date. The US Treasury Department said it was monitoring all proposed spending of the COVID-19 relief funds and added that any programs that undermine efforts to stop the spread of the virus would not be allowed.
DeSantis has also suspended $ 5,000 bonuses for bringing unvaccinated police officers to his state, although lawmakers must first approve. While any officer who moves to Florida would be eligible for the bonus, regardless of their immunization status, he specifically presented his proposal to police in cities that require their public officials to be immunized.
“If you’re not treated well,” DeSantis told Fox News in October, “we’ll treat you better here.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the political party of the Governor of Kansas.