Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis petitioned the state's supreme court earlier this month for an order to impanel a statewide grand jury to probe any wrongdoing related to COVID-19 vaccines. The court gave him the green light on Thursday.
This has a number of health officials and so-called experts worried about the impact that this truth-finding mission may have on vaccine hesitancy and the public's faith in the medical establishment.
What are the details?
Earlier this month, DeSantis sought approval from the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to look into "crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine."
The governor's petition noted that the "pharmaceutical industry has a notorious history of misleading the public for financial gain. Questions have been raised regarding the veracity of the representations made by the pharmaceutical manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly with respect to transmission, prevention, efficacy, and safety. An investigation is warranted to determine whether the pharmaceutical industry has engaged in fraudulent practices. The people of Florida deserve to know the truth."
On Dec. 22, the seven-member court complied with DeSantis' request to "get more information and bring legal accountability for those who committed misconduct."
The grand jury will also be able to consider "other criminal activity or wrongdoing that the statewide grand jury uncovers during the course of the investigation" or behavior that is part of an "organized criminal conspiracy," reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Five members were in favor, one abstained, and the lone "no" vote was DeSantis appointee Justice Renatha Francis.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the resultant grand jury will be impaneled for 12 months with the chief judge for Florida's Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Ronald Ficarrotta, serving as the presiding judge.
This outcome has some health officials rattled.
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein told The Hill, "This is turning a matter of health and science into a political wedge issue, with the likely consequence that many people will be misled into placing themselves and their families at risk of serious illness and death."
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, concurred, accusing DeSantis of having a mistaken understanding of the facts and suggesting that the investigation would amount to a "waste of taxpayer money and time and effort."
While conceding that the mRNA vaccines rely upon "brand-new technology" and various "assumptions," Benjamin suggested their deployment "turned out to be a whole lot better than most people thought it would be."
William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University's Department of Health Policy, also expressed concern about the impact such an investigation would have, claiming that the panels responsible for advising federal agencies on vaccine policy adhered to a "rigorous, externally vetted, very critical process."
Schaffner and Benjamin further downplayed myocarditis as a consequence of the vaccines, suggesting that COVID-19 infections present greater myocarditis risk than do vaccinations.
TheBlaze previously reported that Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued guidance for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines on Oct. 7, stating that with "a high level of global immunity to COVID-19, the benefit of vaccination is likely outweighed by this abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death among men" in the 18-39 age group.
The guidance cited analysis that showed an 84% increase in the relative incidence of cardiac-related deaths in this demographic within 28 days following mRNA vaccination.
Brian Castrucci, CEO and president of the de Beaumont Foundation, told The Hill that DeSantis "appears to be focused on creating fear around vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective."
Castrucci claimed such an investigation would make vaccine safety a "partisan issue" and would "put lives at risk."
"It is preposterous," said Kenneth Goodman, director of the Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at the University of Miami. "The idea that there was malign intent, when it comes to what the governor is interested in, is a total knee slapper."
So-called digital health expert Bruce Lee recently penned an article for Forbes claiming that DeSantis' initiative is "like being still in the middle of a fire and calling for an investigation into hoses."
Lee suggested that DeSantis' government should at least work with the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when looking into possible malfeasance by pharmaceutical companies, despite both organizations being highly politicized.
When DeSantis first petitioned the Florida Supreme Court, Dr. Anthony Faucitold CNN, "We have a vaccine that unequivocally is highly effective and safe and has saved literally millions of lives. ... We need to pull together and recognize that the common enemy is the virus."
Extra to its statewide grand jury investigation, the DeSantis administration announced two additional actions to "hold the federal government and Big Pharma accountable."
Florida "will conduct surveillance into sudden deaths of individuals that received the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, based on autopsy results."
DeSantis is also establishing the Public Health Integrity Committee, which will "assess federal public health recommendations and guidance to ensure that Florida’s public health policies are tailored for Florida’s communities and priorities."
The committee will overseen by Ladapo.
Ladapo said in a statement, "With these new actions, we will shed light on the forces that have obscured truthful communication about the COVID-19 vaccines."
Notwithstanding the alarm raised by his critics in the medical establishment, DeSantis noted, "We’ll be able to get the data whether they want to give it or not."