Florida surgeon general nominee rejects business lockdowns

The Center Square
By John Haughey
September 23, 2021

“Lapado made it clear he shares DeSantis’ personal freedom approach to pandemic management, rejects business lockdowns, face mask and vaccine mandates, and doubts the safety of vaccines.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, at the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. DeSantis was there to promote the use of monoclonal antibody treatments for those infected with COVID-19. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

If Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted to smooth roiled waters in the time of pandemic, his selection of Dr. Joseph Ladapo to succeed Dr. Scott Rivkees as Florida Surgeon General failed to do so.

Lapado made it clear he shares DeSantis’ personal freedom approach to pandemic management, rejects business lockdowns, face mask and vaccine mandates, and doubts the safety of vaccines.

The state’s new surgeon general, who will direct Florida’s Department of Health (DOH) and serve on the board of the University of Florida College of Medicine, told reporters during an introductory press conference the politically polarized “climate of distrust” was brewed by “scientists” and partisan operatives.

“Part of why that is an issue is because of the climate of distrust that had been engendered over the past year-and-a-half. And that was a direct result of scientists – my colleagues, some of them – taking the science and, basically, misrepresenting it to fit their agendas, their interests, what they wanted to see people do,” Ladapo said.

A Nigerian native, Lapado, 42, is a cardiologist who earned his M.D. and Ph.D. in health policy from Harvard. Before assuming his new post, he was an associate professor at the UCLA School of Medicine. He has served on the faculty at NYU School of Medicine and with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Under Lapado’s two-year contract, he will earn an annual base salary of $262,000.

Rivkees left the position Monday after serving more than two years. He maintained a low profile after the pandemic emerged in spring 2020 and, during the 2021 legislature session, was prohibited from answering questions by lawmakers.

Unlike Rivkees, Lapado said he will be a more active presence and one DeSantis will find more accommodating since Stanford University Professor Jay Bhattacharya — who has advised and defended DeSantis for more than a year — is “a good friend of mine.”

Lapado has signed The Great Barrington Declaration, which Bhattacharya partially wrote. It emphasizes protecting older, venerable people from the coronavirus but allowing younger and healthier people to become infected and develop herd immunity.

The Great Barrington Declaration has found no support from medical or public health institutions and organizations.

“There are a couple of things that I didn’t totally agree with” in the declaration, Ladapo said. “But the spirit of what they believe — that, you know, we need to respect human rights; that, you know, people do have autonomy over their lives and it’s not OK — it’s not even not OK — but it’s not virtuous and it’s not right to just sort of take away those rights from individuals. I completely agree with that. That’s why I signed it.”

Lapado’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. Although outnumbered 24-16 in the chamber, Democrats pledged to vigorously challenge his confirmation.

“Florida’s surgeon general should be an expert in public health, but instead the governor has chosen someone who has questioned the safety of the COVID vaccines, has advocated against masks as a way to stop the spread of the virus, and who believes herd immunity through natural infection is the best possible way to end this pandemic,” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Ladapo seems like a perfect fit for Gov. DeSantis,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, told the Miami Herald. “He downplays masks and vaccines, while supporting surrendering to the virus to reach herd immunity, which would cost untold thousands of lives.”

“We feel that Joe is just the right guy for the job,” DeSantis said.

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