Gov. DeSantis pushes Special Olympics to lift vaccine mandate on USA Games

Ron DeSantis
The decision comes days before the sporting event.

Special Olympics International will no longer require participants in the USA Games to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced. The news comes two days before the scheduled beginning of the eight-day event in Orlando.

DeSantis said his administration has been fighting the Special Olympics for six months. The state threatened the organization with a $27.5 million fine if they imposed the requirement, which DeSantis said violated a ban on vaccine passports signed last year.

“We’ve never seen something wielded like this vaccine to try to marginalize disfavored people to try to deny people full freedom and full rights,” he said.

Special Olympics International sent out a release announcing the change.

“Delegates who were registered for the Games but were unable to participate due to the prior vaccine requirement, now have the option to attend. SOI, Special Olympics North America, and the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games Local Organizing Committee will make best efforts to accommodate eligible individuals,” the statement reads. “For 54 years, Special Olympics has been brave in the attempt. We don’t want to fight. We want to play.”

At the event Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo not only slammed the requirement of vaccines for the event but questioned whether the vaccine was even safe.

“Scientifically, it makes zero sense,” Ladapo said. “How can you force people to take a vaccine in order to stop transmission when that vaccine is not effective at stopping transmission?”

He went further to say parents had rights to question if their own children even should be vaccinated.

“People will say oh, you know, millions of people have taken these vaccines, they must be safe,” he said. “Well, you can’t know the answer to that when it is taboo to talk about having a reaction after vaccines.”

Some unvaccinated Special Olympics athletes whose participation in the event hinged on the announced resolution shared the stage with DeSantis.

“This was a big, long-term goal for me,” said Frank Vernoia, an athlete who plans to compete in the golf competition.

“Being told that I was able to go in February, and then coming just a couple months ago and being told no, being threatened with emails after emails that I would have to prove vaccination to go … it was a good thing to work with the Governor’s Department of Health. I want to thank them all for fighting and standing up for us.”

But other parent advocates immediately expressed dismay.

Judi Hayes, an Orange County mother who last year sued the DeSantis administration when it prohibited school mask mandates, said she won’t attend the Special Olympics this year because of the decision.

“I will be boycotting the Special Olympics because we deserve better than this,” said Hayes, whose son has Down syndrome. “At least remove the fascist dictator as honorary co-chair.”

She was intending to attend the USA Games this year as a spectator, and her son was signed up to do a Special Olympics summer bowling program, with her older child participating as a “unified partner.”

“We will no longer be participating in those activities unless and until the Special Olympics stops capitulating to DeSantis,” she said.

DeSantis noted at the press conference both he and First Lady Casey DeSantis serve as honorary co-chairs for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, which hasn’t changed even in the months of wrangling over the vaccine requirements.

With the decision coming days ahead of the international event, DeSantis acknowledged some athletes impacted by the mandate may not benefit from the resolution on the issue.

“I am a little disappointed,” he said. “Maybe if you’re in Hawaii, you’re probably not going to be able to get to Orlando on 24 or 48 hours notice. So there still may be some athletes who would want to compete but because it took so long. Maybe just logistically that they won’t be able to, and I think that that’s really unfortunate. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort on our part.”

But advocates for the disabled made clear they have concerns over the decision.

“The Special Olympics include many athletes whose disabilities may make them particularly susceptible to COVID,” said Peter Sleasman, executive direc tor of Disability Rights Florida.

“Those athletes may now be put in the difficult position of having to choose between their health and a competition that they have worked hard for and looked forward to. This is a decision that should have been left to the Special Olympics Committee in consultation with the athletes without the threat of a massive fine by the State.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


15 comments

  • Brian

    June 3, 2022 at 12:39 pm

    thanks your are open this site 𝐰𝐰𝐰.𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐡𝐣𝐨𝐛𝐳.𝐜𝐨𝐦

  • Kim

    June 3, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    I LOVE this governor and surgeon general. Florida is lucky to have them!! All my future vacays will be in the “free state” of FL!

    • Tom Meahger

      June 3, 2022 at 5:26 pm

      Does Christina Pushaw pay you a dollar per comment? Or is it 10 rubles?

      • tjb

        June 3, 2022 at 5:46 pm

        Rubles is the answer. She is a useful idiot in drag.
        Also during the news conference, DeSantis stated that vaccination is a question of personal choice. Does personal choice apply to a women’s right to make a decision about her body?

    • Peg

      June 6, 2022 at 9:12 am

      I had a brother with Down Syndrome and vaccines kept him safe from most diseases that could have put him in hospital or killed him due to lung issues. It seems that you are a fan of dictatorship which is how our Buffoon of a governor has become. The republican party loves going to Hungary to kiss the ring of a Putin loving dictator. Our country will be speaking Russian soon in Key West they have been taking over for yrs 🙄. The

    • Peg

      June 6, 2022 at 9:16 am

      I had a brother with Down Syndrome and vaccines kept him safe from most diseases that could have put him in hospital or killed him due to lung issues. It seems that you are a fan of dictatorship which is how our Buffoon of a governor has become. The republican party loves going to Hungary to kiss the ring of a Putin loving dictator. Our country will be speaking Russian soon in Key West they have been taking over for yrs 🙄. Florida is not a FREE STATE IT’S A RUSSIAN STATE!

  • Tom Meagher

    June 3, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    Look at them laughing as they stick it to disabled kids! They are beyond ghoulish. There are no words.

  • Harold Finch

    June 4, 2022 at 10:44 am

    The most incredibly stupid mandate an elected Governor has ever given. What a complete idiot!!!

    • Peg

      June 6, 2022 at 9:18 am

      I had a brother with Down Syndrome and vaccines kept him safe from most diseases that could have put him in hospital or killed him due to lung issues. It seems that you are a fan of dictatorship which is how our Buffoon of a governor has become. The republican party loves going to Hungary to kiss the ring of a Putin loving dictator. Our country will be speaking Russian soon in Key West they have been taking over for yrs 🙄. Florida is not a FREE STATE IT’S A RUSSIAN STATE!

      • She Thinks Liberty

        June 12, 2022 at 6:23 pm

        You “had” a brother with Down Syndrome? And vaccines “kept” him safe? Is he still with us?

    • She Thinks Liberty

      June 12, 2022 at 6:25 pm

      What prompts you to look to a governor — Florida’s or any other state’s — for health decisions? Do your research, make your decisions, take the steps you think you must for your health — and let others do the same, right??

  • Yeah

    June 5, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Desantos is doing good not putting Florida in a power play platform

  • Peg

    June 6, 2022 at 9:20 am

    I had a brother with Down Syndrome and vaccines kept him safe from most diseases that could have put him in hospital or killed him due to lung issues. It seems that you are a fan of dictatorship which is how our Buffoon of a governor has become. The republican party loves going to Hungary to kiss the ring of a Putin loving dictator.🙄. Florida is not a FREE STATE IT’S A RUSSIAN STATE!

  • Peg

    June 6, 2022 at 9:21 am

    I had a brother with Down Syndrome and vaccines kept him safe from most diseases that could have put him in hospital or killed him due to lung issues. It seems that you are a fan of dictatorship which is how our Buffoon of a governor has become 🙄. Florida is not a FREE STATE IT’S A RUSSIAN STATE

Comments are closed.


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