Surgeon General
Opinion

Florida’s Surgeon General and Minority Power Against Public Health Disinformation

During Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s hearings to become Florida’s surgeon general, he refused to answer many questions from legislators.

The hearings concerned many, as Florida’s surgeon general holds the highest-ranking public health position in Florida.

When asked if he believes Covid-19 vaccines are effective, Ladapo chose to avoid clarity and add to Floridians’ confusion over both his beliefs and Florida’s recommended public health practices.

Lauren Book, the Senate minority leader representing Broward County, explicitly asked Ladapo the yes-or-no question of whether or not vaccines work to prevent Covid-19 transmission. He refused to give a yes-or-no answer, instead asserting that “yes-or-no questions are not that easy to find in science.”

As a result of the lack of concrete answers, the Senate Democrats walked out of the hearing.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, commented, “All he has done is criticize the president, criticize the process. He came out here and tried to make a mockery of us, and we left.”

After the Democrats walked out, the Republicans simply moved forward with the proceedings and voted to further the confirmation process.

On Twitter, the Senate Democrats stated the “…Senate Democrats know Floridians deserve better than a doctor of disinformation as the top public health official of the state.”

This anti-science mentality was highlighted once more when Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, asked Ladapo about the separate health issue of Hepatitis A. He replied only with nonsense and empty words; no conciseness was present in his responses. 

The trend of Lapado’s words holding no weight seemingly represents a pattern. Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and a 2022 candidate for governor, stated on Twitter, “Florida’s Surgeon General is an anti-science quack, and the Florida Senate should refuse his confirmation today.”

With the confirmation of Ladapo as Florida’s surgeon general, it is more than essential that we understand who this man is and where his values lie. 

Ladapo’s educational background is impressive, earning his bachelor’s in chemistry from Wake Forest University before receiving a doctorate in both medicine and philosophy from Harvard University. One would think he would acknowledge generally accepted medical practices. However, Ladapo’s actions continue to prove this is not the case.

Ladapo has been known to doubt the efficacy of masks and vaccines throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, he also wrote an op-ed where he questioned and undermined the efficacy of shutdowns to combat the pandemic. The lack of trust in vaccines and masks is a characteristic shared by America’s Frontline Doctors — an organization with whom he has a clear association. 

Despite the lack of concrete confirmation of his allegiance to the group, his association is evident. The main evidence is from a press conference in July 2020 where a video shows he was part of an America’s Frontline Doctors press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The organization claims to offer an alternative treatment to Covid-19 – a so-called treatment that is frankly bogus. A man named Mike paid the group $90 for a telemedicine appointment. He waited to be contacted for the consultation, and AFLD did not return his emails or calls. 

The countless stories similar to Mike’s emphasize the core value of this group: profit over people. A core value that should not be present in a health official. Why would we want to confirm a public health official associated with a group that cares more about money than the health of the public?

Another emphasized value of this group is “freedom.” On the official website of the group, the motto reads “fighting for your medical freedom.” It is no wonder the governor favors this man so much. As clearly emphasized in the governor’s state of the state speech, freedom is his favorite.

Quite frankly, freedom is a fluff word; frequently used to brand mask mandates and vaccines as anti-freedom and therefore anti-American.

His core value of freedom is highlighted by his beliefs. Freedom is equivalent to a never-ending public health crisis.

Ladapo’s disregard for public health is further illustrated by an earlier interaction with Sen. Tina Polsky. (*Disclaimer: Paulina Trujillo is a Legislative Intern in the Office of Senator Tina Polsky). As the senator was battling breast cancer, she felt uncomfortable having people come into her office without masks. Ladapo completely disrespected Polsky’s wish and visited her without a mask, disrespecting her health. This blatant lack of regard for the well-being of another person is repulsive and selfish. 

Book asked during the confirmation hearing if Ladapo felt regret for how he treated their colleague, Polsky. He responded, “It is important to respect people’s preferences…” Without a doubt, he is a man full of empty words as he completely disrespected her health.

Polsky stated on the Senate floor that “Our role is not to be a rubber stamp to the governor on what is so clearly a political choice.”

Despite the present ignorance and interfering politics, the Republican Senate voted to officially confirm Lapado on Feb. 23 on the Senate floor. He is our newest elected public health official. 

So you want to know what this man values? People over profit, so-called freedom and blatant disrespect. Are these the kind of values we want to see in a public health leader? 

Floridians deserve a doctor of science. Not a doctor of disinformation. 

The Florida Democrats are in the minority but recognize the importance of showing Floridians this is unacceptable. Through walk-outs, hard questioning and relentless spirit, the minority has shown there is still power in the minority even in the climate of Florida politics. 

We deserve better.

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: Vaccine and Mask. Unmodified photo by RonStik used under the creative commons license. (https://bit.ly/3BKXgOn)

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