Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday tapped a UCLA health policy researcher and physician who opposes vaccine mandates and lockdowns as the state’s new surgeon general.
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 keeping large populations safe from the deadly virus.
“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.”
Lapado 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 struggled to contain the virus with the state recording at least 51,889 Covid-19 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 only surpassed by 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 of Ladapo.
“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,” said State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, 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.”
The Golden State has lost about 173 people to Covid per 100,000, a mark that’s better than 32 other states — including Florida — according to Johns Hopkins.
The Associated Press contributed.