Florida Supreme Court approves DeSantis call for coronavirus vaccine grand jury
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request Thursday to impanel a statewide grand jury that will investigate what he called “crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
DeSantis has appointed a majority of the seven-member court, so the decision to comply with the governor’s request wasn’t a surprise.
The Republican governor, widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, called for the probe earlier this month at the conclusion of a roundtable he staged with scientists, doctors and researchers, who are all vaccine skeptics.
Among the panelists were Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford professor, and Dr. Martin Kuldorff, a biostatistician who has taught at Harvard Medical School. They are co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which in the early stages of the pandemic advocated lifting COVID-19 restrictions on lower-risk groups to promote herd immunity, wrongly predicting that would help protect vulnerable people.
Siding with vaccine suspicions and conspiracies
DeSantis, clearly siding with those who’ve promoted vaccine suspicions and conspiracies, said that with the grand jury investigation, “we’ll be able to get more information and bring legal accountability for those who committed misconduct.”
DeSantis’ focus includes companies which manufacture vaccines and the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also endorsed criticism from roundtable panelists who accuse vaccine manufacturers of withholding data regarding links between vaccines and heart problems.
Back story:Florida Gov. DeSantis requests grand jury probe of COVID-19 vaccines
The hurry-up development and initial distribution of the COVID-19 vaccinations were a signature accomplishment of President Trump’s administration. DeSantis himself was an early booster of the vaccines, even arranging an on-air inoculation of a World War II veteran on the air on FOX News.
Trump in many opinion polls among Republican voters remains a favorite for the 2024 presidential nomination, which DeSantis now also is expected to seek.
Florida under DeSantis' state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, has warned against males aged 18 to 39 from receiving Covid-19 vaccines, essentially going against the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and numerous other scientific organizations around the world. Ladapo cited concerns about possible heart risks based on Florida Department of Health analysis.
More than 1.1 million Americans have died with COVID-19, including more than 83,000 Floridians. The American Medical Association and the vast majority of medical professionals say vaccines remain safe and effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Labarga the lone 'no' vote
Five justices, three of them DeSantis-appointees, approved the grand jury request. Justice Jorge Labarga, a moderate on the court turned sharply conservative under DeSantis, was the lone 'no' vote.
Justice Renatha Francis, the governor’s most recent appointee to the court, did not take part in the ruling.
The grand jury will be impaneled for 12-months and Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, chief judge for the state’s Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, based in Hillsborough County, will be the statewide panel’s presiding judge.
Jurors will be drawn from five judicial circuits, according to the Supreme Court’s order.
DeSantis earlier this year got justices to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate immigration-related issues, including the smuggling of undocumented children into Florida. That panel is still meeting behind closed doors.