Florida punishes public health official for wrong reasons (again)

Usually, when we learn of public health officials who have been suspended, the first assumption is that they did something wrong. In Florida, that dynamic is sometimes turned on its ear: Public health officials are sometimes ousted for doing the right but politically inconvenient thing.

Earlier this year, for example, Raul Pino, then-director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, encouraged members of his staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. State officials placed him on administrative leave soon after.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health publicly questioned at the time whether Pino’s promotion violated state law. (It was reinstated months later.)

Last week, the state also punished the president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Miami Herald reported:

Dr. Lisa Gwin, a pediatrician at the University of Miami Health System who has been a visible advocate for access to vaccines for poor young children, was suspended Wednesday by a state-appointed board for publicly criticizing Florida’s decision to delay access to COVID- 19 vaccine for children under 5 years of age. Gwynn received an email Wednesday afternoon from Susan Miller, deputy chief of staff to Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer, informing her that she would be removed from her position on Florida Healthy Kids’ board of directors because she had done “some very political statements that do not reflect the views of the CFO.

It was only a few weeks ago that the public learned that 49 states had pre-ordered Covid vaccines specifically tailored for children – and Florida was the only exception in the nation. Although Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly protected a move his administration, facing significant political pushback, eventually agreed to allow some health care providers — pediatricians and children’s hospitals, but not county health departments — to order the vaccines.

Last week, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo testified before Congress and acknowledged that the state’s decision, which he and the Republican governor made together, could result in limited access to the vaccine for an estimated 30,000 disadvantaged children.

It was to this that von Guin raised concerns about state politics — the state’s top CFO, Patronis, who is seeking re-election in the fall to oust her from a state-appointed board.

“Honestly, we’re just trying to advocate for things, for fair access to the vaccine,” the pediatrician told the Herald. “I’m not a politician, I’m a pediatrician. And there’s no other reason I do what I do than to improve the health of children in our state.

Florida’s record with Covid during the pandemic is terribly difficult to defend. After all, we’re talking about a state whose GOP governor thought it would be a good idea to order a million doses of hydroxychloroquine and threw a freak fit when the White House rejected two antibody treatments for Covid when the drug makers admitted they were ineffective vs. variant omicron.

As regular readers may recall, this is the same DeSantis who unnecessarily questioned the safety of vaccines. And made Trump-like complaints about testing. And treats its status as a state secret. And he chose a marginal figure with ridiculous ideas to serve as the state’s surgeon general.

But that doesn’t mean conditions in the Sunshine State can’t get worse.

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