Florida pediatricians slam Ron DeSantis’ 'irresponsible' surgeon general for opposing COVID vaccines for kids

Florida pediatricians slam Ron DeSantis’ 'irresponsible' surgeon general for opposing COVID vaccines for kids

On Monday, March 7, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced that the Florida Health Department will no longer recommend COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children — a move that flies in the face of what pediatricians all around the world have been recommending. And one of the leading Florida-based pediatricians who is calling Ladapo out, according to Mother Jones reporter Kiera Butler, is Lisa Gwynn.

Denouncing Ladapo as “irresponsible” in a March 7 statement, Gwynn — who heads the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics — noted, “There is widespread consensus among medical and public health experts about the life-saving benefits of this vaccine. The surgeon general’s comments today misrepresent the benefits of the vaccine, which has been proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations, and long-term symptoms from COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including those who are otherwise healthy.”

Another Floridian who is vehemently critical of Ladapo’s recommendation is Dr. Robin Straus, a veteran pediatrician in the Miami area. Straus, during an interview with Mother Jones, described her game plan for responding to guidance from Ladapo that she doesn’t agree with at all.

Straus told Mother Jones, “Our practice is in an upscale neighborhood, but we still take Medicaid; so, we do have people who are underserved. Politically, we’re very mixed. I really am very impressed with the number of the older kids in the 12 to 18 range who have been vaccinated. I would say probably that for those in the five to eleven group, it’s not as great. Maybe 30%. It’s definitely a challenge — getting the younger ones vaccinated. Everything has become so partisan. The majority of my patients know which side of the aisle I sit on. Nobody ever knew what my (political) opinions were, even five years ago. My opinions are based on the science, because I’m a pediatrician.”

When far-right Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis picked Ladapo as Florida’s surgeon general, he obviously did it for political reasons — not because of medical or scientific considerations. Ladapo has repeatedly downplayed the benefits of vaccines and masks in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 6 million people worldwide and over 963,000 people in the United States. Ladapo, like DeSantis, is the type of MAGA Republican who is more concerned about sticking it to liberals than he is about public health.

Straus is obviously frustrated with how politicized the pandemic has become.

“The surgeon general is not a pediatrician,” Straus told Mother Jones. “He came in with preconceived prejudices; he is part of the anti-vaccine, anti-COVID-science group. I always have listened to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to the experts, who all are saying to get (children) vaccinated. This governor, this administration — they have a predetermined prejudice against the vaccine. Same with masks — I still advocate for masks, despite the schools (dropping the mask mandates), because people have a lot of factors to consider: if there’s somebody at risk in your home, or if the kid is around the grandparents a lot.”

Straus continued, “It’s something we do for the greater good. People are like: the masks are ridiculous, you don’t need a mask. People still walk into our office without masks. We hand them out — no one is allowed in our office without a mask. These are going to be tough conversations. I can’t get into fights with people. All I can do is give them the information, the science, which is not what’s being given by the Florida Department of Health.”

The Miami-area pediatrician believes that Ladapo’s recommendations could be especially harmful if a dangerous new COVID-19 variant emerges.

“I worry that the next variant — which, unfortunately, there will be — will catch everybody behind,” Straus told Mother Jones. “Omicron came in with a roar. We went from everybody thinking that there was no more COVID to everybody within a week or so being infected. And if you are not vaccinated (when the next variant emerges), you don’t have three weeks of luxury.”

Straus added, “Kids account for a lower percentage of hospitalizations and deaths, but there should be no deaths, especially because of bad information and bad recommendations — and from all places, the Department of Health! Clearly, the underserved, people with limited access (to healthcare), are always the most at risk. The inequity of the healthcare system is just a reality.”

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