DeSantis Celebrates Reversal of Special Olympics Vaccine Mandate

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) celebrated the Special Olympics’ decision to reverse a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for its thousands of competing athletes.

“This will be a relief to a lot of the athletes,” DeSantis said after the mandate was lifted. “There’s a significant number of them who were in limbo up until this week.”

During the press conference he gave after the reversal announcement, DeSantis argued that such a requirement had no “connection” to athletic competition. The governor also felt the vaccine mandate was being used as a weapon “to marginalize disfavored people.”

“To go after Special Olympians, who all they wanted to do was compete, was not consistent with Florida law and it’s not the right to do,” he said. “Let them compete.”

The vaccine requirement was lifted on Thursday, after the Florida Department of Health sent a letter threatening to fine the Special Olympics $27.5 million for violating a state law against vaccine mandates.

In the letter, the health department cited a Florida statute prohibiting businesses and charitable organizations from requiring proof of vaccination for access to their services. Per the department, each individual violation of the statute would incur a fine of $5,000, leading to a total of $27.5 million for the 5,500 athletes expected to compete in the Special Olympics.

The law banning vaccine requirements was signed by DeSantis last November, as the Biden administration mulled over the possibility of instituting a federal vaccine mandate. In his time as governor, DeSantis has been a consistent opponent of both COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates in Florida, challenging their effectiveness and ethicality.

Also key in the push to reverse the Special Olympics mandate was the state’s surgeon general, Joseph A. Ladapo, who oversees Florida’s health department. In the press conference Friday, Ladapo clarified that the discussion about reversing the event’s vaccine requirement had begun six months ago. He also maintained that such a requirement wouldn’t be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19, given how the vaccine’s protection wanes over time.

“Ethically, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s on the wrong side.”