- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has staunchly opposed pandemic-related mandates and lockdowns, is seeking a grand jury investigation of potential wrongdoing by the major manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Mr. DeSantis announced the grand jury probe Tuesday during an “accountability roundtable” examining the vaccine’s shortcomings and side effects as well as efficacy claims made by the two COVID-19 mRNA-vaccine manufacturers, Moderna and Pfizer

“Today I’m announcing a petition with the Supreme Court of Florida to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Mr. DeSantis, who was re-elected by 20 points in November and is increasingly eyed as a 2024 presidential candidate. 

The governor said he expects the Supreme Court will green-light the grand jury probe. 

If it does, it would be the nation’s first state-ordered investigation into the COVID-19 shots and the culpability of the two pharmaceutical giants — Moderna and Pfizer — that developed and distributed the vaccines. 

Florida’s looming grand jury probe comes in response to a steady stream of evidence that the shots do not prevent people from contracting or spreading the virus or keep them from getting seriously sick, and may be risky for some age groups. 

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A computer-model estimate from the left-leaning Commonwealth Fund determined the 655 million doses of the shot administered in the United States have had the cumulative effect of preventing 18 million hospitalizations and 3 million deaths. 

But other studies have shown protections from the vaccines and boosters diminish significantly over time, to almost negligible levels, while evidence is growing they can cause heart damage, particularly in young men.

A spokesperson from Pfizer, Sharon J. Castillo, said the company’s vaccine has saved hundreds of thousands of lives and was authorized by “regulatory agencies across the world … based on robust and independent evaluation of the scientific data on quality, safety and efficacy.”

Ms. Castillo said additional studies of those who have been vaccinated “complement the clinical trial data and provide additional evidence that the vaccine provides effective protection against severe disease.”

Representatives at Moderna did not respond to a request for comment.

The grand jury announcement culminates two years of resistance by Mr. DeSantis to pandemic responses from the federal government, ranging from mask mandates to school and business closures to the heavy emphasis on vaccines that were rushed into production with limited testing for safety and side effects. 

SEE ALSO: Sen. Lankford to keep blocking Pentagon nominees until COVID vax rule repealed

The 44-year-old governor’s contrarian response to the pandemic helped rocket him to national prominence and a blowout re-election win. He’s now leading former President Donald Trump in some GOP primary polling.

A Suffolk University poll released Tuesday showed 65% of Republican voters and independents who identified as conservative or very conservative said they want Mr. DeSantis to run for president, and 56% of those same voters said they prefer him to Mr. Trump. 

Taking on the vaccine manufacturers would directly pit Mr. DeSantis against Mr. Trump if the two became GOP primary competitors. 

Mr. Trump, who announced he’s running in 2024, remains a strong advocate of the vaccines, which he helped ensure were developed quickly through his administration’s “Operation Warp Speed.”

Mr. DeSantis has been a vocal skeptic of the vaccines, and his head health officer Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, has advised men under 40 refrain from getting vaccinated, citing a Florida Department of Health analysis that found an increased risk of myocarditis, or heart inflammation.

The advisory earned Mr. Ladapo a temporary Twitter suspension and widespread criticism from health officials who say the shots have saved lives.

The anti-vaccine stance also has helped make Mr. DeSantis a top political villain for Democrats, who have endorsed the shots and accompanying state and federal mandates that required many workers and students to get them. 

Democrats also see Mr. DeSantis as an increasing threat in 2024. 

Mr. DeSantis has not indicated he plans to run for president but is said to be weighing the option, according to those close to the governor. 

In the Suffolk University poll, Mr. DeSantis beat Mr. Biden, 47% to 43% in a hypothetical 2024 matchup. 

Tuesday’s roundtable, hosted by Mr. DeSantis, featured Mr. Ladapo and a panel of other health experts who have raised questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccinations, which were initially touted by the federal government as shots that would prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allow the nation to return to normal. 

Jurors, Mr. DeSantis said, would examine the claims about protections afforded by the shots that were made by the vaccine makers. He said those pharmaceutical companies “have made a fortune” on the vaccines.

“In Florida, it is against the law to mislead and misrepresent the efficacy of a drug,” Mr. DeSantis said.

While Mr. DeSantis did not specifically indicate he’s seeking monetary damages from the two companies, he noted that Florida in recent years won $3.2 billion from the manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

The grand jury also would examine vaccine side effects such as myocarditis and blood clots, which have been difficult to track because of a lack of data released by Pfizer and Moderna.

“Maybe we’ll be able to get the data whether they want to give it or not,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Mr. Trump did not publicly comment on Mr. DeSantis’ plans for a grand jury probe of the vaccines.

On Tuesday he posted on his Truth Social media site the results of a Politico/Morning Consult poll showing him leading Mr. DeSantis, 49% to 31%.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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