State Watch

Florida health official suspended amid investigation into vaccines for state employees

AP.

The director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County has been placed on administrative leave after reports emerged that he allegedly sent an email about employee vaccination rates.

Raul Pino, who was appointed as the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County in May 2019, sent an email on Jan. 4 to Orange County Department of Health staff in which he detailed employee COVID-19 vaccination rates, according to WFTV.

In the email, Pino wrote “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it…” 

Additionally, Pino shared statistics about the number of staff members who had received their first, second and booster doses of the vaccine.

NBC journalist Marc Caputo, who posted the entire email on Twitter, added that sources told him Pino was put on administrative leave after he accessed the private data of employees, which was considered a potential violation of confidentiality. 

According to Pino’s email, only 77 of 568 employees had been fully vaccinated and boosted. Another 219 had received two shots, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” Pino wrote in the email, the report added.

“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 percent, pathetic.”

The Florida Department of Health confirmed to The Hill that it is conducting an inquiry into the matter.

A departmental spokesperson added that the decision to get vaccinated “is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers.”

They didn’t name Pino directly but referred to him as “the employee in question” and confirmed he has been placed on administrative leave.

“The Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” a spokesperson added.

Further the Florida health department added that it is “committed to upholding all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees and will take appropriate action once additional information is known.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida reported 112,115 new COVID-19 cases from the past three days coming out of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation in November last year aimed at curbing vaccine mandates for several groups of employees. 

The legislation prohibits private businesses in the state from enforcing a vaccine mandate unless they grant certain exemptions, including for religious or health reasons or for prior COVID-19 recovery. Employees could also be exempted from the requirement if they choose to use personal protective equipment or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.

Tags Ron DeSantis

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