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COLUMN: Health care policy, DeSantis style | Columns

There’s a tendency to assume the best about Ron DeSantis because, after all, he isn’t Donald Trump. But DeSantis is no moderate. He is an extremist, cut from the same cloth as Trump, just with a better tailor.

On Tuesday, the anti-vax co-front-runner announced he was forming a committee to counter recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that a statewide grand jury would be investigating “crimes and wrongdoing” related to the coronavirus vaccine. The past president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said she was “stunned” by what she described as “just another example of politicizing health care. … We know vaccines save lives. The data is very clear. Those of us in the scientific community are outraged by this.” DeSantis made his announcement during a discussion with experts opposed to vaccinations. His choice to head the public health committee as an avowed anti-vaxer who has recommended children not be vaccinated and has raised questions about the efficacy of the vaccines for anyone but the elderly. The committee, said its head, will study autopsy results in cases of “sudden deaths of individuals that received the vaccine in Florida. … It is a question I’m sure keeps the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna up late at night, hoping no one ever looks.” I’m not.

DeSantis’ press office accused pharmaceutical companies and the Biden administration of pushing distribution of mRNA vaccines “through propaganda while ignoring real-life adverse events.” The so-called experts who spoke with DeSantis this week included signatories to the well-known Great Barrington Declaration. The declaration opposed COVID restrictions, including lockdowns and quarantines, and came out in favor of herd immunity, followed with disastrous results in Sweden. It offered no scientific data to support its argument, because there isn’t any. Instances of heart inflammation, the side effect referred to in the governor’s press release, are very rare, and the American College of Cardiology has concluded that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. But what do they know, compared to DeSantis’ hand-picked panel of anti-vaxers?

The spokeswoman for Pfizer pointed out the obvious: mRNA vaccines against COVID “have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, tens of billions of dollars in health care costs, and enabled people worldwide to go about their lives.” Including in Florida. But don’t tell that to DeSantis. He is playing games. “In Florida,” DeSantis warned, “you know, it is against the law to mislead and to misrepresent, particularly when you’re talking about the efficacy of a drug.” Who is misleading whom?

DeSantis is Trump without the tantrums. He says he is “keep(ing) Florida free.” Free from science. Because he seems to be more reasonable, he is as scary as Trump. Loading up a panel with anti-vaxers and calling it science? The CDC has been criticized for taking politics into account, and undermining public confidence. But the answer is hardly a political panel of pseudo-scientists. The idea that DeSantis will do for America what he has done in Florida is a recipe for disaster.

Susan Estrich is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.