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Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, left, speaks at a news conference with Florida’s Gov. DeSantis in January at Broward Health Medical Center.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, left, speaks at a news conference with Florida’s Gov. DeSantis in January at Broward Health Medical Center.

AP

Gov. Ron DeSantis has found his Ivy-League standard bearer to cast doubts and tell half-truths about COVID-19 vaccines — and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is basking in the limelight of vaccine skepticism.

You’d expect Florida’s top doctor would use every public appearance to encourage Floridians to get vaccinated or boosted. But, at every turn, Ladapo has been a good sycophant, allowing DeSantis, who once touted vaccines, to continue to foment vaccine skepticism through his Harvard-educated appointee.

Ladapo was the star of DeSantis’ announcement last week that Special Olympics International wouldn’t impose a vaccine requirement at its USA Games in Orlando. The Florida Department of Health, which Ladapo oversees, threatened the organization with nearly $30 million in fines for violating Florida’s ban on so-called COVID passports.

“The scientific studies show that at this point, at this far out, there’s basically zero protection from infection from the vaccines,” Ladapo said during a news conference.

Vaccines have not stopped people from getting COVID, especially the highly transmissible omicron sub-variant that has become dominant in the United States. Mandates at this point of the pandemic might be a tough sell given how most Americans have gotten used to living without COVID restrictions.

But those who decry vaccinations for not stopping infections misunderstand their purpose. Ladapo, as a doctor, should know and make that clear to the public.

Although fully vaccinated people came down with COVID during the omicron wave, the vaccines, and especially the booster shot, protected most people from needing mechanical ventilation — and from death, according to a study released in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another analysis published in the Lancet journal in May found high levels of protection against hospitalizations among boosted people who had the B.A.1 and B.A.2 omicron sub-variants, though protection decreased after 15 weeks.

These studies highlight the importance of boosters, which should be Ladapo’s priority as cases rise again in the state.

Casting doubt

Instead, he cast further doubt that vaccines are safe, which the CDC and experts at the nation’s top research institutions, such as Johns Hopkins University, say they are.

“And some people will say, ‘Oh, you know, millions of people have taken these vaccines, they must be safe,’” Ladapo said.

“And the the string of adverse events that I’ve heard from people all over this country after these vaccines is nothing like the years of my life when I’ve been in medicine and have been administering the influenza vaccines to people.”

The Herald Editorial Board emailed the DOH asking for data that shows the COVID vaccine is less safe than the influenza shots. Spokesman Jeremy Redfern didn’t provide any, but sent a statement filled with insinuations, which read, in part:

“Has the CDC ever issue a statement about myocarditis in young men due to the influenza vaccine? Why is the CDC one of the few health agencies that say those under 18 should be vaccinated vs. can be vaccinated for COVID-19?”

According to the CDC, the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, is low but higher for males ages 12-39 years. That “risk might be reduced by extending the interval between the first and second dose” and eight weeks might be optimal, according to the agency.

In March, Florida broke with the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics when it recommended against giving vaccines to healthy children. Redfern pointed to childhood vaccination guidelines in Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden and asked whether there are any issues these countries see with vaccines “that the CDC refuses to acknowledge?”

“Why have most countries had longer intervals for COVID-19 vaccines for children while the CDC only recently extended the intervals for males ages 12-39?” the statement read.

Yet those countries hardly back up Ladapo’s continuing undermining of vaccinations.

Norway’s guidelines say healthy children and adolescents are at lower risk of severe illness from COVID and can — the CDC says they should and Florida says they should not— be vaccinated. The country does recommend a longer interval between doses of eight to 12 weeks compared to the CDC’s recommendation of three to eight weeks. The United Kingdom offers the doses 12 weeks apart.

The U.K. government website clearly states that, “COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and others.”

Sweden, known for its refusal to impose lockdowns, is the closest to Florida’s stance. The country decided against recommending the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, Reuters reported in January.

To be clear, Ladapo is entitled to ask questions about the safety of vaccines. COVID-19 science, as we have learned since the beginning of the pandemic, is ever evolving. The CDC has had its missteps, such as a flip-flop on recommending masks early on.

But Ladapo’s questioning doesn’t enlighten scientific discussion. It’s cynical. It’s grandstanding. It’s questioning for the sake of it. It foments skepticism and fear. It uses the same underhanded tactics that FOX News hosts such as Tucker Carlson have used to turn Americans against vaccinations by “just asking questions.”

Dr. Ladapo, what has killed more than 1 million Americans, including 74,000 Floridians, were not the vaccines.

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This story was originally published June 7, 2022 5:40 PM.