Joseph Ladapo was announced as Florida’s new Surgeon General on Sept 21st. The day before he had been hired by the University of Florida College of Medicine. Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis denied, with a straight face, the two hirings were connected — despite them bringing Lapado’s compensation to over $500,000. However, it does mean that during the worst health crisis in Florida in a century, the Surgeon General is a part-time position. But it gets worse.
Ladapo is well-educated. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2008 and also received a separate doctorate that year in health policy from the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. So far so good. But since graduation, he has generated controversy. He is a COVID contrarian and vaccine efficacy doubter. And he is a signatory to the Great Barrington Declaration.
This declaration is the product of a right-wing think-tank, the American Institute for Economic Research — which is also known for its climate change denial. It recommends that the majority of the population, the young and healthy, just ignore COVID and get on with their lives, while the elderly and sick are protected.
The end result would be the conservative holy grail of natural herd immunity. The Institute’s position was, and is, opposed by the medical community. And has been shown to be fatally wrong since the rise of the delta variant has sickened and killed the young and healthy. Ladapo has since said that, despite signing the declaration, he doesn’t agree with every position. Let the weaseling begin.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Ladapo said that a “climate of mistrust” around the government’s response to the pandemic has fueled vaccine fears. He claimed that was “a direct result of scientists, my colleagues, some of them, taking the science and basically misrepresenting it to fit their agendas.” This is a classic case of projection. Who’s misrepresenting the science? And whose dire warnings about government overreach are causing a climate of mistrust?
In the interview, he added, “This idea that people don’t get to make their own decisions on issues of health is wrong and it’s not something that we’re going to be about.” This is the standard conservative go-to — individual liberty and the right of the individual to make their own health decisions. This ignores the fact that when someone chooses to go unvaccinated they aren’t making health decisions just for themselves but also for everyone they come into contact with. That is the nature of infectious diseases.
Yesterday in a press conference, standing next to fellow Harvard alumnus, and equal exponent of the ‘truth is what I say it is, facts be damned’ Ron DeSantis, Ladapo fleshed out his thinking. Let’s break his speech apart. He starts,
“It’s just an unbelievable time in the country. It’s almost like you wake up each day and you wonder what new unprecedented policy step some leader in, unfortunately, California … or even at the executive level with the president, is coming out with. We don’t know what’s coming next … What we’re talking about here today is really an example of just extreme policies that we’ve seen during this pandemic. And policies that are implemented without thinking about whether they make sense. Or thinking about, you know, the risks and benefits or the implications of those policies.”
It doesn’t take him long for him to drag two conservtive symbols of socialist excess into the frame — California and Biden. And he does mean Biden, despite it being during the Trump administration that the vaccine was developed. (It is a piece of conservative legerdemain to maintain that Trump is a God for creating the vaccine, but Biden is the Devil for forcing it on people.) Ladapo then throws in “extreme” policies he says are rolled out without thought to consequences. Really? Medical professionals in DC are just making policy with a coin flip?
He’s just getting going. Next are the anonymous anecdotes,
“I mean you hear these stories. People telling you about what’s been happening in their lives. Nurses, pregnant women who are being forced to sort of put something in their bodies that we don’t know there is all to know about yet, no matter what people on TV tell you.”
People love stories — Nikki Minaj’s cousin’s friend with the swollen testicles, for instance — but stories are not proof of anything. And to further dismiss a life-saving vaccine, Ladapo suggests that medical policy is being designed by TV talking heads.
He then goes on to say that vaccines haven’t done exactly as predicted,
“You remember when people were telling you that these vaccines would stop transmission and rates of protection were greater than 90%? Well guess what? Here we are about 10 months afterward and we are finding out that was some of these vaccines the data is showing that the protection is less than 40% and even less than that for some of them.”
He’s not wrong to say that the efficacy of vaccines in stopping transmission isn’t as great as predicted ten months ago. But those predictions were made before the virulent delta variant evolved. However, Ladapo is lying that the data shows protection rates of less than 40%. Or is he maintaining that 60% of the people who have received a COVID vaccination have become infected with COVID?
The two statistics that matter are: how much less likely are you to catch COVID if you are vaccinated? (Note, Ladapo, himself, even admits that “So sure, they [vaccines] reduce the likelihood of transmission”). And if you do get a breakthrough infection: what is the likelihood your symptoms will be severe, that you will have to go to the hospital and the ICU, or that you will die, compared to the unvaccinated?
Ladapo then plays the libertarian card — people should be their own doctors
“People need to continue and stick with their intuition and their sensibilities.”
Really? Is that how people do their taxes? Is that the best way to fix a car? Why bother to have epidemiologists and public health departments at all? Next time Ebola threatens the US, the President should address that nation and say. “You’re on your own. Use your intuition and sensibilities to dodge the bullet. Good luck.”
Next, let’s consider what Lapado has to say about breakthrough infections,
They’re obviously not rare. In fact, they’re common — and that’s the truth. So the idea that vaccine mandates are needed to create a safe workspace are a complete lie. It is continued to be repeated. And you should know that it’s not at all backed up by science. In fact, the science says something that’s completely the opposite and that’s a fact.
Note how many times he insists something is a fact or the truth, or someone else is lying and repeating it. Experience shows that the more often people claim they are telling the truth, the more likely it is they are lying. Proof? Trump frequently ends a sentence with “believe me”. And his assertion that vaccines aren’t backed by science is simply untrue.
Ladapo addresses the outcomes of people who refuse vaccines in the face of work-related vaccine mandates
“Besides the horror, the repugnancy of firing people who have been showing up to work during this whole time during the pandemic to help their neighbors and the people in their communities and now you are firing them. Putting aside how completely absurd, completely absurd that is, so what do we know about the science of doing that to someone?”
“Horror” and “repugnancy”? Just a little over the top, no? And let’s be real. How many people went to work to help their neighbors and community? They went — like almost all of us do — for the paycheck. And those people who are concerned about their neighbors and communities will have already got a vaccination. And if you want to talk horror and repugnancy what about the vaccinated workers who are now exposed to breakthrough infections because of thoughtless coworkers?
And how many people are we talking about? We are warned that vaccine mandates will lead to a mass exodus of workers. But it hasn’t happened. The vast majority of the still unvaccinated get vaccinated and everyone is better off for it.
And then Ladapo plays the COVID measures cause mental distress card.
“When you take away these people’s jobs, it’s bad for health, it increases mental distress, it’s bad for physical health. People often lose health insurance so it disrupts their care. It’s bad for health on every level for these people.”
During the high unemployment/mental stress period caused by the 2008/2009 Great Recession, there was an uptick in suicides. But the increase was nowhere near the number of people who have been killed by Covid in 2020/2021. And what of the mental stress of people who have lost loved ones? As for physical health, what’s worse than being so sick you are on a ventilator in an ICU? Or dead?
And let’s note the absurdity of tying health insurance to employment. If conservatives cared about that, they would be lobbying for universal Medicare.
Then Ladapo highlights another conservative whopper.
“Let’s talk about another thing. Why are some people not comfortable with these vaccines? Part of the reason that people are not comfortable is because of the climate of dishonesty, scientific dishonesty, about the science.”
Who the hell is being dishonest about the science? Epidemiologists and other doctors may have gotten some of the details wrong. But they made the best effort to tell the truth in the light of the facts known at the time. The nature of Covid changed and, as said above, some things that were asserted turned out to be incorrect in light of new variants and new facts. But the only side that lies about current facts is Ladapos’s.
He goes on to claim adverse reactions to the vaccines are being covered up,
And I know this for a fact because patients of mine, colleagues of mine, strangers around the country have contacted me about their experiences… And healthy people who’ve had adverse reactions after the vaccines, there’s been a concerted effort to prevent these kinds of stories, these experiences from receiving the attention they should obviously receive. And that’s a real thing.
Again Lapoda presents anecdotes as evidence. He suggests a plot to cover up the truth, without offering evidence. And again he insists it’s a “real thing”. Covid is a global pandemic. Vaccines have been given to people in countries around the planet, governed by a gamut of political philosophies. Is it credible that all these diverse peoples would agree to sign on to a plot to silence the truth of adverse reactions? It is not.
Lapoda goes on for a few more minutes, but it is just more of the same. So allow me to leave you with his final statement,
“So the governor and I, I’m super happy to be working with him. He’s a complete believer in honesty, integrity, and so am I. We are going to work together on this endlessly and tirelessly. We have your backs. We’re going to work like hell to help you.”
This “complete believer in honesty, integrity” he refers to is Ron DeSantis. I think this reveals better than anything else he said, that Lapoda is living with alternative facts.