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Florida lawmaker calls for Surgeon General’s ouster amid measles outbreak

Gulf Live - 2/29/2024

On Tuesday, as school officials confirmed a seventh case of measles at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, Florida, one state lawmaker demanded the immediate termination of Florida’s Surgeon General, Joseph Ladapo, referring to him as a “misinformation super spreader.”

Amid a mid-February measles outbreak that initially tallied six confirmed cases at the Broward County school, School Superintendent Peter Licata revealed a seventh case during a press conference Tuesday morning — though he said the individual has not physically been on campus since February 15 — leaving the end of the school’s 21 day infectious period unchanged at March 7.

However, just prior to Licata’s announcement, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz convened her own press conference, where she criticized Ladapo and other health officials for their handling of the outbreak.

“Surgeon General Ladapo is a misinformation super spreader,” Schultz said. “Measles is a public health threat to Florida — and so is Joe Ladapo ... so, I’m calling for his immediate termination and demanding Governor DeSantis replace him with a public health expert that will place Floridians health, safety and wellbeing first.”

Ladapo is no stranger to controversy.

In April, Politco reported that Ladapo altered a state study about Covid-19 vaccines to suggest that some doses pose a significantly higher health risk for young men than had been established by the broader medical community. And in January, Ladapo made headlines when he publicly called for a halt in the use of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, referring to them as “the Antichrist of all products.”

In a letter to parents of Manatee Bay Elementary School students, sent on Feb. 20, Ladapo noted the standard protocol — when measles is detected in a school, it’s typically advised that individuals lacking a history of prior infection or vaccination remain at home for up to 21 days, as this is the window during which the virus can be transmitted.

However, he added, “due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and the educational cost of healthy children missing school,” the Department of Health “is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.”

Not good enough, according to Schultz.

She says, Ladapo did not declare an emergency, did not discuss, recommend or require vaccination, and did not require quarantining potentially exposed children.

“Instead, Ladapo places the key decisions fully on parents,” Schultz said. “Imagine that burden, wrongly claiming that we have sufficient immunity in place and voicing only an incomplete picture.”

Highlighting the exceptional contagiousness of measles, a virus declared eliminated from the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000, Schultz underscored the potential for severe complications, even death and further contends that Ladapo is “refusing to communicate the kinds of precautions that people need to be taking, especially given this outbreak.”

“Sadly, frustratingly, Florida’s Surgeon General stands in stark contrast to America’s proud legacy of bipartisan public health success,” Schultz said. “Ladapo politicizes public health and peddles risky freedom of choice rhetoric, that fuels vaccine hesitancy and downplays the public and personal health necessity for vaccination.”

Noting that experts recommended that measles vaccination rates be at least 95% — Schultz claims Broward County falls below that threshold — which increases the risk of further outbreak.

On Wednesday, Grant Kemp, deputy press secretary for the Florida Department of Health sent out a mass email to media outlets accusing many of “reporting false information and politicizing this outbreak.”

In the email, Kemp noted that “97% of students at Manatee Bay Elementary have received at least one dose of the MMR immunization” — and with a national measles immunization rate that’s less than 92% — he said outbreaks are occurring in multiple states.

“When measles is detected in a school, it is recommended that individuals without history of prior infection or vaccination stay home for up to 21 days,” Kemp said. “This is the period of time that the virus can be transmitted. This recommendation has been made at Manatee Bay Elementary.”

Kemp went on to add that “Due to the high immunity rate, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school, the Surgeon General’s current guidance ensures that parents or guardians are able make the best decisions for their families regarding school attendance.”

According to the Florida Department of Health Currently, Florida has a total of 10 confirmed measles cases of individuals between the ages of 0-14 — with nine in Broward County (seven of which are from Manatee Bay Elementary School) and one confirmed adult case in Polk County.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of February 22, 2024, a total of 35 measles cases were reported by 15 jurisdictions: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

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