Gov. DeSantis: Anti-Safety, Anti-Science, Anti-Vax, and Anti-Child

Bruce Lesley
Published in
8 min readMar 11, 2022


Most parents and communities seek to do whatever it takes to promote the success of children and to protect them from harm, particularly when that harm can be prevented or significantly reduced. In contrast, although politicians often ignore and treat children as an afterthought, they often have sympathy for kids and most do not actively seek to do harm to them. But shockingly, there are others that seem to delight in bullying and harming kids.

In the case of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, he aggressively chooses to bully and harm in a number of ways, including undermining efforts by parents, schools, and others to protect Florida’s children from harm during the global COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.

First, at the close of the 20th century, the lifespan of Americans had grown by over 30 years. Immunizations were highlighted as the biggest factor in this success, as smallpox was eradicated, polio was eliminated on our continent, and deaths from other infectious diseases like measles, rubella, tetanus, and diphtheria were substantially reduced, particularly among children.

Vaccines have proven to have made the greatest impact on the health and lives of people in human history. Immunizations are the most effective way to protect our children from harm, including death. Science works.

Consequently, scientists, doctors, public health officials, parents, and government have successfully worked together to ensure that the vast majority of America’s children are vaccinated from preventable life-threatening infectious diseases.

This protects all of us.

A wide majority of Americans have long supported ensuring that all children receive the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended vaccines before entering schools. Every state in the nation has chosen to protect the health and well-being of children in this way. An analysis by the Florida Department of Health issued on Feb. 7, 2022, for example, reported that 93.3 percent of children in kindergarten and 94.5 percent of 7th graders met “the vaccination requirement for their grade.” Most parents want to protect their children from preventable infectious diseases.

Unfortunately, in recent years, diseases that we believed to have been eradicated have reemerged due to clusters of anti-vax misinformation being spread by various groups in certain communities on social media, including Facebook groups. This has led to outbreaks of infectious diseases, including measles in Florida, among children.

Problems with vaccine misinformation and take-up rates were compounded when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, including the myth that took hold in some circles that children were “largely immune.”

The fact is that kids are not immune. They never were.

Instead, children have unique health care needs due to the fact that disease, stress and trauma, and health interventions are almost always different for kids than adults. In some ways, it can be far more complicated and complex. Children are more vulnerable and resilient at the same time.

Dr. Kurt Newman, President and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, explains:

When you think about a child, they need protection. They’re not fully formed or fully mature. Their organs are not what they’re going to be. But at the same time, that immaturity allows so much bounce back and so much healing and so much ability. So you have to take both those things into mind as you take care of a child.

The fact is that every aspect of the lives of children has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. But that has been an afterthought among many of our nation’s policymakers. As UNICEF says, “Children are the hidden victims of the coronavirus crisis.”

As an example, on April 8, 2020, Gov. DeSantis declared:

This particular epidemic is one where, I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids.

That was clearly false.

But that statement is now embarrassing and tragic. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that nearly 1,500 children ages 0–17 have died from COVID-19 and over 115,000 children have been hospitalized. Nearly 7,500 children have developed the serious condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and there is increasing concern and evidence that COVID-19 may have negative consequences on the brain, rates of diabetes, and other conditions, such as long-COVID.

Children are neither immune nor invincible from contracting COVID-19. The impact on them is just different. While kids may be dying from COVID at lower rates than older Americans, that is true with most life-threatening diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. But the fact is that COVID-19 is now a Top 10 cause of death among children and the rates of infection and hospitalization rose dramatically in late 2021 and early 2022.

Deaths and hospitalizations in children should never be dismissed.

Furthermore, under no circumstances is it an acceptable rationale to simply “do nothing” related to children simply because risk is lower, particularly since deaths and severe illnesses, such as hospitalizations, can be mitigated or prevented with vaccines, use of masks, and other public health measures.

And yet, “doing nothing” or actively doing harm is what Gov. DeSantis is doing. First, he publicly bullied high school students who were wearing masks at a recent press conference by telling them to remove them and declaring masks “COVID theater.”

One of those students has a parent who has a compromised immune system.

Rather than apologizing for his behavior or that of his staff, instead, Gov. DeSantis sought to fundraise off his behavior.

All of this has occurred at a moment when we are rapidly closing in on 1 million deaths — grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, and other family — in this country from COVID-19. Recent estimates are that more than 240,000 children in the U.S. have lost a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID-19. It is estimated that Florida has the 6th highest rate of caregiver deaths in the country.

Gov. DeSantis also pushed legislation to strip $200 million from Florida school districts whose leaders sought to protect the health and safety of their children and teachers with public health measures, such as masking to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. From the data, it is clear that this will disproportionately harm urban public schools and children of color — the very same kids who have been disproportionately negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic.

But even worse than all of that, Gov. DeSantis’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, at the close of a forum (where people falsely asserted that healthy children had not died of COVID-19, argued against vaccinations for children, but promoted horse deworming treatments), declared that Florida was going to be the first state to “officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children.”

It might be the first state, but it should reverse itself and be the last state to do so.

Florida’s American Academy of Pediatrics chapter president Dr. Lisa Gwynn called Ladapo’s statement “irresponsible” and said “there is widespread consensus among medical and public health experts about the life-saving benefits of this vaccine.”

Gwynn adds:

The [Florida] Surgeon General’s comments. . .misrepresent the benefits of the vaccine, which has been proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations, and long-term symptoms from Covid-19 in children and adolescents, including those who are otherwise healthy.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, associate chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, has expressed grave disappointment with the notion that vaccines are not needed by children who are “healthy” because they are less likely to die. As he said:

We see these sick children who don’t need to be that sick if they would have gotten the vaccine. And you know, tell that to a parent whose child is in the ICU or is very ill or intubated or very sick, ‘Oh, you know, most children don’t really get very sick with this,’ and see the reaction you get.

I think that’s really sad that we feel that it’s okay for some children to get sick, get hospitalized and die of this disease, when we could clearly prevent that.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, the Chief of Pediatrics at University of Florida Health Jacksonville, urged people to listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics about their strong recommendations that children get vaccinations rather than Ladapo. Goldhagen said:

There was a study that came out [earlier this week] that indicated that children who are vaccinated have eight times less chance of getting the disease.

Children do get the disease. They do get sick from the disease. They get hospitalized from the disease. They die from the disease. And this policy will result in increased morbidity and mortality amongst children.

In addition to the harm to children that will result from lower vaccination rates for COVID-19, the anti-vax rhetoric of the DeSantis Administration will undoubtedly lead to a drop in overall vaccination rates against other preventable infectious diseases.

As Florida pediatrician Dr. Robin Strauss said:

I’m old enough to have seen children be hospitalized, to have permanent brain damage and permanent physical damages, and to die from diseases that are now vaccine-preventable. . . . It’s just mind-boggling to think that we could go back to that. The diseases are waiting.

Under Gov. DeSantis, Florida has long had a disturbing and exclusionary pattern for giving vaccines or following the science regarding vaccines.

Florida’s Department of Health seems incapable of even properly ordering enough vaccines for pediatricians and parents to provide to children.

The science calls for the vaccination of children. For example, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “in 12-to-15-year-old recipients had a favorable safety profile, produced a greater immune response than in young adults, and was highly effective against Covid-19.” According to the study, kids benefit even more than adults from this vaccine, and yet, the DeSantis Administration is now advising kids not to be vaccinated.

To do so, the DeSantis Administration had to ignore the science. Florida’s Department of Health cited a line or two in three studies but ignored the conclusions. As Ian Hodgson reports, “Each of the three studies cited by the state concluded vaccines are safe and effective.”

Rarely do you see a politician that actively seeks to go out of their way to take positions that affirmatively harm children or puts them in harm’s way, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has. The number of anti-child actions by Florida’s governor is substantial and goes well beyond this partial list: 👇

As examples of other negligent actions by the DeSantis Administration on children’s issues, Florida failed to apply for $820 million in food aid for children and “failed for nearly three months to pay tens of thousand of health care claims for the state’s sickest and neediest children.”

Seriously, at some point, you must call it out for what it is. Gov. DeSantis’s policies are anti-safety, anti-science, anti-immunization, and certainly not pro-life.

In fact, his policies and positions are anti-child.



Bruce Lesley

@BruceLesley — President of @First_Focus & @Campaign4Kids. Child advocate, husband & father of 4. Basketball fanatic. Follow on Twitter: @BruceLesley.