NEWBERRY, Florida — Orange County firefighter Maria Bernard spoke at Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R-FL) Monday press conference on overreaching vaccine mandates and asked the crowd, “Once we give up our rights to choose, where does it end?”
Bernard, an Orange County firefighter for 17 years, said she and her husband, who is also a firefighter, learned about the Orange County vaccination mandate on July 28, which extends to 8,000 -plus union and nonunion employees. The current deadline for compliance is September 30, or they face termination.
“There were so many unanswered questions. The biggest question is why. Why is our freedom to choose what we do with our body no longer a human right?” she asked, noting that she and her husband spent “weeks” thinking about this issue.
“If this mandate continues, not only will we lose our freedom of choice, but we will lose our jobs and our livelihood,” she said, explaining that both she and her spouse have been productive members of society since they were teenagers, and they want to remain so:
We want to keep our jobs. We want to remain productive. We want to serve our Orange County citizens. We want to continue supporting our families, being able to feed our children, maintain our healthcare, avoid foreclosing on our home and secure our retirement. No one should be forced to have to choose between their beliefs and their bodily autonomy or their job and risk losing everything they ever worked for in life to be left with no way to survive
“If the reasoning behind this mandate is to help employees and protect employees, then why are we being forced into a fate that would be far worse than contracting and recovering from COVID?” she asked, noting that both she and her husband had already contracted the virus, recovered, and went back to work.
If these mandates remain, it will take “years” to replace the workforce lost, she cautioned.
Additionally, Bernard warned that the mandates will not only affect the unvaccinated, but the vaccinated as well, noting the government’s push for booster shots.
“Firefighters and Orange County employees will possibly be faced with termination once again. Once we give up our rights to choose, where does it end?” she asked.
Before concluding her speech, Bernard quoted a remark from the Orange County mayor, who said that the “goal that government has sometimes is to protect individuals even from themselves.”
She said this quote stuck with her, particularly as a firefighter and paramedic of 17 years who has been entrusted with other people’s lives.
“Yet this statement implies that I must be incompetent because I need the government to protect me from myself,” she said, noting that if someone in the crowd collapsed, the first responders there would “immediately act” without knowing the individual’s vaccination status, triggering a round of applause from the audience.
Ultimately, she warned that the American people do “not need the overreach of government.”