Florida’s surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladapo has called for halting the administration of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, citing alleged safety concerns related to cancer risk and impacts on DNA that are not supported by scientific evidence. The move has prompted strong backlash from federal health agencies and medical experts nationwide.
Dr. Ladapo, appointed surgeon general by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021, has previously voiced skepticism regarding COVID-19 vaccines and support for unproven treatments. In March 2022, he refused to wear a mask when meeting with a state senator who was immunocompromised due to cancer treatment.
The mRNA technology used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has been studied for over a decade. As the CDC explains, mRNA vaccines do not interact with DNA and do not pose cancer risk. Over 660 million doses of these vaccines have been administered in the US to date, with robust safety monitoring indicating they are safe and effective.
Florida Surgeon General’s Claims
In a press release on January 2nd, 2024, Dr. Ladapo called for halting use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in Florida based on the following claims:
- The vaccines may be causing an “unacceptably high” number of cardiac-related deaths in adults under 40 based on VAERS data
- Risk of severe heart inflammation (myocarditis) in young males
- Concerns over long-term impacts due to potential integration of mRNA vaccine lipids into liver cells
- Unspecified cancer concerns
He also alleged the vaccines may be causing irreversible changes to DNA. The Florida Department of Health plans to officially recommend against mRNA COVID-19 vaccination for all ages.
Leaders from the FDA and CDC have directly contradicted Ladapo’s claims:
- No data suggests cardiac deaths are due to mRNA vaccination; rates are within expected baselines
- Myocarditis risk is significantly higher after COVID-19 infection itself compared to mRNA vaccination
- No evidence vaccine mRNA or lipids integrate into human DNA or cause cancer
- DNA impact claims are “patently wrong” with “no merit”
The FDA statement urges the public to “trust the proven safety and efficacy of approved COVID-19 vaccines.” Over 80% of seniors in Florida have received their primary vaccination series.
|“No data suggests cardiac deaths are due to mRNA vaccination”
|“Myocarditis risk is significantly higher after COVID-19 infection itself compared to mRNA vaccination”
|“No evidence vaccine mRNA or lipids integrate into human DNA”
|“DNA impact claims are patently wrong with no merit”
Public health experts warn Florida’s recommendations against COVID-19 vaccination could have dangerous ripple effects on vaccination efforts and health outcomes:
- Confusion for the public around vaccine safety and effectiveness
- Increased vaccine hesitancy impacting routine immunizations
- Hindered efforts to promote updated COVID boosters
- Potential resurgences of COVID-19 outbreaks in Florida
Some predict the move is politically-motivated to align with Governor DeSantis’ messaging rather than scientifically-justified. Dr. Ladapo’s past skepticism of vaccines and masks contrasts guidance from the nation’s major health agencies. The impacts on Florida’s pandemic response remain to be seen.
Infectious disease experts have expressed dismay at Ladapo’s claims:
- “Completely inaccurate…could lead to loss of lives” -Ashish Jha, Brown University Dean
- “Deeply irresponsible and could lead to unnecessary COVID hospitalizations and deaths” -Eric Topol, Scripps Research Professor
- “Baseless conspiracy theory…defies reason and science” -Angela Rasmussen, Vaccine Scientist
The New England Journal of Medicine, which published prior research by Dr. Ladapo, issued this response:
“Although debate and dissent serve important roles in science and medicine, they can turn counterproductive when basic facts become a matter of opinion…We are dismayed by the recent comments by Joseph Ladapo, which fundamentally misrepresent concepts in genetics.”
Many note the Florida Department of Health previously promoted COVID vaccination, further calling Ladapo’s credibility into question.
This represents the latest COVID-19 recommendations from Florida public health leadership that contradicts federal health agencies. Governor DeSantis has downplayed the pandemic’s severity from its outset.
In August 2021, Florida was responsible for 20% of all new COVID cases nationally, demonstrating dire impacts when public health measures are lifted prematurely.
The coming weeks will reveal how Ladapo’s claims influence vaccination efforts in Florida. For a state with 23% of its population over age 65, qualified experts argue false vaccine safety concerns translate to lives lost from preventable illness.
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