Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for grand jury investigation into COVID-19 vaccines

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he plans to petition the state’s Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate "any and all wrongdoing" with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines.

The Republican governor, who is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, gave no specifics on what wrongdoing the panel would investigate, but suggested it would be in part aimed at jogging loose more information about the vaccines.

He made the announcement following a roundtable with Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and a panel of scientists and physicians, in which some discussion centered on the fact that pharmaceutical companies have not provided their data on the COVID-19 vaccines to independent researchers.

"We’ll be able to get the data whether they want to give it or not," DeSantis said. "In Florida, it is illegal to mislead and misrepresent, especially when you are talking about the efficacy of a drug."

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Statewide grand juries, usually comprised of 18 people, can investigate criminal activity and issue indictments but also examine systemic problems in Florida and make recommendations.

While asking the Supreme Court for a statewide grand jury had been a relatively unusual step, DeSantis since he was first elected in 2018 has made similar requests for probes into high-profile issues. Florida Supreme Court justices in June approved a request by the governor to impanel a grand jury to investigate immigration-related issues.

DeSantis noted that Florida recently "got $3.2 billion through legal action against those responsible for the opioid crisis. So, it’s not like this is something that’s unprecedented."

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DeSantis said he expects to get approval for the statewide grand jury to be empaneled, likely in the Tampa Bay area.

"That will come with legal processes that will be able to get more information and to bring legal accountability to those who committed misconduct," DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ actions on Tuesday amplified his clashes with President Joe Biden and other federal authorities over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The petition also disputed statements about coronavirus vaccines made by Biden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who is one of the president’s top pandemic advisors. DeSantis has harshly criticized their approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would serve as the primary investigator for the grand jury, though the petition said any law enforcement agency in the state could be called upon for the probe.

DeSantis also on Tuesday announced that Ladapo, who doubles as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, will lead what Ladapo called a "surveillance study" to explore deaths that occurred after people were vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We are initiating a program here in Florida where we will be studying the incidents, in surveillance, of myocarditis within a few weeks of COVID-19 vaccination for people who died," Ladapo said, referring to a condition that causes inflammation of the heart.

Ladapo said the state health department will work with "some of our medical examiners" in Florida as well as researchers at the University of Florida to perform the study.

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DeSantis also announced he is creating an entity called the "Public Health Integrity Committee," which will include many of the physicians and scientists who participated in the roundtable on Tuesday.

He said that some people have lost faith in public health institutions, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the course of the pandemic. The governor has frequently spoken against CDC directives, including mask and vaccine mandates, and filed lawsuits to stop many from taking effect in Florida.

DeSantis’ announcements Tuesday, which came as Florida lawmakers met in a special legislative session focused on addressing the state’s property insurance woes, drew pushback from critics.

"Remember when DeSantis leveraged state power to announce an investigation into ‘voter fraud’ that he could run on in 2024? Did the same thing today with covid-19 vaccines," Philip Bump, a columnist for The Washington Post, tweeted.

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Dave Spore, who works for the Florida House minority office, also blasted the governor.

"Comparing a lifesaving vaccine to OxyContin, as DeSantis just did while announcing his latest political stunt, is unbelievably irresponsible. It’s also incredibly insensitive to the millions of Americans who’ve lost loved ones during the ongoing opioid epidemic & COVID pandemic," Spore said in a tweet.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.