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Contradicting CDC and FDA again, DeSantis and Ladapo push back on new COVID boosters

State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo speaks in 2021 after being named to his post by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
News Service of Florida
State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo speaks in 2021 after being named to his post by Gov. Ron DeSantis. They discussed the new COVID vaccine with doctors Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, on a Zoom call livestreamed on X.

Days after the CDC recommended a broad rollout of the vaccine, state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued guidance that recommended against individuals under 65 from taking the shot.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo are contradicting federal health recommendations, saying there’s not enough evidence a new COVID booster provides benefits that outweigh risks.

DeSantis and Ladapo discussed the vaccine with doctors Wednesday on a Zoom call livestreamed on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

They repeated much of what they said a week ago during a live event in Jacksonville, in which they warned against the vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration approved its use.

On Monday, a panel with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for people ages 6 months and older, noting an analysis that said the benefits exceed the risks for everyone. The mRNAshots from Moderna and Pfizer are expected to be rolled out this week.

On Wednesday, however, Ladapo issued guidance for Florida that recommended against individuals under 65 from taking the shot. It also said that people older than 65 should discuss "concerns" in the guidance with their health provider before deciding to get the vaccine.

DeSantis said in a statement Wednesday that COVID measures have become a flashpoint in society and his state has taken a different approach.

“I will not stand by and let the FDA and CDC use healthy Floridians as guinea pigs for new booster shots that have not been proven to be safe or effective,” said DeSantis, who is running for Republican nomination for president. “Once again, Florida is the first state in the nation to stand up and provide guidance based on truth, not Washington edicts.”

The new vaccines target a much more recent variant of the omicron strain called XBB.1.5 that was selected by the FDA in June for use in formulating new vaccines. The idea, akin to how flu vaccines are made, is to match a seasonal vaccine to the virus that is infecting people.

Since the FDA's decision, other variants have overtaken XBB.1.5, but laboratory data suggest the new vaccines should provide good protection against COVID-19, including serious illness, hospitalization and death. The new shots can bolster immunity from previous vaccinations and COVID illness.

Ladapo continued his skepticism of the mRNA vaccines on Wednesday, although his previous warnings prompted a public letter from federal health agencies saying his claims were harmful to the public.

“At this point with the amount of immunity that’s in the community … and the questions we have about safety and about effectiveness, but especially about safety, my judgment is that it’s not a good decision for young people and for people who are not at high risk at this point in the pandemic,” Ladapo said.

Lapado received his medical degree and a Ph.D. in health policy from Harvard University. He was a doctor and health policy researcher at UCLA when DeSantis appointed him in September 2021. He since has attracted national attention and criticism over his alignment with the governor in opposing COVID vaccine mandates and other health policies embraced by the federal government.

Democrats linked the latest guidance to DeSantis' presidential bid.

“By encouraging millions to reject public health guidance, the governor is actively putting our seniors and at-risk residents in harm’s way,” state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said in a statement. “Try as he might, DeSantis’ dangerous political posturing will not resuscitate his flailing presidential campaign.”

Information from Health News Florida and News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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