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Latest declaration from Florida’s Ladapo panned as ‘nonsense’

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In October 2022, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo added to his list of dubious pronouncements: The physician recommended that males between the ages of 18 and 39 avoid commonly used mRNA Covid vaccines, pointing to possible health risks that credible experts said didn’t exist in reality. In fact, Ladapo simply discarded the conclusions from the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics altogether.

David Gorski, a surgical oncologist and debunker of anti-vaccine nonsense, wrote soon after, “This is the first time that we’ve seen a state government weaponize bad science to spread anti-vaccine disinformation as official policy.”

As regular readers might recall, the story got worse six months later: Politico reported that the Florida surgeon general received a state-driven study about Covid vaccines, saw the evidence that said there were no significant risks associated with the vaccines for young men, and simply replaced the findings with the opposite conclusions that he liked better. It led the editorial board of The Washington Post to conclude soon after, “By playing loose with the facts, Dr. Ladapo … betrayed the trust of the people of Florida and the nation.”

That was in April 2023. As 2024 gets underway, he’s still making matters worse. The Post reported overnight on Ladapo’s latest antics:

Florida’s top health official called for a halt to using mRNA coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday, contending that the shots could contaminate patients’ DNA — a claim that has been roundly debunked by public health experts, federal officials and the vaccine companies. … “Providers concerned about patient health risks associated with COVID-19 should prioritize patient access to non-mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and treatment,” Ladapo wrote.

Whether the timing of the statement was political is unclear. It was just two months ago when Ladapo took the unusual step of hitting the campaign trail, participating in a super PAC event in an early primary state in the hopes of giving a boost to the politician who gave him his influential job: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Republican governor is now scrambling for support ahead of his party’s early presidential nominating contests.

What’s more, it’s worth emphasizing that the controversial doctor’s declaration wasn’t just an offhand comment on a far-right podcast; Ladapo issued the statement as an official state bulletin. In other words, the public and Florida’s public health community was supposed to take the announcement seriously.

That would be a mistake.

Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s public health school and the expert who led the Biden White House’s national coronavirus response team, told the Post, “We’ve seen this pattern from Dr. Ladapo that every few months he raises some new concern and it quickly gets debunked. This idea of DNA fragments — it’s scientific nonsense. People who understand how these vaccines are made and administered understand that there is no risk here.”

Making matters worse is the frequency with which “scientific nonsense” has become the norm in Florida’s surgeon general’s office. Revisiting our earlier coverage, Ladapo has rejected vaccination guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and faced accusations about misleading the public. He’s embarrassed professional colleagues with his antics and urged the public not to trust scientists, physicians, and other public health officials.

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, Ladapo questioned the efficacy of Covid vaccines, denounced vaccine requirements, referenced unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to argue against the vaccines, and encouraged Floridians to “stick with their intuition,” as opposed to following the guidance of those who actually know what they’re talking about. The editorial board of The Orlando Sentinel described Ladapo as a “COVID crank” who’s been “associated with a right-wing group of physicians whose members include a physician who believes infertility and miscarriages are the result of having sex with demons and witches during dreams.”

What’s more, let’s also not forget that Ladapo’s former supervisor at UCLA discouraged Florida officials from hiring the controversial doctor, explaining that he relies on his opinions more than scientific evidence. The UCLA supervisor added that Ladapo’s weird theories “created a stressful environment for his research and clinical colleagues and subordinates,” some of whom believed the doctor “violated the duty in the Hippocratic Oath to behave honestly and ethically.”

One UCLA source told my colleague Kay Guerrero in late 2021, in reference to Ladapo, “A lot of people here at UCLA are glad that he is gone because we were embarrassed by his opinions and behavior. At the same time, we don’t wish this on the people of Florida. They don’t deserve to have someone like him making their health decisions.”

The relevance of that quote lingers for a reason.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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