When Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced Darris Friend to a room of people opposed to vaccine mandates Monday, he described him as a man of principle.
The Gainesville utilities employee is the lead plaintiff among dozens of city workers and contractors seeking an injunction against the city disciplining or terminating those who refuse to be vaccinated.
"He believes this is a matter of principle," DeSantis said of Friend before calling him to the podium of an official state event and appearing to watch and listen intently as Friend said this: "The vaccine changes your RNA, so for me that’s a problem ... They're using the vaccine for cover. Last year they took away our religious rights."
An email to Friend's lawyer seeking comment on those statements has not yet been answered.
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Medical experts say the mRNA vaccines Friend likely referred to never get inside the nucleus of your cells, where DNA is found, so it cannot change RNA -- a molecule that converts information stored in DNA into proteins.
Asked by a reporter Tuesday if he agreed with Friend's statement and, if not, would he correct the record, DeSantis did not directly answer the question, but instead said, "Honestly, I don't even remember him saying that, so it's not anything I’ve said."
He went on to note -- as he has often before -- that vaccinations greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and deaths.
In April, he went further, saying during a news conference in Lakeland, "My view is is if you get a vaccine, the vaccines are effective, you’re immune, act immune."
He also decried mixed messaging on getting a vaccine.
"Unfortunately I think the message has been very muddled," he said in April, questioning why mask use was advisable for some if one was vaccinated. "The messaging should be get a vaccine because it's good for you to do it. It works."
Like public health experts, DeSantis also underestimated what was to come with the Delta wave of the virus. In May, at an event in Hobe Sound, he said, "I think that clearly because of some of the great vaccine work and we do have immunity I don’t think you're going to see the number of hospitalized even come close to what we had last July."
Turned out not only did the hospital numbers this year soar 75 percent higher than they were last July, deaths in August have climbed to record levels -- more than 300 a day in late August.
Now, for the first time in 99 days, the CDC has released data from the state revealing deaths connected to each of Florida's counties.
The data had not been released since June 5.
Since then, counties in Northeast Florida have been hardest hit compared to deaths over the previous 15 months -- the death toll increasing by around 70 percent in some since June 5.
Broward’s deaths rose 33 percent in those three months compared to the prior 15; Miami-Dade's increased by 20 percent.