Health experts 'speechless' as DeSantis taps anti-mask vaccine skeptic for Florida surgeon general

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came under fire from Democratic lawmakers and public health experts following the Republican's Tuesday announcement that Dr. Joseph Ladapo—who opposes mask and coronavirus vaccine mandates—would be the state's next surgeon general.

"I'm speechless. I attended medical school with Dr. Joseph Ladapo and to say I'm shocked by his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates is an understatement."
—Dr. Uché Blackstock, physician

The Miami Herald reports Ladapo, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, will oversee the Florida Department of Health pending confirmation by the state's Republican-controlled Senate.

Known for advocating individual liberty over community-based precautions in the fight against Covid-19, Ladapo's views on masks and vaccines closely align with those of DeSantis, whose July executive order banning school mask mandates was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge the following month.

"Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies," Ladapo said during a Tuesday press conference in Tallahassee.

"Vaccines are up to the person. There's nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure," he added. "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."

According to The New York Times, Florida currently has the United States' highest number of daily Covid-19 deaths, the nation's second-highest per-capita mortality rate, and a death rate nearly three times the national average.

As The Guardian reports:

Last week, Florida surpassed 50,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic begun, with around one in every 400 Florida residents who were alive in March 2020 now dead from the virus. Only cancer and heart disease has killed more Floridians in this time.

In a June opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, Ladapo and Yale epidemiologist Harvey A. Risch wrote that "the risks of a Covid-19 vaccine may outweigh the benefits for certain low-risk populations, such as children, young adults and people who have recovered from Covid-19." The authors cited reports in the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)—which are unverified and can be filed by anyone.

Ladapo also raised alarm among public health experts after signing the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement by a trio of public health experts calling on governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people in order to spread the coronavirus to enough people to achieve herd immunity.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the herd immunity theory proposed in the declaration "scientifically and ethically problematic," while National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci blasted the document as "nonsense and very dangerous."

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.)—who served as Florida's Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 and is running for the office again as a Democrat—tweeted Tuesday that Ladapo's selection as surgeon general "is a complete slap in the face to the families of the more than 50,000 Floridians who have died from Covid."

In a statement, Florida state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-18) said that "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."