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Florida health official put on 2-month leave after urging staff to get vaccine


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference before newly appointed state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.
Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference before newly appointed state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.

Florida is allowing its top public health official in Orlando to return to work after a two-month suspension related to an email he sent to his staff noting their abysmal COVID-19 vaccination rate and urging them to get vaccinated.

Dr. Raul Pino, the health administrator for Florida’s Orange County, sent the email to public health employees on January 4 as the state was seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases amid the omicron wave of the pandemic. The email noted that less than half of the 568 employees at the county’s public health office were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 77 of them had gotten a booster shot, Pino added. He called the staff’s vaccination rate “pathetic” and wrote that it was “irresponsible” not to be vaccinated at that point.

“I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it,” he wrote, according to Click Orlando.

The Florida Department of Health put Pino on administrative leave shortly after. “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 [Pino] has been placed on administrative leave,” FDOH Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern said in a statement on January 19. The FDOH said it would carry out an investigation to determine if “any laws were broken in this case.”

It’s unclear if Pino was put on leave for urging vaccination, monitoring the vaccination status of his employees, or both.

Last Friday, the FDOH released a statement saying that it allowed Dr. Pino to return to the office on March 11, ending his administrative leave. “As a result of the administrative review, the Department established a corrective action plan to address these compliance issues,” the FDOH wrote. “We will continue to work closely with Dr. Pino to ensure residents of Orange County are receiving the best health services from their county health department.” It’s unclear what the corrective action plan entails.

The move was just the latest by Florida’s government to undermine the efforts of public health experts and officials during the pandemic. While Pino was on leave, Florida confirmed Dr. Joseph Ladapo to be the state’s surgeon general. Ladapo has espoused anti-vaccine views, opposed mask-wearing, downplayed COVID-19, and promoted unproven and ineffective COVID-19 treatments. In his latest stunt, Ladapo announced that Florida is recommending against healthy children being vaccinated for COVID-19.



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