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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Orlando pediatrician says Pino's suspension comes at a crucial time for public health

raul pino speaks at meeting
Orange County
/
The Florida Channel
Dr. Raul Pino, who directs the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, speaks at a 2021 coronavirus briefing with county Mayor Jerry Demings.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he’s hopeful that county medical director Dr. Raul Pino will soon return to work.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he’s hopeful that county Department of Health medical director Dr. Raul Pino will soon return to work "on behalf of the residents of Orange County."

Pino was  placed on administrative leave this week after an email showed he encouraged members of his department to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  The state is investigating whether Pino violated state law banning vaccine mandates for government employees.

The state Department of Health said it "will take appropriate action once additional information is known” about the case.

In the email, Pino told employees an anaysis of employees showed that of a staff of 568, 77 had received a booster shot, 219 had two doses and 34 only one dose.

“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated. We have been at this for two years, we were the first to give vaccines to the masses, we have done more than 300,000 and we are not even at 50% pathetic,” the email said.

On Wednesday, Demings called Pino a trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic.

“His sound medical advice has helped guide me and countless other Orange County leaders to make the best decisions possible in dealing with COVID-19,” Demings said.

Orlando pediatrician Dr. Candice Jones said she was concerned about the message being sent to medical professionals with Pino’s suspension. Jones also echoed the sentiment expressed by Demings. 

"I don’t know him personally. But I did listen to the data that he gave to all of us, and listened to his advice," she said.

"It does scare me that if he can be put on leave, which, if this can happen to him for encouraging vaccinations, then who will replace him because it seems that Florida’s administration is putting people in places that just agree with their administration."

Jones' comments came during an interview with WMFE. Read the full interview below.

Jones: I’m very concerned because as I said, I don’t know him personally. But I did listen to the data that he gave to all of us, and listened to his advice. And other, of course, other health officials and the CDC and other trusted officials that I listened to as a pediatrician, but he is one trusted messenger.

Dr. Candice Jones Orlando pediaatrician.jpg
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

And it does scare me that if he can be put on leave, which, if this can happen to him for encouraging vaccinations, then who will replace him because it seems that Florida’s administration is putting people in places that just agree with their administration.

And that worries me because we see, if they’re not encouraging vaccinations, they’re kind of skirting over that they’re focusing more on therapeutics, they’re not encouraging masking, it’s a choice. And so there’s so many things that’s undermining public health evidence, science-based information and recommendations. And it’s very worrisome.

And it creates confusion and undermines our ability to fight this pandemic. And so that definitely worries me that he may not be there and who is going to replace him? And going forward, the danger that that could pose to our community, and what they’re going to be hearing now and how they’re going to be advised.

WMFE: You know, as a doctor, you took a Hippocratic oath to protect your patients. Do you feel like talking about vaccines is part of that? Will you ever not talk about vaccines in your own private practice?

Jones: I will not. I’m a pediatrician. And overwhelmingly, most pediatricians believe that vaccines are safe, effective, and they save lives.

And that is a huge part of what we do as pediatricians. And so I can’t see that anything that this administration can put in place that that would try to stall encouragement of vaccinations to work? And quite frankly, it’s unacceptable.

WMFE: You know, as a pediatrician who works with very young patients, what would be the message right now that you would want parents and kids to hear? You know, because a lot of them woke up to this news today. And so what would you want them to hear about vaccines today?

Jones: Vaccines as a whole has saved lives in this country and around the world. They are overwhelmingly safe, and they are effective in doing the job that they’re set to do and that is to control the spread of infectious diseases.

And so I talk to my families that I serve about that all the time. Most of our patients do get vaccinated. I vaccinate my children and I’m vaccinated with the COVID vaccine and all other recommended vaccines.

And so I wouldn’t recommend anything to my patients and families that I wouldn’t do myself and so if anyone has any questions or concerns or hesitancy please talk to your trusted pediatrician. You can even reach out to me.

Health News Florida's Rick Mayer contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur