Florida could order COVID-19 vaccination, but not right now

Molly Stellino

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted victories in the state’s virus data, saying hospitals in Florida had unused ventilators and hospital beds. DeSantis gave his latest COVID-19 briefing on Monday from Tampa General Hospital in southwest Florida. (April 27)

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Florida beaches are reopening; however, many stationary activities such as sunbathing or socializing in groups are still off limits. (Photo: John Raoux/AP)

The claim: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order allows civilians to receive a coronavirus vaccination and ‘it might be happening.’

An Instagram post from April claims an executive order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allows the state to require its “civilians” to receive a coronavirus vaccination.

The post, which received several hundred interactions, consists of a screenshot of an article published in March on YourContent, a site which PolitiFact reported “has been accused of fabricating documents, impersonating journalists and writing false news stories.” 

The pictured headline reads: “Florida can ‘order’ civilians be vaccinated for coronavirus, new executive order says.” Chatter posted along with the image says, “Will Florida be the first state to mandate vaccinations? It might be happening.”

The article contains photos of a document from the Florida Department of Health that requires flight passengers to identify themselves, provide information about their trip and agree to a two-week self-quarantine. Failing to do so, one of the photos reads, “is punishable up to 60 days imprisonment, a fine not more than $500, or both.”

It also says, “Pursuant to Executive Order 20-80 and the Florida Department of Health declaration of a public health emergency, the state health officer and surgeon general can order any individual to be examined, tested, vaccinated, treated, isolated or quarantined for COVID-19.”

The Florida Department of Health confirmed the authenticity of the document to USA TODAY.

More: Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about coronavirus?

What the executive order does

Florida is experiencing a more severe outbreak compared with other states. As of April 29, the New York Times reported 32,838 confirmed cases and 1,170 deaths. Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees declared a public health emergency on March 1. 

The Instagram post and YourContent article refer to an executive order issued by DeSantis on March 23. The order is one of a sequence of many that redirect state resources and enact safety protocols as part of the pandemic relief efforts.

It mandates travelers arriving in Florida to self-quarantine for “14 days from the time of entry into the state of Florida or the duration of the person’s presence in the state of Florida, whichever is shorter.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site Monday in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)

DeSantis said at a news conference the order was in response to the large number of flights coming into Florida from other states, including New York, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. He said local law enforcement, state law enforcement and officials from the department of health will meet passengers on the flight, collect information, check their temperatures and inform passengers they need to self-quarantine.

Section B of the executive order reads: “The Florida Department of Health shall take any steps necessary to ensure the screening and appropriate isolation and quarantine of individuals covered by this order.”

Section B also references powers given under section 5 of Florida statute 381.00315, which details the proceedings of public officials in the time of a public health emergency. The statute says the government, amid a public health emergency when imposing isolation or quarantine, can adopt rules such as “tests or treatment, including vaccination, for communicable disease required before employment or admission to the premises or to comply with an isolation or a quarantine.”

A spokesperson from the Florida Department of Health cited the statute when asked what factors would come into play the department’s decided to order vaccinations. 

“The state health officer, upon declaration of a public health emergency, may take actions that are necessary to protect the public health. … During a public health emergency any order of the state health officer shall be immediately enforceable by a law enforcement officer under s. 381.0012,” the spokesperson said in an email.

It is unclear under what circumstances — if any — Florida state officials would enact such measures or what the process of enforcing these rules would look like. 

As a practical matter, there is no coronavirus vaccine, although several are in development.One of the most common estimates for a finished vaccine is 12 to 18 months, although many experts doubt the feasibility of that timeline.

More: Fact check: Are governors’ stay-at-home orders bad for your health?

Our ruling: Partly false

It is true that Florida statute 381.00315, as cited in DeSantis’s executive orders, makes it legal to order an individual to be vaccinated, among other public safety measures, during a public health emergency.

But because there is not yet a coronavirus vaccine, it is false to imply this action is imminent, or that Florida health officials would use a vaccine in the near future.

For this reason, the claim is rated as partly false.

Our fact-check sourcesInstagram post, April 5, 2020YourContent, “Florida Can Order Civilians be Vaccinated for Coronavirus, New Executive Order Says,” March 25, 2020PolitiFact, “False news site publishes unproven story about Florida coronavirus patients,” March 1, 2020State of Florida Office of the Governor Executive Order Number 20-80State of Florida Office of the Governor Executive Order Number 20-51New York Times, “Florida Coronavirus Map and Case Count”Governor Ron DeSantis’s Live Stream Regarding COVID-19 Florida statute 381.00315 Email from Alberto Moscoso, Communications Director for the Florida Department of Health, April 27, 2020Email from the Florida Department of Health Communications Department, May 1, 2020New York Times, “What if We Already Have a Coronavirus Vaccine?” May 1, 2020New York Times, “How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?” April 30, 2020

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