Gov. Ron DeSantis encouraged Floridians to do research before getting another COVID-19 booster shot, casting doubt on “experts” Thursday.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday that third Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses will become available eight months after people received their second shot, beginning Sept. 20. The plan is pending an independent safety and effectiveness evaluation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and further analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said.
DeSantis said the federal government had some of its guidance wrong throughout the pandemic, including keeping children away from classrooms last year. The data now “contradicts” that decision, he noted.
In the past, he’s pointed to experts’ reversal on the benefits of masks — which experts say help mitigate virus spread — and, more recently, their reversal on the need for a third shot. As for a third dose, DeSantis says there’s no clinical data for it yet.
“Just because some expert says something, you have to look at the underlying data for what they’re trying to say,” DeSantis said, responding to a question about whether he would endorse the third shot.
Without the FDA’s analysis yet, the Governor declined to endorse the need for a third dose himself.
“People just need to look and evaluate this for themselves,” he continued. “But certainly I’m not in a position because I haven’t seen the data about what does that third shot mean in terms of is there side effects, is there (any)thing and then what is it gaining you.”
Third doses might not be necessary for people who have already had two shots and who also contracted the virus, DeSantis suggested.
DeSantis said the White House says studies have shown declining efficacy but still provide significant protection against hospitalization and death, meaning more people are testing positive with mild cases despite being vaccinated. However, federal officials fear protection against hospitalization and death could wane.
The three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — “continue to be remarkably effective” in protecting people from severe disease, hospitalization and death, the statement said. But available data has made clear that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection decreases over time, and federal health experts have begun to see reduced protections against the virus. The delta variant might require more antibodies to fight off, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” according to a White House statement. “For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
However, Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine who used to be the chief scientist at the FDA, told National Public Radio he worries that setting a start date for a booster program before the relevant data can be evaluated through the normal federal processes may put “the cart before the horse.”
DeSantis pointed to increased cases in nursing homes as a possible inspiration for the federal government to move toward third doses.
His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, questioned whether encouraging people to do their own research on vaccines could lead to them finding vaccine disinformation and whether that feeds vaccine skepticism.
“They should do it in consultation with their health care provider, because the average person doesn’t have the same kind of medical knowledge, obviously, as their health care provider would,” Pushaw said. “But there’s nothing wrong with people doing their own research.”
Psychologists and misinformation experts are seeing links between beliefs in COVID-19 falsehoods and the reliance on social media as a source of news and information, The Associated Press wrote in April. And they’re concluding COVID-19 conspiracy theories persist by providing a false sense of empowerment. By offering hidden or secretive explanations, they give the believer a feeling of control in a situation that otherwise seems random or frightening.
Dr. Perry Brown, a public health professor at Florida A&M University’s Institute of Public Health, told Florida Politics that telling people to self-evaluate whether to get a third shot is safe for the Governor, both politically and medically. However, people could be looking for a reason to validate their existing opinion or come across medical papers that are difficult to understand, he warned.
“It’s kind of a catch 22. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Brown said. “I would advocate that people should go out and find credible information. Don’t go to Billy Bob’s real deal on covid.com. But people might.”
In contrast with his comments Thursday, DeSantis on Wednesday told Floridians to ask their physician about the third shot.
Critics argue DeSantis has promoted treatment over vaccines this month by touting monoclonal antibodies, a therapeutic available when a person at high risk for severe infection tests positive for COVID-19 or is exposed to the virus. But the Governor says it’s not a question of treatment versus vaccines but that both are important, particularly as there are more breakthrough cases. Moreover, he spent much of the first half of the year crisscrossing the state to promote vaccines.
Regardless, DeSantis says third doses will be available in Florida if the FDA approves them. On Wednesday, he added the state wouldn’t “try to block it.”
“Hopefully, the FDA is not going to approve that … unless they have enough clinical data to suggest that this would be something that would be worth doing,” he said Thursday.