Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo has called for an immediate suspension of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in the state, citing unproven concerns over their safety and efficacy. The move comes despite assurances from federal health authorities that the vaccines are safe and skepticism from public health experts over the rationale behind the decision.
Surgeon General Cites Debunked Theories and Calls Vaccines “Irresponsible”
In a press conference on January 3rd, Dr. Ladapo claimed that new data suggests the mRNA vaccines may be altering human DNA and potentially causing cancer. He provided no evidence to support these assertions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has definitively stated that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not change or interact with DNA in any way. The technology also does not cause cancer.
Despite the lack of scientific consensus, Dr. Ladapo claimed administering additional doses would be “irresponsible” and called for halting their use in Florida until the undefined safety concerns can be proven unfounded. Florida has fully vaccinated 56% of eligible residents, fewer than most other states.
Move Seen as Politically Motivated and Against Medical Consensus
Public health experts have widely denounced Dr. Ladapo’s claims as “nonsense” and potentially dangerous misinformation motivated more by politics than science. They argue Florida should be focused on increasing vaccination rates and availability of boosters, especially for vulnerable populations.
Leading medical organizations, including the CDC and American Medical Association, have reiterated that mRNA vaccines are safe, effective, and essential tools for managing COVID-19 spread and preventing serious illness and death. Over 620 million doses have been administered in the U.S. alone so far.
Previous Controversies Over Florida’s COVID-19 Policies
This is not the first clash between federal health guidance and the policies championed by Governor Ron DeSantis and his hand-picked Florida Surgeon General. Ladapo, whose views on vaccines and masks have raised eyebrows since his appointment last year, has echoed Governor DeSantis’ vocal opposition to vaccine and mask mandates.
In November 2021, the federal government threatened funding cuts over Florida’s refusal to provide requested COVID-19 data. More recently, the DeSantis administration blocked a CDC-led vaccine awareness program for Florida schools.
Ongoing Conflict Likely as Governor Faces Re-Election
With Governor DeSantis positioning himself for a potential 2024 presidential run, clashes with federal health authorities over Florida’s divergent COVID-19 policies will likely continue in an election year. DeSantis is currently favored to win the state’s 2022 gubernatorial race.
Public health leaders worry Ladapo’s misleading claims will undermine confidence in lifesaving vaccines and set back progress against the pandemic. Over 80,000 Floridians have died of COVID-19 so far. While cases are down nationwide, winter surges are expected as new variants continue to emerge.
Table 1: COVID-19 Vaccines Administered in Florida
Data as of 1/1/2024. Source: Florida Department of Health
Reactions from Public Health Organizations
The Florida Surgeon General’s statement calling for a halt to mRNA COVID-19 vaccination sparked shock, disbelief, and strong rebukes from public health organizations across the country:
FDA Says Claims are “Misleading” and “Inaccurate”
The FDA released a strong statement calling the claims “inaccurate” and warning they risked proliferating misinformation that could have significant negative public health impacts. They definitively stated that mRNA technology cannot alter human DNA in any way or cause cancer.
CDC Says mRNA Vaccines Remain “Highly Effective”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky emphasized that mRNA vaccines provide robust protection against severe illness and death and are the best tool for managing spread of COVID-19. She reiterated calls for all eligible Americans to stay up to date with vaccination against a virus that continues to mutate and surround us.
Medical Professionals: Halt is “Dangerous”
Physicians overwhelmingly agreed the potential suspension of a life-saving intervention during an ongoing pandemic would have disastrous consequences. Dr. Kami Kim, Director of the Infectious Disease Division at the University of South Florida, called the rationale “neither data-based nor scientifically sound.” She worried it would cost lives by deterring vaccination among hesitant groups.
What Could Happen Next?
Public health experts worry Ladapo’s unfounded claims will undermine trust in safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines that remain our best chance at controlling the pandemic long-term. However, Governor DeSantis has shown little willingness to follow federal health guidance so far when it clashes with his political messaging. Several potential next steps seem possible:
- Legal challenges brought by advocacy groups over state medical policies that contradict evidence-based public health recommendations
- Continued confusion and deterrence of vaccination among vaccine-hesitant Floridians
- Intervention by state legislature or federal agencies to try to counteract Ladapo’s recommendations
- Further politicization of COVID-19 policies during Governor DeSantis’ reelection campaign
- Surges in hospitalization if vaccination rates drop precipitously
For now, doctors are focused on communicating accurate information to concerned Florida residents about the enduring safety and importance of mRNA vaccines that have saved millions of lives worldwide already.
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