Nikki Fried takes her Pfizer booster before the cameras as DeSantis remains mum

She says: ‘I want to show the people what leadership looks like’

By: - December 29, 2021 1:56 pm

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, gets her COVID vaccine booster shot on Dec. 20, 2021, at a Florida A&M University distribution site. Credit: Catecomm

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried invited the press to observe as she took her COVID vaccine booster shot on Wednesday, in pointed contrast to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to divulge whether he’s taken a booster shot.

Fried appeared at a coronavirus testing and vaccination site at Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee, where a nurse administered a shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

She showed no sign of distress as the needle hit. “That was it?” Fried asked the nurse who administered the shot.

Fried, Florida’s commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the only Democratic official holding statewide elected office, said she got her last vaccination in April. She’s running in the Democratic primary to oppose DeSantis next year.

“I want to show the people what leadership looks like — that we’re stepping up, we’re doing everything that we can to protect ourselves and our family members,” she said afterward.

Fried pointed to a line of people waiting for coronavirus tests and vaccinations that snaked through a parking lot as medical staff waited to serve them.

“I know that no one wants to be talking about this, no one wants to be hearing about COVID anymore, everyone wants to get back to their lives,” she said.

“And there are people out there that don’t believe that COVID is still existing. And, so, for those people, I just say, respect those that do; respect those that have lost loved ones and are taking this seriously. And we’re going to get through this.”

Jeremy Redfern, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, belittled Fried in a Twitter post.

“If anyone was wondering: I got my booster and flu shot at a CVS, located inside of a Target, behind one of those plastic privacy partition things. I didn’t feel the need to publicly announce it like a child using the potty for the first time, tho,” he wrote.

Florida has been experiencing a surge of COVID infections, likely related to fall holidays and the emergence of the omicron variant, which is regarded as less dangerous than previous variants — especially for vaccinated people — but more transmissible. The weekly state Department of Health COVID data report for last week reflected 125,201 new cases, up from 29,519 the week before.

COVID infections quadrupled over the past week. Source: FL Department of Health

Florida ranked second among the states in its daily average of new COVID cases, at 26,537, with 124 cases per 100,000 people, which is sixth highest per capita among the states, according to the latest data reported by The New York Times. Through Wednesday, the daily average for hospitalizations was 2,569, or 12 per 100,000 people, which is low compared with other states, though surges in infections can lead to higher hospitalizations days and weeks later.

The increase in cases over the past 14 days ran over 1,005 percent, the only state in the nation with an increase higher than 1,000 percent, according to the Times. (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also reported increases greater than 1,000 percent.)

Various forecast models predict a surge in COVID hospitalizations in coming days. Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hot spots include Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, which were among seven counties nationwide with the greatest surge in infections, according to the Times COVID tracker.

The situation has led to long lines at testing and vaccine centers throughout the state. On Tuesday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced the county was setting up a new site and blasted the governor for not acting, as the Orlando Sentinel reported.

“We have not received any assistance from the state of Florida at our testing sites,” Demings said, according to the Sentinel report. “All Florida residents should be outraged … where is Ron DeSantis now?”

Also on Wednesday, Marcus Dixon, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, issued a written statement accusing DeSantis of inaction on omicron.

“There’s a simple reason why more people are getting infected in Florida than almost any other state in the country: Republicans like Ron DeSantis have spent the year downplaying the effectiveness of vaccines and actively opposing commonsense measures that keep people safe,” he said.

“And now as another surge is upon us, Gov. DeSantis is asleep at the wheel! Where is he? It’s time for our governor and his Republican allies to take this issue seriously and stop trying to score political points by ignoring the pandemic. If they don’t, innocent Floridians will continue to pay the price for Ron DeSantis’ incompetence and inaction.”

Gov. DeSantis took the single Johnson & Johnson vaccination in April, when he became eligible under his own guidelines, but he did so in private — notwithstanding having indicated earlier that he might invite the TV cameras. By that time, an anti-vaccine culture had emerged within the Republican Party base as former President Donald Trump played down the COVID threat. Trump also was vaccinated privately.

DeSantis has blocked local governments and school districts from requiring vaccines of employees and has opposed mask mandates. He has hired Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a vaccine skeptic, as the state’s top public health official and defended him when the doctor refused to wear a face mask when asked to do so while visiting a state senator in her office.

Aides have declined to say whether the governor has taken a booster, describing it as a “personal” medical decision.

Fried specifically cited that refusal to disclose.

“Which is why I’m here — to make sure that people see that it’s safe, reliable, and really encouraging everybody to get the booster,” she told reporters.

Asked about remarks by President Joe Biden earlier in the week about the pandemic — “Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level.” — Fried did not treat them as a gaffe as some have but spotlighted the president’s pledge of ongoing federal support for state efforts against COVID. In several cases, DeSantis has declined to accept it or request it.

“If that is the approach the White House is taking, that it’s on the states, then it’s on the state leadership to step up,” she said.

“And that’s why I wanted to make sure, after the comments from the president, that I came out here, did my booster in public, being transparent with the people of our state, talking to our local elected [officials], saying, Look, this is on us. So, let’s show this leadership, let’s step up, let’s make sure that people aren’t waiting in line for hours, let’s get additional testing sites located.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.