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DeSantis won’t force COVID-19 vaccinations, but Florida law says ‘health officers’ can

Language in a long-standing public health statute pertaining to mandatory vaccination has caused concern, but Florida is not unique in having such a provision to do anything necessary to address a supposed public health ‘emergency.’
Fri Jul 16, 2021 - 9:07 pm EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, July 16, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning vaccine passports and empowering the state to override local emergency orders that infringe on personal liberty.  

But a provision in Florida law allowing public health officers to “use any means necessary to vaccinate” anyone who “poses a danger to the public health” has raised eyebrows, and draws attention to countless laws on the books throughout the United States that grant sweeping authority to health officials during an emergency. 

SB 2006, which was signed by Republican Gov. DeSantis in May and took effect July 1, places an explicit ban on requiring “vaccine passports,” e.g. a print or digital certificate used to show proof of vaccination in order to engage in business or participate in public activities.  

The measure also prioritizes keeping businesses and schools open and forces emergency orders to be renewed at seven-day intervals with a mandatory expiration after 42 days.  

While SB 2006 came as good news for those opposed to forcing citizens to show proof of vaccination to participate in normal life, some of the language in the law it amended has elicited alarm about the potential for mandatory vaccination in the state. 

DeSantis’ ban on vaccine passports and clamp-down on health agency powers were effectuated via new language added to an existing Florida statute governing public health emergencies.  

The “second engrossed” version of SB 2006 is the latest iteration of Florida statute Title XXIX, Public Health, Chapter 381, and contains a bevy of underlined additions and crossed-out deletions. 

One of the provisions that was not eliminated from the existing Florida law states that “individuals who are unable or unwilling to be examined, tested, vaccinated, or treated for reasons of health, religion, or conscience may be subjected to quarantine … If there is no practical method to quarantine the individual, the State Health Officer may use any means necessary to vaccinate or treat the individual.” 

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The language has been a part of Florida law since 2002 during Jeb Bush’s governorship and thereby predates Gov. DeSantis, whose tough approach to lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine passports have generated wide-scale support among conservatives.  

DeSantis has been consistent in his opposition to many of the measures that were undertaken by other state leaders to “slow the spread” of the coronavirus. 

In a press conference in March, DeSantis said, “There was never under discussion any mandates to take vaccines. We will not have COVID vaccines mandated in Florida … we are not going to have you provide proof of this just to be able to live your life normally.” 

On May 3 after DeSantis signed SB 2006, he said in a press release, “[O]ver the last year we’ve avoided protracted lockdowns and school closures in Florida because I have refused to take the same approach as other lockdown governors.”  

DeSantis added that his amendments “[ensure] that legal safeguards are in place so that local governments cannot arbitrarily close our schools or businesses.“ 

“In Florida,” he continued, “your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision.” 

The updated law now sharply curbs existing powers held by health officials, explicitly banning businesses or government entities from requiring Floridians to provide proof of vaccination and giving the governor greater leverage to limit, cancel, and reverse emergency declarations.  

According to the press release, the newly revised law “allows the governor of Florida to invalidate a local emergency order if it unnecessarily restricts individual rights or liberties.” 

Under this new language, although a State Health Officer retains authority to declare a health emergency and, under the law, to use “any means necessary” to quarantine, vaccinate, or otherwise treat citizens considered to be at risk, the governor would be empowered to shut down the emergency order if it infringed on the personal rights or liberties of state residents. 

Though the broad powers afforded to health officials in Florida’s long-standing public health statute have caused concern, Florida is not unique in having such a provision. 

After a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that decided that mandatory vaccination does not violate the 14th amendment, all 50 states have adopted mandatory vaccination programs for schoolchildren – and usually college students, too – although most states allow for exemptions.  

With the passage of SB 277 in 2015, California became one of three U.S. states at the time to eliminate the conscience exemption, requiring vaccination with virtually no allowable exemptions. 

American state statutes are replete with public health provisions that permit officials to use broad powers to contain or suppress contagious diseases and other health emergencies, often with vague or nonexistent limits.  

Public health statutes in Kansas, Idaho, and Massachusetts, for example, declare that officials may effectively take whatever action they deem necessary to manage a health emergency. 

However, DeSantis has not been alone in pushing back against the restrictive measures imposed last year to combat the novel coronavirus.  

According to a May report from the Network for Public Health Law (NPHL) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), legislatures in at least 15 American states have passed or are currently considering measures to constrain public health agencies’ authority in the wake of the agencies’ unprecedented use of power during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Michigan, Republican state senators this week approved the repeal of the Michigan law used by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to lock down her state last year. Since the repeal resulted from a petition drive, Whitmer will not be allowed to veto it.  

Legislatures that have failed to enact any checks on their legislation leave public health agencies with extensive authority to impose the kind of restrictive measures that crippled personal liberties over the past year. 

LifeSiteNews reached out to Gov. DeSantis’s office for comment multiple times but has yet to hear back.


  covid-19, florida, health officers, ron desantis, sb 2006, vaccine mandates

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