Florida Surgeon General Ladapo appears on anti-vaccine podcast, promotes medical falsehoods
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo recently appeared on the podcast of a prominent anti-vaccine advocate, where he continued to make claims about vaccines that are contradictory to widespread medical consensus.
Medical experts have said Ladapo’s claims are dangerous, and that his very presence on the podcast — and other recent appearances on shows promoting falsehoods and conspiracy theories — gives credibility and support to anti-vaccine rhetoric.
Lapado’s latest comments are part of a litany of dubious claims that have alarmed public health officials in Florida and across the country since he got appointed surgeon general more than a year ago by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Ripped by doctors:Doctors rip basis of Florida Surgeon General Ladapo's latest anti-COVID vaccine advice
Children vaccine opposition:Florida surgeon general defends opposition to COVID-19 vaccines for children before Congress
The fast-tracked surgeon general:'Grave concerns': Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo's medical license OK'd in two days
A 2021 fact checking:Fact checking Florida Surgeon General Ladapo: COVID, vaccine comments at odds with CDC
The controversial podcaster Dr. Sherri Tenpenny
His appearance last week was on the podcast of Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, a Ohio physician who is well-known not only for her unsupported COVID-19 beliefs but her false claims that vaccines cause autism.
Tenpenny is currently facing an investigation from the State Medical Board of Ohio, which is considering revoking her medical license for ignoring investigators and a subpoena, according to Cleveland.com.
She repeated the autism myth — and many others — during her conversation with Ladapo. Tenpenny falsely stated that no vaccine has been proven safe or that they can prevent sickness, and that they all cause harm.
Ladapo didn’t correct her.
“There’s an obligation to correct information that’s wrong, and he doesn’t the whole way through,” said Dr. Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University. “He’s the Florida surgeon general who runs the health department. That gives [the rhetoric] credibility that makes it much more dangerous.”
Late last month, Ladapo made an appearance on X22 Report, a far-right podcast known for sharing QAnon-related conspiracy theories and misinformation, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
COVID vaccine and the claim risks outweigh the benefits
A Harvard graduate, Ladapo has faced ongoing criticism over a slew of issues even beyond vaccinations — from issuing an order preventing schools from quarantining students exposed to COVID-19 and refusing to wear a mask in the office of a senator who was receiving cancer treatments.
Last March, he advised against vaccinating children ages 5 to 17. In June, he advised against inoculating children younger than 5, saying the risks outweigh benefits. Florida was the only state to block pediatricians this past summer from preordering COVID shots for children, infuriating parents statewide.
Ladapo said last month that he wanted men younger than 40 to avoid the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 shots. He cited a non peer-reviewed “analysis” done by unnamed authors from the state Health Department, claiming those men faced higher risks of dying from heart problems after inoculation.
Doctors and scientists, as well as the federal government, called out Ladapo’s advice, saying the “analysis” it’s based upon does not support his conclusion.
On Tenpenny’s podcast, Ladapo claimed that the risks of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines outweigh the benefits for “most people.”
Salmon said having such a high-ranking government official making such statements is dangerous.
“It's inconsistent with the science, it gives credence it doesn't deserve and it's going to scare people,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes on its website that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, with millions of U.S. residents having received them “under the most intense safety monitoring in US history.”
It recommends the vaccine for everyone six months or older and boosters for everyone five years or older.
Serious side effects following vaccination are extremely rare, the CDC says, and the benefits outweigh the risks.
More than a million lives were saved during the first year of COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States, according to the Commonwealth Fund. To date, more than 82,000 people in Florida have died from the deadly virus.
A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report showed that vaccinations led to 300,000 fewer deaths among Medicare enrollees in 2021.
Doctors can’t be ‘rehabilitated’
Despite being the head of Florida’s Department of Health, Ladapo bashed a majority of the nation’s physicians for their vaccine beliefs, saying they cannot separate themselves from their ideologies and politics.
“Our colleagues, for the most part, can't be brought back into alignment with reality,” Ladapo said on the podcast. “I don't have any faith that most of our physician colleagues, sadly, can be rehabilitated.”
Tenpenny went so far as to compare current doctors with those in Nazi Germany who participated in or didn't oppose the mass killing of and experimentation on people, namely Jews, citing a passage written into the first page of the foreword of Ladapo's own book, which he promoted on the podcast.
Vaccine resistance movement leader Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote the foreword.
"I know a lot of people calling for Nuremberg 2.0, and I can't say I disagree with that," Tenpenny said, referring to the investigation of Nazi leaders for war crimes.
"I mean seriously," she added, after Ladapo snickered.
"No, I hear you,' he said, smiling.
Six million Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust.
Salmon said he found the comparison terrible.
“I lost a lot of family in concentration camps, so I found the comparisons, if they’re not relevant, to be offensive," he said.
Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum said in a statement that it "deplores the resurgence of comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis by those unhappy with regulations issued during the COVID-19 emergency."
Salmon said the deep conspiracy promoted during the podcast that public health officials are using COVID-19 to try to take away liberties creates a whole ideology full of misinformation.
“They’ve got all these people living in fear, so they’re not thinking clearly,” he said.
Bryan Griffin, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in an email that the office hadn’t watched the interview.
“But we support the work of the surgeon general to utilize data and have open conversations about COVID-19 policymaking,” Griffin said.
Weesam Khoury, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, declined to comment on the podcast.
The Department does not manage interviews involving Dr. Ladapo’s personal publication,” Khoury said.
Ladapo's book, “Transcend Fear: A Blueprint for Mindful Leadership in Public Health," was published in August.
USA Today Network-Florida government accountability reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com. Twitter: @DouglasSoule