Trump, who announced at an event last month that he had received a booster shot in addition to being vaccinated, decried “gutless” politicians who have declined to be similarly transparent with their own booster status. His comments came just weeks after DeSantis sidestepped a question about being boosted during a December appearance on Fox Business — a response that his staff later claimed the governor had given because it was a “private medical” matter.
Trump’s comments come as the former President has made no secret of his frustration with DeSantis during private conversations with aides and allies. As previously reported by CNN, DeSantis has drawn Trump’s ire for refusing to publicly rule out a 2024 presidential bid in a GOP primary that also includes the former President.
“I watched a couple politicians be interviewed and one of the questions was, ‘Did you get a booster?’ Because they had the vaccine and they’re answering like — in other words, the answer is ‘yes’ but they don’t want to say it, because they’re gutless,” Trump told OAN.
“You gotta say it,” he added. “Whether you had it or not, say it.”
DeSantis told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo back in December that he had “done whatever I did, the normal shot” when asked if he received a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine. The rest of his response focused on his opposition to vaccine mandates as governor, saying the Covid-19 vaccine and subsequent booster shots should be “people’s individual decision.”
On Tuesday, DeSantis declined to mention the word “vaccine” once in a 30-minute State of the State speech. Instead, he declared Florida “the freest state in these United States” and “the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” Like many states, Florida has recently reported a record wave of new Covid infections and a sharp rise in hospitalizations among unvaccinated individuals.
DeSantis once championed the arrival of the vaccine as a pandemic game-changer. Early in 2021, he was hands-on in rolling out the shot to senior communities throughout the state. But as vaccination eligibility extended to younger populations, where resistance to the shot was firmer and louder among conservatives, DeSantis noticeably pivoted. Unlike many political leaders, including in his own party, he declined to get vaccinated on camera. His office quietly confirmed in April that DeSantis had received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and his communications team has refused to say whether he followed up with a booster, insisting that was private medical information.
Instead of publicly encouraging vaccination and boosters, DeSantis has focused on alternative treatment like monoclonal antibodies while opposing federal vaccination mandates.
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw claimed it wasn’t clear that Trump was referring to the Florida Republican in his criticism.
“President Trump did not mention Governor DeSantis in that interview, so I wouldn’t want to make assumptions. Governor DeSantis has always been clear about his position on Covid-19 vaccination and boosters: the shots should be available to all but mandated for none, and the choice to get a vaccine or booster is an individual’s private medical decision,” Pushaw said.
Both men have signaled interest in the White House, though DeSantis has publicly maintained that his only objective at the moment is securing reelection in November for a second term as governor. Meanwhile, Trump has both mused about tapping DeSantis to be his running mate if he does mount a comeback bid in 2024 and claimed that he would handily “beat” the Florida governor in a Republican primary.
“I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” the 45th President told Yahoo Finance in October.