Ordinarily, when we learn of public health officials who’ve been removed from their positions, the first assumption is that they’ve done something wrong. In Florida, this dynamic is sometimes turned on its head: Public health officials are occasionally ousted for doing the right-but-politically-inconvenient thing.
Earlier this year, for example, Raul Pino, the then-director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, encouraged members of his team to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. State officials soon after put him on administrative leave.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health publicly questioned at the time whether Pino’s encouragement represented a violation of state law. (He was reinstated months later.)
Last week, the state punished the president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, too. The Miami Herald reported:
Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System who has been a visible advocate of vaccine access for poor young kids, was removed Wednesday from a state-appointed board for publicly criticizing Florida’s decision to delay access to the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5. Gwynn received an email Wednesday afternoon from Susan Miller, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ deputy chief of staff, informing her she would be removed from her position on the Florida Healthy Kids Board of directors for making “some very political statements that do not reflect the CFO’s point of view.
It was just a few weeks ago when the public learned that 49 states had pre-ordered Covid vaccines specifically tailored for children — and Florida was the nation's only exception. Though Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly defended the move, his administration, facing significant political pushback, ultimately agreed to let some health care providers — pediatricians and children’s hospitals, but not county health departments — order the vaccines.
Last week, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo delivered congressional testimony and conceded that the state’s decision, which he and the Republican governor made together, might end up limiting vaccine access to roughly 30,000 disadvantaged children.
It was against this backdrop that Gwynn raised concerns about the state policies — leading state CFO Patronis, who's seeking re-election in the fall, to remove her from a state-appointed board.
“Quite frankly, we’re just trying to advocate for things, for equitable access to the vaccine,” the pediatrician told the Herald. “I’m not a politician, I’m a pediatrician. And there’s no other reason for me to do what I do other than to improve the health of children in our state.”
Florida’s Covid track record during the pandemic is awfully difficult to defend. We are, after all, talking about a state whose GOP governor thought it’d be a good idea to order a million doses of hydroxychloroquine and threw a bizarre fit when the White House dropped two antibody Covid treatments when drugmakers conceded they were ineffective against the omicron variant.
As regular readers may recall, this is the same DeSantis who has needlessly questioned the safety of vaccines. And made Trump-like complaints about testing. And treated his booster status as a state secret. And tapped a fringe 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.