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DeSantis names doctor who opposes vaccination mandates as surgeon general of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis picked Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, who shares a similar philosophy in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 50,000 people in the state.
Image: COVID intensive care unit (ICU) at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida
A Covid-19 patient is treated in an isolation room in the intensive care unit at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida on Tuesday.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday tapped a UCLA health policy researcher and physician who opposes vaccination mandates and lockdowns to be the state's new surgeon general.

The researcher, Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, will replace Dr. Scott Rivkees, whose contract expires at the end of the month.

Ladapo framed the battle against Covid-19 in similar terms as DeSantis, emphasizing personal action over broader mandates. He even appeared to downplay the effectiveness of vaccines in protecting large populations from the deadly coronavirus.

"Vaccines are up to the person. There's nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure," Ladapo said. "The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn't the only path to that. It's been treated almost like a religion. It's just senseless. There's lots of good pathways to health."

Ladapo also claimed that lockdowns cause more harm than good.

"After lockdowns, overall mortality increased. Lockdowns are bad. Lots of reasons why they're bad. That's just one really good one," he said.

Florida has been a focal point of policy battles over Covid, with DeSantis opposing rules for masking and vaccinations. It has struggled to contain the virus, having recorded at least 51,889 Covid deaths in the pandemic, according to a running tally by NBC News.

At 242 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people, Florida's death rate is surpassed by those of only nine other states, according to the latest data collected by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Democrats in the state were quick to criticize the Republican governor's pick.

"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," state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a statement to The Miami Herald.

In comments released by the governor's office, Ladapo also appeared to laud Florida's work against the pandemic over policies undertaken in California.

"We must make health policy decisions rooted in data and not in fear," Ladapo said. "From California, I have observed the different approaches taken by governors across the country and I have been impressed by Governor DeSantis' leadership and determination to ensure that Floridians are afforded all opportunities to maintain their health and wellness, while preserving their freedoms as Americans."

California's Covid death rate is about 173 per 100,000 people, better than those of 32 other states — including Florida — according to Johns Hopkins.