Special Olympics reverses vaccine requirement after Florida threatens $27.5M fine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday during a press conference hailed the decision by the Special Olympics to reverse the vaccine mandate as a win for the thousands of athletes who are expected to compete in the games.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a podium.

The Florida Department of Health sent a letter to Special Olympics International threatening the $27.5 million fine on Thursday. A copy of the letter, first reported on Twitter by ABC News, states that the Special Olympics had asked 5,500 people to provide proof of vaccination in order to gain access into the 2022 USA Special Olympics Games, which violates a state ban on requiring proof of vaccination. 

“[Special Olympics International] was unable to bring the event into compliance for the benefit of their delegates,” the letter says. “And reinstate all who were denied access based on proof of vaccination.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday during a press conference hailed the decision by the Special Olympics to reverse the vaccine mandate as a win for the thousands of athletes who are expected to compete in the games. He said the mandate marginalized those players, especially those who have some immunity after previously testing positive for the virus.

“What connection that has to competing, I don’t understand,” DeSantis said of Covid-19 vaccines. “We’ve never seen something wielded like this vaccine to try to marginalize disfavored people.”

“And a lot of these special Olympians have also had Covid by now,” DeSantis said. “Most people have had it by now.”

DeSantis signed Florida’s ban on vaccine mandates in November as the Biden administration planned to roll out federal vaccine mandates that following month. The new Florida law led the Florida Department of Health to issue a $3.5 million fine against Leon County after 14 county employees were fired for not complying with a vaccine mandate. The state Department of Health later forgave the $3.5 million fine.