DeSantis downplays COVID variant, urges vaccinations

FILE – In this April 30, 2021, file photo surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Now that the pandemic appears to be waning and DeSantis is heading into his reelection campaign next year, he has emerged from the political uncertainty as one of the most prominent Republican governors and an early White House front-runner in 2024 among Donald Trump’s acolytes, if the former president doesn’t run again. [AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File]

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Posted June 15, 2021 | By Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida

FILE – In this April 30, file photo, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

TALLAHASSEE – As the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday labeled the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus a “variant of concern,” Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed the potential impact it could have on the state.

DeSantis avoided directly answering a reporter’s question about whether the state needs to do more to prepare for the Delta variant.

“There’s been a lot of talk about variants leading up to this,” DeSantis said after a state Cabinet meeting. “I think it gets put out there in ways designed to frighten people.”

The governor noted that a recent U.K. study showed that vaccines aren’t as effective against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant but that two doses of the vaccines are still effective in reducing hospitalizations.

The study showed that the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer was 96% effective against hospitalizations from the Delta variant. The vaccine produced by Oxford/AstraZeneca – which is not available in the United States – offered  92% protection against hospitalization, according to the study.

The Delta variant was first identified in India and was designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on May 10.

The variant now accounts for the majority of the coronavirus cases in the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed by four weeks the lifting of England’s lockdown restrictions.

Until Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had classified the Delta strain as a “variant of interest.” That meant there was evidence it was associated with increased transmissibility and disease severity but that it could have limited prevalence or expansion in the United States or other countries.

But the CDC reclassified the Delta variant to a “variant of  concern,” meaning scientists believe there is evidence of increased transmissibility and increased disease severity.

Appearing Sunday on the CBS News show “Face the Nation,” former federal Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the Delta variant was “probably” going to become a dominant strain in the U.S.

Gottlieb’s remarks came after Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, urged people last week to get vaccinated to hold off the spread of the variant in the United States.

The variant is primarily spread through adolescents and children, which contradicts DeSantis’ repeated statements during the pandemic that children are not “vectors” or responsible for the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, DeSantis acknowledged that he expects the numbers of COVID-19 infections in the Sunbelt to increase over the summer and urged people to get vaccinated.

“I don’t think it’s going to go up anywhere like it did last summer because we have so much immunity,” DeSantis said, referring to the millions of people who have gotten vaccinated during the past six months. “But the best thing you can do, particularly if you haven’t gotten the vaccine, particularly if you have any health problems… is to get a shot.”

A report released Friday by the Florida Department of Health said 8,659,077 people in the state were considered fully vaccinated, while another 1,801,720 had received first doses in two-dose series.

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