Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisBiden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll Nearly 80 percent of Republicans want to see Trump run in 2024: poll Miami private school orders vaccinated students to stay at home for 30 days as 'precautionary measure' MORE (R) has introduced the state's new surgeon general, who opposes vaccine and mask mandates amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Joseph Ladapo, who got his doctorate from Harvard Medical School and was a researcher at UCLA, began his role as Florida's top public health official Tuesday.
“Like Governor DeSantis, Dr. Ladapo is not against vaccines or masks — he is against vaccine mandates and forced-masking,” Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The Hill in a statement.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Ladapo said the state should be focusing on promoting good health practices, saying vaccines are not the only way to stay healthy.
“The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn’t the only path to that. It’s been treated almost like a religion, and that’s just senseless,” Ladapo said.
All three coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the U.S. have been shown to be effective at preventing the vast majority of serious illness, including against the highly contagious delta variant.
Lapado said Florida will promote measures that include “vaccination, losing weight, exercising more, [and] eating more fruits and vegetables.”
He said there is a “climate of mistrust” that has led people to reject vaccination. The mistrust, he said, has been caused by the scientific community taking science and “misrepresenting it to fit their agendas.”
“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,” Ladapo said.
Florida has become a battleground in the fight over vaccine and mask requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with DeSantis issuing orders to stop local governments and school districts from instituting their own mandates, even amid this year's delta surge.
In terms of precautions in schools, Ladapo said he is talking about “recommendations” with his team but said shutting down schools during the pandemic was a “perfect example of how glaringly we’ve ignored public health.”
The Democratic National Committee slammed his appointment in a statement.
“Instead of going with a trusted advocate for science, DeSantis is once again playing games with peoples’ lives by appointing someone who has trafficked anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric," spokesperson Adonna Biel said.
Pushaw said the only people criticizing DeSantis’s new surgeon general are “media activists” and that the doctor’s résumé “speaks for itself.”
—Updated Wednesday at 10:06 a.m.