At the height of the pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly promoted COVID-19 vaccines, which correctly says “they are safe, they are effective” and they “save lives”. With hundreds of millions of vaccines administered worldwide at this time, the extensive international data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines has provided strong and consistent support for DeSantis’ claims. The vaccines should be saved over 14 million lives in 185 countries in the first two years of the pandemic alone.
But amid mounting rumors of a presidential nomination in 2024, DeSantis changed his stance on the life-saving shots, abruptly questioning their effectiveness and making unsubstantiated claims about their safety. In December, his about-face culminated in a call for a grand jury to investigate alleged “Crime and Misconduct‘ related to vaccines.
Though the swing is aimed more at scoring political points than protecting the health of Floridians, DeSantis’ handpicked surgeon general Joseph Ladapo has stuck close to the governor’s anti-vaccine rhetoric and health misinformation. Since being named Florida’s top doctor in late 2021, Ladapo has made false claims about vaccines, encouraged vaccination hesitancy, rejected masks, downplayed the health effects of COVID-19, and promoted ineffective COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin.
Ladapo’s latest headline-grabbing anti-public health effort came last October when he announced a dubious analysis claiming mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were linked to an increased risk of heart-related deaths in men aged 18 to 39.
— which has not been peer-reviewed, published in a scientific paper, and does not list authors — has been widely panned by scientists and health professionals, who called it ”
,” And ”
.” One of Ladapo’s former mentors at Harvard told the Washington Post, “If I were a reviewer for a journal, I would recommend turning it down.” Politico, meanwhile, reported that a tipster accused Ladapo of “manipulated data” and “scientific fraud.” ‘ to come to the wrong conclusion on which he was based
a national recommendation against mRNA COVID-19 vaccination in young men
But Ladapo’s efforts to thwart public health didn’t stop at Florida’s borders — the internal medicine doctor relayed his COVID-19 misinformation directly to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the agencies responded in kind.
In a four-page letter of March 10, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky effortlessly debunk his inaccuracies, untruths, and gossip while taking the opportunity to point out that he is failing the people of Florida in his role as a public health official leaves.
The two federal officials began training Ladapo on the many safety monitoring systems the federal government must have in place to track vaccine side effects and potentially rare outcomes. Like many anti-vaccination advocates, Ladapo parroted misconceptions and inaccuracies about a particular system called VAERS — short for that Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. This is an open system where anyone – doctors, vaccine manufacturers, members of the public – can report a health issue if they believe the issue may be related to a vaccine. Anti-vaccination advocates often point people to this system and hold up the unconfirmed reports as evidence of vaccine harm, fueling fear and vaccine hesitancy.
But of course, just because someone reported a health problem to VAERS doesn’t mean a vaccine actually caused the problem, Walensky and Califf note. In some cases, physicians and vaccine manufacturers are required federally to report certain post-vaccination events, regardless of whether they think the vaccine was the cause. To find out the cause, FDA and CDC doctors continually comb through and examine reports, sometimes delving into patients’ comprehensive medical records. And indeed, most of the reports turn out to be just noise.
“Most reports do not represent adverse events caused by the vaccine, but instead represent a pre-existing condition that preceded vaccination or an underlying condition that triggered the event,” Walensky and Califf noted. In cases that are not easily explained, the CDC and FDA compare the rate of unexpected health problems in vaccinated individuals to background rates in the general population. That way they can tell if there are more cases than would normally be expected without the vaccine. For example, through rate comparison, cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle and surrounding tissues) have been identified as rare (though still typically mild) side effects of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Like any medical procedure, COVID-19 vaccines come with some risks, and there are such rare events. However, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and the risks that exist are not what Ladapo claims.
Alluding to Ladapo’s dubious analysis of cardiac death, Walensky and Califf quoted various studies that together indicate that “not only is there no evidence of an increased risk of death after mRNA vaccines, but the available data have shown the opposite: that staying up to date on vaccination saves lives compared to people who have not been vaccinated is.” You also specifically highlighted a study looking at cardiac eventsand found that “the risk of stroke and heart attack was real lower no higher in vaccinated” (emphasis added by her).
Currently, the CDC estimates that unvaccinated people are almost 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than people who are up to date on their vaccines. People who are vaccinated but have not received a bivalent booster are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people who are up to date.
And with that information, Walensky and Califf hinted, not so subtly, that Ladapo’s shenanigans are fueling vaccine hesitancy, making him bad at his job. “Misleading people by overstating the risks or emphasizing the risks without acknowledging the overwhelming benefits” leads to reluctance to vaccinate and unnecessarily puts people at risk of death or serious illness, they wrote. And that’s clearly a problem in Florida, they added, writing:
As a senior public health official in [your] State, you’re probably aware that Florida seniors are under-vaccinated, with only 29 percent of seniors having received an updated bivalent vaccine, compared to the national average of 41 percent coverage among seniors. It is the job of public health agencies across the country to protect the lives of the populations they serve, particularly those at risk. Fueling vaccine hesitancy undermines these efforts (emphasis on hers).
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