Ron DeSantis on Wednesday said if elected president, he would not pay for further coronavirus vaccines for Americans.
“Certainly, we’re not going to fund them,” the Florida Republican governor said during a wide-ranging interview with ABC News recorded Wednesday from Midland, Texas, where he announced his domestic energy policy.
The comment comes as DeSantis has ramped up his attacks in recent weeks on former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, over his administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a presidential candidate, DeSantis has regularly warned that mandates and restrictions would return, if the government is given the opportunity.
“The implication is they would not hesitate to do it again. Well, when I’m president, we’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to hold people accountable and we’re going to ensure that in the United States, you’re never infringed upon by some health bureaucrat trying to take away your freedom,” DeSantis said in Spencer, Iowa, in late August.
President Joe Biden last month said he “signed off” on a proposal to request more funding for Covid-19 response, including funding for the development of new vaccines. Although the end of the federal public health emergency in May means the US government is no longer covering the cost of Covid-19 vaccines for most Americans, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced last month that it’s awarded more than $1.4 billion toward the development of new vaccines and therapies as part of the $5 billion Project NextGen initiative.
As some limited, local mask mandates have returned, DeSantis held a roundtable last week on the new Covid-19 shots from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, where his surgeon general recommended people under 65 against receiving them.
DeSantis in the ABC interview doubled down on recent guidance from his state discouraging anyone under 65 from getting them, contradicting federal health officials’ recommendations.
The governor said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot be trusted – a response that elicited a prolonged on-air clarification about the scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines from ABC anchor Linsey Davis.
“How good is CDC done with all due respect over the last few years,” DeSantis said. “How many people trust CDC at this point? And I was somebody five years ago, you would have said CDC said this, that would have carried a lot of weight for me. I was in the trenches during Covid. They were citing flimsy studies saying that masks will stop Covid. They were citing flimsy studies about the mRNA shots.”
DeSantis in the interview dismissed recent criticism from Republican donors who appear increasingly disenchanted by the Florida Republican after supporting his reelection, including hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, a prolific GOP donor and one-time DeSantis backer who remains on the sidelines.
“Here’s the thing: I’m a leader. I’m not a follower,” he said. “So, we lead and we do what we think is right. And people can support us or not support us financially, but you should not be led by trying to please very wealthy donors, and I’ve never operated that way. So, for example, it’s been in the press that he’s been upset with him in the tussle with Disney over the over the school curriculum. We were right on the school curriculum, we stood for parents’ rights in education. And I’m not gonna back down from that.”
Asked to contrast himself with Trump, DeSantis rattled off a list of differences, touching on their upbringings and early adult life while continuing to push pragmatic arguments about their capacity to serve.
“We’ve got a lot of differences,” he said. “He was born to great wealth. I’m a blue collar kid that had to work minimum wage jobs to get where I was. You know, he did, obviously a lot, young in business. You know, I volunteered to serve in Iraq and serve in the military. I could serve two terms. He would be a lame duck on day one. I ran 16 points better than him in Florida in my most recent race than he did in his most recent race. I’ve also delivered on these America first policies more than I think anybody in the country and would have a much better chance of actually delivering all this as president.”