Florida House Democrats walked out of a committee meeting on Jan. 26 ahead of a vote to approve the nomination of the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo.
Democrats said they walked out because Ladapo could not “adequately answer questions on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Despite the walkout, Republicans unanimously advanced Ladapo to the next round of Senate confirmations.
During the meeting of the Health Policy Committee, Sen. Lauren Book (D) pressed Ladapo on a “yes or no” answer on whether he thought vaccines were effective against COVID-19.
Ladapo declined to answer one way or another based on the complexity of the issue.
“Yes or no questions are not that easy to find in science,” he said.
“The most commonly used vaccines in the United States … have been shown to have relatively high effectiveness for the prevention of hospitalization and death and over time relatively low protection for infection.”
Book responded by saying, “We get two buttons to push here, Dr. Ladapo. Yes or no. Do vaccines work [to] prevent COVID-19? Yes or no.”
Ladapo responded by saying that vaccines have “reasonable effectiveness” against hospitalization and death. He said he was “married to data” and followed it closely.
When asked about masks, Ladapo did not endorse them saying they have not been shown to have a “significant effect” on the spread of the virus.
Ladapo was also pressed as to why Dr. Raul Pino, an Orange County health chief was put on administrative leave.
Pino was put on leave last week after sending out an email to health department staff highlighting the department’s low vaccination rates and urging all employees to get vaccinated.
“I want to clarify that particular position was absolutely not placed on administrative leave for any reasons that were potentially political or related to anything other than the policies we have in the Department of Health,” Ladapo said.
Senators also asked Ladapo if he “regretted not wearing a mask” during a meeting with state Sen. Tina Polsky after she asked him to wear one because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy at the time.
Not admitting any regrets, he stressed that he thought it was important to “respect people’s preferences.”
Exasperated, Book said after an hour of questioning that, “We don’t feel we are getting any answers.”
“We know there is a long agenda today with a lot of bills. The Florida Senate Democrats in this committee are now going to abstain, walk out, and come back when we have more business,” she said as she rose up and walked out with other Democrats.
Ladapo told reporters after the meeting that he thought he had accurately answered the questions.
“I wish them well,” he said. “I have no ill will toward them. I hope we can work together on issues of public health.”