Florida’s divide on COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters: Backroom Briefing


By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida – Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Don’t expect federal approval of updated COVID-19 vaccines to reshape political views about “jabs,” as Gov. Ron DeSantis likes to call them.

Amid an uptick this summer in infections and hospitalizations from a variant of the virus, a University of South Florida survey found “attitudes toward the pandemic remain starkly divided along political lines.”

Conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 21, the survey concluded 84 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans were willing to receive continuing vaccine boosters.

“Conversely, Republicans reported lower levels of trust in public health guidance and were significantly more likely to express belief in the misinformation themes,” the school’s research team said last week in announcing the survey results.

The divisions played out this week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved new versions of vaccines that it said are “formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said people 6 months old and older should receive the updated vaccines.

But on Wednesday, in the latest round of battling between federal and DeSantis administration officials about COVID-19 issues, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo advised people under age 65 not to receive the newly approved vaccines.

“At this point with the amount of immunity that’s in the community … and the questions we have about safety and about effectiveness, but especially about safety, my judgment is that it’s not a good decision for young people and for people who are not at high risk at this point in the pandemic,” Ladapo said.

Democrats quickly linked the state guidance to DeSantis’ bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.

“By encouraging millions to reject public health guidance, the governor is actively putting our seniors and at-risk residents in harm’s way,” state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said in a prepared statement. “Try as he might, DeSantis’ dangerous political posturing will not resuscitate his flailing presidential campaign.”

DeSantis last week held an event in Jacksonville to reassert his opposition to measures such as mask requirements, describing them as an attempt by people on the left to “expand government control.”

As of Aug. 31, a reported 90,232 Florida residents had died of COVID-19, according to Florida Department of Health data.

In March, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and then-CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued an open letter warning Ladapo that his stances on COVID-19 vaccines were “harmful.”


California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’s still up for debating DeSantis, but some details remain unresolved.

“There was a venue issue. They wanted thousands of people, making it a performance,” Newsom said during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show. “I wasn’t interested in the particulars on that.”

DeSantis’ campaign has suggested a live audience and, rather than opening remarks, videos that would run up to two minutes.

Newsom’s office has proposed each governor give brief opening remarks during an event that would be held in November and moderated by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.

The two governors have repeatedly used each other as foils on issues such as guns, abortion, immigration and the economy.

Newsom called for a debate when he appeared on Hannity’s show in June, after Florida flew a group of migrants from Texas to California. DeSantis later said on Hannity’s show that he would participate.

While DeSantis continues to run for the Republican presidential nomination, Newsom said he isn’t trying to step on the toes of Vice President Kamala Harris. Newsom said he has a good relationship with Harris, but noted he’s read “off-the-record quotes” that someone in her office was upset by his debate challenge.

“I wish I knew who that was, but I didn’t hear that from her,” Newsom said. “And I’m certainly not hearing that from the White House.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, is expected to take part in the GOP’s second presidential debate, which will be held Sept. 27 in California.


With $80 million in state funding this year, Florida tourism officials plan to use good food and off-the-beaten-path adventures to attract U.S. travelers who apparently are starting to think more globally after the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

Visit Florida’s marketing approach also is aimed at offsetting figures that showed overall visits to Florida were down 1.2 percent during this year’s second quarter when compared to the same period in 2022. Domestic travel was down 2.4 percent.

Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said that while international tourism grows, the U.S. market is “our bread and butter” and “we have to keep giving them reasons to come back not once, not twice, but again and again and again.”

Entering the second year of a partnership with the Michelin restaurant guide focusing on Tampa, Orlando and Miami, the state will engage in a separate “culinary marketing campaign” for the rest of the state.

A second campaign is looking to market regions outside their peak seasons, such as emphasizing the Panhandle during the winter or South Florida as the summer heat takes hold.

Two other campaigns center on drawing people to areas that are not typical tourist destinations.

The agency has brought in the Adventure Travel Trade Association to help rural counties better market themselves as destinations. Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Protection Office of Greenways and Trails is helping promote the more than 15,000 miles of water and land-based trails across the state.

Overall tourism numbers for 2023 are ahead of the pace for the first six months of 2022, thanks to an extremely strong first quarter.


“Some people don’t like the direction the Republican Party is headed. They want to stay behind gated communities having academic talks over fancy meals; pretend there’s no culture war and ignore the working class. Those people should follow Romney and exit stage Left.” — State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to a decision by U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to not seek another term.

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