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Wasserman Schultz blasts Surgeon General Ladapo over measles approach

 Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
Andrew Harnik
Pool AP
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the decision to not call for a public health emergency for the measles outbreak is "grossly irresponsible."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called for Dr. Joseph Ladapo to resign or be terminated over his refusal to declare a public health emergency over the Broward County outbreak.

A Democrat congresswoman from South Florida is calling for the state’s controversial surgeon general to be ousted over his handling of a measles outbreak in Broward County.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo, known for his outspoken skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine, sent a letter last week to parents at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, where seven students have contracted measles — but refused to declare a public health emergency.

A total of nine children in Broward have been confirmed with the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, according to state health officials. On Sunday, an adult case was reported in Polk County, bringing the state total to 10.

“Florida’s surgeon general stands in stark contrast to America's proud legacy of bipartisan public health success,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "Ladapo instead politicizes public health and peddles risky freedom -of-choice rhetoric that fuels vaccine hesitancy and downplays the public and personal health necessity for vaccination.

“His decision not to declare a public health emergency, and to leave all of the burden of deciding whether to send children to school on parents is grossly irresponsible,” Wasserman Schultz added during a press conference at her Sunrise office Tuesday.

Measles outbreaks are rare in the United States, though reported cases have spiked from 58 in 2023 to 35 already this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it is normally recommended that unvaccinated students who haven’t previously had the disease be kept home for three weeks — because of the high likelihood they will be infected — Ladapo’s letter notes that the state won’t turn that recommendation into a mandate.

“Due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school, (the state health department) is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance,” Ladapo wrote to parents at the Weston school.

Ladapo was appointed in 2021 by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, with whom he shares an opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, mask mandates and school closures. The governor’s office has not responded to an email sent by WLRN requesting comment.

In this file photo, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo gestures as speaks to supporters and members of the media before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla.
Chris O'Meara
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo deferred to Manatee Bay parents and guardians the choice of whether to keep their children home. He cited the "high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school."

The Broward County school district said that 33 of Manatee Bay’s 1,067 students don’t have at least one shot of the two-dose measles vaccine.

Ladapo’s wording contradicted CDC recommendations, which tell school officials that unvaccinated children “must be excluded” for three weeks. States are not required to follow those recommendations.

In calling for his resignation or termination, Wasserman Schultz said Lapado “didn't even use the most basic of public health guidance and say, ‘all children should be vaccinated against measles with two vaccinations.’”

Wasserman Schultz was joined by Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair of the Epidemiology Department at Florida International University. Trepka explained the disease was once a “major killer” in the U.S. until the 1960s, when a vaccine was created.

Measles causes fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. Those symptoms are followed by a blotchy rash that starts on the head and works its way down.

It is recommended that all people have two doses of the measles vaccine, according to Trepka. To avoid unintentionally spreading the disease, she also recommended that people who think they may have contracted it call a doctor and not show up to an emergency room.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Gerard Albert III is a senior journalism major at Florida International University, who flip-flopped around creative interests until being pulled away by the rush of reporting.