A Florida Health Department official who has been integral in leading central Florida through the coronavirus pandemic has been put on administrative leave as the department investigates whether he tried to pressure employees to get vaccinated.
"As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave," the health department said of the official, Dr. Raul Pino, the department's health director in Orange County.
"The Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case," the Health Department said in a statement, adding that it "is committed to upholding all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees and will take appropriate action once additional information is known."
A measure Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last fall prohibits government agencies from mandating vaccinations and restricts private businesses from requiring vaccinations unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on previous infections, regular testing or agreements to wear protective gear.
WFTV-TV of Orlando, which first reported Pino's leave, and the Orlando Sentinel both reported that sources said he was placed on leave after a Health Department employee complained about an email he sent Jan. 4.
The email, obtained by WFTV, read in part: “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it.”
He lamented how few people working at the department had had booster shots and wrote that fewer than half had had two shots.
“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” Pino wrote in the email. “We have been at this for two years, we were the first to give vaccines to the masses, we have done more than 300,000 and we are not even at 50% pathetic.”
Pino has been in the role since May 2019. He did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.