By Ryan Dailey ©2022 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Saying that COVID-19 vaccines have been “pushed on Americans,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate “wrongdoing in Florida” related to the shots.
DeSantis announced his request for a grand jury during a media event to discuss “COVID-19 mRNA vaccine accountability,” where he was joined by state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and a group of professors, researchers and a doctor who questioned the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines and whether adverse health reactions have been accurately reported.
The governor also announced a state probe into cardiac-related deaths following vaccinations against COVID-19 and the creation of a committee to “oversee the medical establishment.”
DeSantis’ actions on Tuesday amplified his clashes with President Joe Biden and other federal authorities over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m announcing a petition with the Supreme Court of Florida to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to COVID-19 vaccines. And we anticipate that we will get the approval for that,” DeSantis said. “That will be something that will be impaneled most likely in the Tampa Bay area. And that will come with legal processes that will be able to get more information and to bring legal accountability for those who committed misconduct.”
While asking the Supreme Court for a statewide grand jury had been a relatively unusual step, DeSantis since he was first elected in 2018 has made similar requests for probes into high-profile issues. Florida Supreme Court justices in June approved a request by the governor to impanel a grand jury to investigate immigration-related issues.
The governor’s latest grand-jury petition focused in part on statements by pharmaceutical company executives about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The pharmaceutical industry has a notorious history of misleading the public for financial gain,” a part of the 20-page petition said.
The petition also disputed statements about coronavirus vaccines made by Biden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who is one of the president’s top pandemic advisors. DeSantis has harshly criticized their approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
The petition seeks an inquiry into pharmaceutical companies and their executives, as well as “medical associations or organizations involved in the design, development, clinical testing or investigation, manufacture, marketing, representation, advertising, promotion, labeling, distribution, formulation, packing, sale, purchase, donation, dispensing, prescribing, administration, or use of vaccines purported to prevent COVID-19” infections, symptoms and transmission.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would serve as the primary investigator for the grand jury, though the petition said any law enforcement agency in the state could be called upon for the probe.
DeSantis also on Tuesday announced that Ladapo, who doubles as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, will lead what Ladapo called a “surveillance study” to explore deaths that occurred after people were vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We are initiating a program here in Florida where we will be studying the incidents, in surveillance, of myocarditis within a few weeks of COVID-19 vaccination for people who died,” Ladapo said, referring to a condition that causes inflammation of the heart.
Ladapo said the state health department will work with “some of our medical examiners” in Florida as well as researchers at the University of Florida to perform the study.
“We will answer this question. It is a question that I’m sure keeps the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna up late at night, hoping no one ever looks. But we are going to look here in Florida,” Ladapo said.
The health department under Ladapo’s leadership issued new guidance in October advising against COVID-19 mRNA vaccines for males between the ages of 18 and 39, pointing to “the relative incidence of cardiac-related death” among males in that age group roughly a month after getting the shots.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the agency “and its partners are actively monitoring reports of myocarditis and pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination. Active monitoring includes reviewing data and medical records and evaluating the relationship to COVID-19 vaccination.”
The website also said that myocarditis, a condition where the heart becomes inflamed in response to an infection or other trigger, is rare, and pointed to a study that showed patients with COVID-19 “had nearly 16 times the risk for myocarditis compared with patients who did not have COVID-19.”
DeSantis, who is widely seen as a potential frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, on Tuesday also said that Ladapo will convene what the governor is calling a Public Health Integrity Committee. The committee would “assess recommendations and guidance” that has come from entities such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health.
“I think you’ve continued to see people in these bureaucracies and in this establishment behave in ways that have totally squandered any type of confidence or goodwill that people would have,” DeSantis said.
The governor said that participants in Tuesday’s media event, which included Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya and epidemiologist Tracy Hoeg, are expected to be part of the committee.
Bhattacharya served as a witness for the state in a high-profile lawsuit challenging a directive by DeSantis that schools avoid imposing mask requirements for students to save off spread of COVID-19. Bhattacharya also was one of the state’s witnesses in a separate legal challenge of DeSantis’ decision to reopen schools in the early stages of the pandemic.
DeSantis’ announcements Tuesday, which came as Florida lawmakers met in a special legislative session focused on addressing the state’s property insurance woes, drew pushback from critics.
“Remember when DeSantis leveraged state power to announce an investigation into ‘voter fraud’ that he could run on in 2024? Did the same thing today with covid-19 vaccines,” Philip Bump, a columnist for The Washington Post, tweeted.
Dave Spore, who works for the Florida House minority office, also blasted the governor.
“Comparing a lifesaving vaccine to OxyContin, as DeSantis just did while announcing his latest political stunt, is unbelievably irresponsible. It’s also incredibly insensitive to the millions of Americans who’ve lost loved ones during the ongoing opioid epidemic & COVID pandemic,” Spore said in a tweet.