Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is "completely incorrect" to suggest vaccines are a personal choice with no broad implications, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease authority.
"If [DeSantis] feels that vaccines are not important for people, that they're just important for some people, that's completely incorrect," Fauci said after being asked about DeSantis' views during an interview Tuesday with CNN.
Vaccines have been the solution to public health crises such as smallpox, polio and measles, Fauci said — but they rely on wide adoption to work, he added.
"When you're dealing with an outbreak of an infectious disease, it isn't only about you," Fauci said. "There's a societal responsibility that we all have."
DeSantis said in a news conference Friday that vaccines help people to avoid severe illness from COVID-19. But instead of saying everyone who's eligible should be vaccinated, the governor added a caveat.
"At the end of the day though, it's about your health and whether you want that protection or not," DeSantis said. "It really doesn't impact me or anyone else."
In response to DeSantis' comments, Fauci said on Tuesday: "Yeah, that's not true at all."
Aside from the personal benefit of being protected against the coronavirus, Fauci said, "When you have a virus that's circulating in the community and you are not vaccinated, you are part of the problem. Because you're allowing yourself to be a vehicle for the virus to be spreading to someone else."
"So it isn't as if it stops with you," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said, adding that if an unvaccinated person becomes infected, they could pass the coronavirus on to older people or those who are otherwise more vulnerable.
DeSantis has taken a number of controversial positions on the coronavirus, including working to block mask and vaccine mandates at local levels and in school districts, even as Florida endures a precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases.
The number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida "has increased more than tenfold" to reach alarming new levels, NPR member station WFSU reported last week.
The governor's recent remarks about the vaccine and personal choice also sparked sharp criticism from the Miami Herald, which called the sentiments both incredible and wrong.
"Doesn't impact anyone else?" the newspaper asked in an editorial. "Talk about a profile in selfishness."
Florida has watched its number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations skyrocket to new heights this summer, putting additional stress on hospital systems and medical staff.
"This is still an outbreak, a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Fauci said Tuesday on NPR. "And when you look at the percentage of cases, particularly those that wind up with severe consequences leading to hospitalization, it is overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated."
DeSantis' net approval rating recently fell 14 percentage points, according to the Florida Politics website, which noted that despite the overall drop among voters, 83% of Republicans still approve of the job the governor is doing.