As the first round of vaccines are distributed across Florida, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone wanted to know where our elected politicians stand on getting the shot, and if they believe they should get an early dose of it.
In a recent interview, U.S. Senator Rick Scott told our partners at Newsy why he may not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’ve already had COVID so I’ll be checking to see if I have the antibodies. If I have the antibodies, I don’t know why I would have to take the vaccine,” he said.
Around the state, other Florida lawmakers are sharing their personal family plans for the vaccine.
“I am planning to take the vaccine along with my husband and kids,” said FL Senator Tina Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties which are among the areas in the state hardest hit the COVID-19 virus.
“If we want things to go back to normal we need to believe in the science that brought us this vaccine,” Polsky told us during a recent interview.
Senator Lori Berman, also a Democrat representing parts of South Florida, is also eager to get a shot in the arm.
“I am absolutely planning on taking the vaccine when it’s available,” Berman said. “I would be the first one in line if I had the opportunity to."
Democrat Michael Grieco of Miami is also a yes, but eager- not so much.
“I’m a huge wimp with needles,” the representative told us in an email.
We contacted all of Florida’s nearly 200 lawmakers, asking if they and their immediate family were planning to get the vaccine and when. Roughly 15% responded to us so far.
Republican Senator Kellie Stargel, who represents Lake and Polk counties, emailed us stating she has the antibodies and does not believe getting a shot would be “the best use of Florida’s limited supply of vaccines.”
Democratic Representative Angie Nixon of Duval County and Republican Representative Bob Rommel of Collier County wouldn’t share their plans, calling it a “private matter.” Chris Sprowls, a Republican from Pinellas County, also wouldn’t share his personal vaccine plans and referred us to the House medial relations office instead.
But of those who did respond directly to our questions, most told us they will be getting the vaccine.
Republican Representative Anthony Sabatini of Lake County added, “as a member of the Florida Army National Guard, I will likely be mandated to receive the vaccine….and will take it. If I was not a first responder, I would not seek to take it since I’m not in the high-risk category.”
Democratic Representative Fentrice Driskell, a black legislator representing Hillsborough County, told us she hasn’t reached a decision but also called for “equitable access to the vaccine.”
Despite some chatter about giving members of the U.S. Congress access to an early dose of the vaccine, U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, a Republican on Florida’s west coast, doesn’t believe lawmakers who don’t meet the CDC’s guidelines for priority should jump the line.
“I’m anxious to take it but I’m not going to take it until I’m in line for it. I don’t want to seek any special treatment,” he said.
Next month, Florida lawmakers will start convening in Tallahassee for the upcoming legislative session which begins in March. Lawmakers will be provided weekly COVID tests.
Senator Berman believes only then there might be a case for legislators to get the vaccine, as long as frontline workers and the elderly get priority doses first.
“I think that we need to make sure that people who are essential workers need to be covered and I think politicians who are out there as essential workers, I would think they need to be covered,” she said.
Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to get the vaccine. His spokesperson, Fred Piccolo, said the Governor will be getting the shot and “encourages everyone to get it when the time comes.” But, according to Piccolo, the Governor has not yet received the vaccine because he is “reticent to jump the line or be treated any differently than anyone else.”
Below is a list of Florida lawmakers who responded to our questions on receiving the vaccine:
Florida House of Representatives members planning to take the vaccine:
- Allison Tant (D-Leon)
- Anna Eskamani (D-Orange)
- Andrew Learned (D-Hillsborough)
- Ben Diamond (D-Pinellas)
- Christine Hunchofsky (D- Broward)
- David Silver (D- Palm Beach)
- Dianne Hart (D-HIllsborough)
- Emily Slosberg (D-Palm Beach)
- Evan Jenne (D-Broward)
- Joy Goff-Marcil (D-Orange)
- Matt Willhite (D-Palm Beach)
- Michael Grieco (D-Miami Dade)
- Anthony Sabatini (R-Lake)
- Bobby Payne (R- Union, Bradford, Clay)
- Jim Mooney (R- Miami Dade, Monroe)
- Nick Diceglie (R- Pinellas)
- Kevin Chambliss (D- Miami-Dade)
- Dan Daley (D- Broward)
- Carlos Smith (D - Orange)
Florida House of Representative members not planning to take the vaccine:
- Spencer Roach (R-Lee)
- Fred Hawkins (R- Osceola, Polk)
Florida House of Representative members undecided on taking the vaccine:
- Fentrice Driskell (D- Hillsborough)
Florida Senate members planning to take the vaccine:
- Wilton Simpson (R- Hernando)
- Jim Boyd (R- Manatee)
- Danny Burgess (R- Hillsborough)
- Kathleen Passidomo (R- Collier)
- George Gainer (R- Bay, Holmes, Jackson, Walton, Washington)
- Lori Berman (D- Broward)
- Lauren Book (D- Broward)
- Tina Polsky (D- Palm Beach)
- Linda Stewart (D- Orange)
- Annette Taddeo (D- Miami Dade)
Florida Senate members not planning to take the vaccine:
- Kelli Stargel (R- Lake