Former Florida Surgeon General rips successor’s COVID shot guidance

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TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s former top public health official criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest foray into COVID-19 vaccine skepticism, saying the state is wrong to discourage those under age 65 from getting the new booster. 

Dr. Scott Rivkees, who preceded Dr. Joseph Ladapo as the state’s surgeon general, said the move runs counter to the goals of public health. 

“Rates of COVID vaccination are lower in Florida than they had been,” said Rivkees, who resigned in September 2021 after being shunned by DeSantis for encouraging COVID-19 precautions when the governor wanted virtually no preventive measures. 

“I think the cumulative effect of this anti-vaccine messaging is being felt,” he told the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida in an interview. 

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In a discussion broadcast on social media, Ladapo announced Wednesday that the state was issuing guidance that broke with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone over the age of 6 months get COVID-19 boosters

DeSantis hosted the forum, joined by three research scientists known for raising doubts about vaccines and their safety. 

DeSantis has been ridiculed by former President Donald Trump over his one-time support for COVID-19 restrictions. DeSantis in polls is trailing far behind Trump for the Republican presidential nomination but has been portraying himself as aggressively opposing federal direction on the disease. 

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The Florida governor while campaigning also has fueled conspiracies about the pandemic. Surveys show that among Republican voters, COVID and vaccine hesitancy remains an animating issue. 

“COVID is a vaccine preventable disease,” said Rivkees, a pediatrician and now a professor at the Brown University School of Public Health. “These vaccines are very safe and very effective.” 

He said that what DeSantis and Ladapo are doing runs counter to conventional public health norms.

“We advocate for patients, families and practitioners doing things that help keep the public healthy,” Rivkees said. “A positive message about what vaccines can do goes a long way in helping keep the public safe.”

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

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