Talking Points

Ron DeSantis isn't just anti-mandate. He's anti-vax.

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to pay anti-vaccination cops to take jobs in his state. The Florida Republican said Sunday he hopes to sign legislation that will offer $5,000 bonuses to out-of-state police officers who lost their positions because they wouldn't comply with vaccine mandates.

"We're actually actively working to recruit out-of-state law enforcement, because we do have needs in our police and our sheriff's departments," DeSantis said on Fox News. "NYPD, Minneapolis, Seattle, if you're not being treated well, we'll treat you better here, you can fill important needs for us, and we'll compensate you as a result."

This is new territory for DeSantis, who has tried to maintain a tricky balance.with COVID-19 vaccines for most of 2021. On one hand, he has urged his state's residents to get the jab. "These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality," the governor said in July. But he has also been aggressively anti-mandate, taking action to keep local schools and businesses from requiring masks or vaccines as a condition of employment or service.

Now that balance is gone. It's one thing to forbid vaccine requirements in the name of freedom. It's another thing entirely to incentivize anti-vax sentiments by offering cash bonuses and employment to public servants who defied the rules of their home jurisdictions. DeSantis' proposal might be a political winner with his GOP base, but it's obviously dangerous: COVID is already the leading cause of death among police officers. Essentially rewarding officers for refusing vaccination won't help. 

The police proposal isn't the only bad pandemic policy choice DeSantis has made lately. His pick to be the state's new surgeon general, Joseph Lapado, has spread misinformation about vaccine safety, including with DeSantis at his side. Lapado recently refused to mask up for a meeting with an immunocompromised state legislator. This is the man DeSantis wants to run the Florida Department of Health.

Theoretically, it should be possible (though not optimal) to be both pro-vaccine and anti-mandate. Yet in real life — and certainly in Florida — it doesn't seem to work out that way, especially for politicians trying to pander. For months now, whatever his rhetoric, DeSantis has been functionally anti-vax. These two choices only make it more explicit.