Florida official placed on leave over backing vaccines at work
The Florida Department of Health has suspended one of its top officials over an email in which he criticized his employees for their vaccine hesitancy. The department is probing whether his email amounted to “coercion.”
Orange County Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino wrote an email to more than 500 employees of the Florida Department of Health earlier this month, calling them out on their reluctance to get vaccinated against Covid-19. In the email, Pino called the department’s low uptake rate – less than 40% had gotten two jabs and only 13% had received boosters – “irresponsible” and “pathetic.”
“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” he wrote, according to local media. “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it.”
However, Florida passed legislation last year forbidding all employers, public and private, from mandating vaccines. To the department, Pino’s email could constitute an attempt to force the jab on employees.
“As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” a department spokesperson said in a statement to several media outlets.
An epidemiologist, Pino joined the department in 2019 and, over the last two years, coordinated the response to Covid-19 in central Florida’s Orange County.
After imposing a brief lockdown in early 2020, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has taken a hands-off approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic. Under DeSantis, Florida prioritized seniors for vaccination and made monoclonal antibody treatment available to those seriously affected by the virus. Florida has seen the third-highest caseload per 100,000 residents, but ranks 17th in terms of deaths per 100,000.
However, the state has the third highest overall Covid-19 death toll behind New York and California, a fact that Democrats have used to hammer DeSantis’ anti-mandate policies.