ORLANDO, FLORIDA — An Orlando-area news station stopped a planned congressional debate at the eleventh hour due to the Republican candidate’s unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine. On Thursday morning, WESH 2 Orlando nixed a debate between U.S. Representative Darren Soto, a Democrat representing Florida’s ninth district, and Republican challenger Scotty Moore, after Moore admitted he was not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The debate was scheduled to be recorded at WESH’s studio on Thursday morning. When Moore and his team arrived at 10 am, he says they were told to fill out a health form. One of the questions on the form asked if he was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. After Moore’s team handed in their forms, a woman asked Moore and another member of his team to put on a mask. They declined.
Several minutes later, someone from the station told Moore that the debate would not take place because unvaccinated people are not allowed in the studio. Moore immediately asked to speak to station leadership. He said WESH president John Soapes confirmed with Moore and his team that the station’s policy requires anyone in the studio to be vaccinated against COVID-19, including all employees.
"They confirmed this is what they do,” Moore told The Florida Standard. “Not only do they continue on this false narrative, but they’re actually causing people to not have employment any longer if they choose against it, which I think is very detrimental to our society."
“The debate rules and vaccine requirements were defined and provided to Mr. Moore and his team well in advance,” WESH said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “This is standard for all debate participants. Upon arrival for the scheduled debate this morning, we learned Mr. Moore and some members of his campaign did not meet the requirements. We immediately offered both campaigns to reschedule the debate to a virtual form.”
Soapes and WESH news director Stephanie Linton both declined to answer The Florida Standard’s questions about the station’s COVID-19 policy, including whether or not it complies with Florida law.
John Ashton, Moore’s campaign manager, told The Florida Standard that neither he nor Moore had received the “vaccine requirements” WESH claims were sent to both candidates.
Moore said he tried to be flexible and accommodate any potential concerns the station might have regarding transmission, including undergoing a COVID rapid test. He also suggested doing the debate outside.
“Scotty doesn’t plan to be a virtual or zoom representative in Congress,” Ashton said. “We will not stand by while our liberties are eroded for the illusion of public safety or security.”
STATE LAW ON VACCINE MANDATES
In May 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 2006 into law, prohibiting the use of vaccine passports. The law states that businesses, “may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or postinfection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in this state.” Violators can incur fines up to $5,000.
In his opening statement for the debate, Moore planned to emphasize inconsistency between scientific evidence and COVID-19 policies as one of several examples he called a “failure of leadership” in America.
“Things are out of control,” Moore said. “It’s really preventing people from District 9 hearing my voice because of their crazy decision that’s not even based on science.