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PolitiFact FL: Trump claims DeSantis mandated COVID-19 vaccines in Florida. It's not true

A young girl receives a vaccine shot from a nurse.
Marta Lavandier
Francesca Anacleto, 12, receives her first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot from nurse Jorge Tase, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Miami Beach, Fla.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

As a new COVID-19 booster rolls out nationwide, former President Donald Trump accused one of his 2024 campaign rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, of previously forcing people to take the vaccine.

"Florida sort of had a mandate because they were giving the vaccine, they were demanding everybody take the vaccine," Trump said in an interview with Megyn Kelly that aired Sept. 14 on her SiriusXM show.

PolitiFact reviewed more than two dozen DeSantis press releases and news conferences in 2020 and 2021 about the vaccine rollout. We found no instance of DeSantis, or other state officials, mandating that residents get vaccinated. A mandate is an official order or authority to carry out a policy.

When contacted for comment, the Trump campaign told PolitiFact that DeSantis "essentially" had a vaccine mandate, "especially for nursing homes," as the state pushed to vaccinate older Floridians in early 2021.

But prioritizing older residents and ramping up access does not equate to a mandate.

DeSantis responded to Trump’s claim during a Sept. 14 interview on the Steve Deace Show.

"We never mandated mRNA COVID shots," DeSantis said. "In fact, I called a special session of the Florida Legislature to prevent any mandates in the state, and not just by the state government and the local government, we provided protections for employees at private businesses."

Florida officials did not use authority for vaccine mandates

In March 2020, DeSantis issued an executive order saying that travelers to Florida from the New York tri-state area had to quarantine for two weeks. The order directed the state health department to follow statute 381.00315(5).

At the time, the section said that amid a public health emergency, the government shall adopt rules to specify conditions to release people from isolation such as "tests or treatment, including vaccination, for communicable disease required before employment or admission to the premises or to comply with an isolation or a quarantine." State officials did notuse that authority.

In 2021, the Florida Legislature removed from that section the state health officer’s authority to order vaccinations.

Florida offered vaccines, but did not mandate them

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks a woman in a wheelchair.
Marta Lavandier
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asks Vera Leip, 88, how she feels after nurse Christine Philips, left, administered the Pfizer vaccine at John Knox Village, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Pompano Beach, Fla.

DeSantis’ public statements show that he has opposed a vaccine mandate since 2020.

"Our goal is to make all safe and effective COVID vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the state will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines," DeSantis said in November 2020. "That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian."

Shortly before the federal government approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, DeSantis said Dec. 2, 2020: "Now, importantly, while we are encouraged, and we want to make available the vaccine, no one will be mandated to take the vaccine. This will be available, but not mandated."

Weeks later, he said: "In Florida, we’ve got to put our parents and grandparents first and that’s what we’re going to be doing. And we’re going to work like hell to be able to get all the vaccines out to elderly who want it."

DeSantis said the state was prioritizing giving the vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities and high-risk health care workers.

In January 2021, DeSantis continued promoting the state’s efforts to vaccinate older Floridians and health care workers. But there was no discussion of a vaccine mandate.

DeSantis in 2021 took action to block vaccine mandates

In April and May 2021, DeSantis began speaking out against vaccine mandates that had been implemented by public and private entities. He issued an order and signed a bill to block cruise lines, businesses, schools and government agencies across Florida from requiring anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In September 2021, DeSantis appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo as Florida’s surgeon general. As the state’s top health official, Ladapo has railed against the vaccines, claiming that the shots aren’t necessary for healthy children, suggesting that there isn’t enough safety data to support their widespread use and presenting flawed analysis about their safety.

DeSantis also blocked Florida cities from requiring that public employees get vaccinated, threatening a $5,000 fine per infraction. DeSantis also said the state wouldn’t participate in a federal vaccine lottery that would give $100 to anyone who got a vaccine.

DeSantis signed legislation in November 2021 that countered the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for private businesses, allowing Florida workers to opt out. He also sued the administration over its employer vaccine mandates.

This year, he signed a bill that prevents mandates for testing, masking or vaccination.

Both DeSantis and Ladapo recently advised against Floridians younger than 65 years getting the new COVID-19 boosters from Pfizer and Moderna, contradicting the federal recommendation that everyone 6 months and older receive the boosters.

Trump in 2020 supported DeSantis and vaccinations

Gov. Ron DeSantis listens to President Donald Trump speak.
Patrick Semansky
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on the coronavirus outbreak and storm preparedness at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Fla.

As president, Trump praised DeSantis’ pandemic response and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

Trump also repeatedly touted the vaccines and took credit for their development.

He said in September 2020 that it would be bad if people didn’t receive the vaccine. "And now what's going to happen is we'll have it and people won't want to take it. That's really bad. Ok, that's really bad. …The vaccine will be safe."

Our ruling

Trump said, "Florida sort of had a mandate because they were giving the vaccine, they were demanding everybody take the vaccine."

Trump’s campaign cited early 2021 news reports and DeSantis statements chronicling the state’s push to vaccinate older Floridians. But those efforts did not equate to a mandate.

The record shows that DeSantis has opposed a vaccine mandate since 2020. We did not find any examples of DeSantis supporting a mandate.

As early as fall 2020, DeSantis said he wouldn’t mandate the COVID-19 vaccines. In 2021, he signed legislation to block vaccine mandates imposed by public and private entities.

We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.
Amy Sherman is a staff writer with PolitiFact based in South Florida. She was part of the team that launched PolitiFact Florida in 2010 and was part of the PolitiFact team during the 2016 election.