Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis let a man falsely claim the COVID vaccine ‘changes your RNA’ during an anti-vaccine mandate press conference

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • DeSantis did not correct a Gainesville city employee who falsely claimed the COVID-19 vaccine “changes your RNA.”
  • The false claim was made during a press conference to promote DeSantis’ campaign against vaccine mandates and passports.
  • Gainesville is requiring its public employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood by as a Gainesville city employee falsely claimed the COVID-19 vaccine “changes your RNA” during a press conference to promote the governor’s campaign against vaccine mandates and passports.

DeSantis invited several employees of the city of Gainesville, which is requiring its public employees to get vaccinated or face termination, to speak out against the vaccine mandates on Monday. The governor highlighted unvaccinated first responders facing potential termination as a result of the mandates, which he argued are unconstitutional. But DeSantis made no mention of the pervasive misinformation fueling much of the opposition to the life-saving shots on Monday.

“The vaccine changes your RNA, so, for me, that’s a problem,” the Gainesville man, Darris Friend, said from the podium. “They’re taking away our freedom and liberty, little by little. They’re using the vaccine for cover. Last year, they took away our religious rights, they’re not defending our freedom of speech, and this is just one way to take us to the next step.”

The crowd cheered as Friend left the podium and the governor said nothing to contradict his false claim, part of a conspiracy theory popular online that the vaccines alter a person’s DNA. They do not. Scientists and public health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have made clear that the vaccines do not alter human DNA in any way.

An mRNA-developed vaccine, like those from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, uses messenger ribonucleic acid to attach a dummy protein to a cell’s outer surface in the muscle to teach the body’s immune system how to defeat it; at no time does this enter the cell and affect the DNA.

DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, told Insider the governor “has never said the vaccine changes your RNA, nor is that his opinion.”

DeSantis held the press conference, featuring a slew of local elected officials and government employees, to announce that his administration would fine Florida cities and counties that require government employees to be vaccinated as a term of employment $US5,000 ($AU6,785) for each infraction. Florida’s GOP-controlled state legislature recently passed a law banning governments and private businesses from requiring that their employees be vaccinated or that customers be vaccinated in order to receive services.

The governor threatened “millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines” against local governments. The state is also supporting a lawsuit filed by more than 200 Gainesville public employees against the city’s mandate. Friend, the Gainesville employee, is a plaintiff in that suit.

Biden announced last week that he will require employers with more than 100 employees to mandate either vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for all employees. He also announced that all federal government employees and contractors will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

DeSantis called the national and local rules “ridiculous, unforeseen expansions of power” and argued that “thousands of thousands” of Floridians would be “coerced out of a job through government power.”

“You just throw ’em out like they’re chopped liver – that is just fundamentally wrong,” DeSantis said of people who might lose their jobs over their refusal to be vaccinated. “We’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to protect these jobs, we’re going to protect these peoples’ families, we’re going to protect their livelihoods.”

The governor, who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, repeatedly claimed on Monday that people are turning down the vaccines because they’ve already contracted the coronavirus and have natural immunity or because their doctors advised them against taking it. He repeated his belief that the vaccines should be widely available, but that taking them should be a personal choice, and didn’t attest to the safety or efficacy of the vaccines.