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Florida surgeon general altered key findings in Covid study

A study concluded that there were no significant risks associated with Covid vaccines. Joseph Ladapo didn’t like those findings — so he replaced them.


It was last fall when Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo added to his list of dubious pronouncements: The controversial physician recommended that males between the ages of 18 and 39 avoid commonly used mRNA Covid vaccines, pointing to possible health risks that credible experts said didn’t exist in reality. In fact, Ladapo simply discarded the conclusions from the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics altogether.

David Gorski, a surgical oncologist and debunker of anti-vaccine nonsense, wrote soon after, “This is the first time that we’ve seen a state government weaponize bad science to spread anti-vaccine disinformation as official policy.” He went on to describe the move from Florida’s surgeon general as “a dangerous new escalation in anti-vaccine propaganda.”

But while Lapado’s move was widely seen as provocative at the time, the story keeps getting worse. Politico reported yesterday:

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo personally altered a state-driven study about Covid-19 vaccines last year to suggest that some doses pose a significantly higher health risk for young men than had been established by the broader medical community, according to a newly obtained document. Ladapo’s changes, released as part of a public records request, presented the risks of cardiac death to be more severe than previous versions of the study.

According to the reporting — none of which the state surgeon general denies — the study originally concluded that there were no significant risks associated with the Covid vaccines for young men. Ladapo didn’t like those findings, so he replaced them with the opposite conclusions.

Pressed for an explanation, the Florida physician claimed to have the appropriate level of expertise to substitute the scientific consensus with his own beliefs. That doesn’t appear to have impressed anyone. From the Politico article:

Researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and University of Florida, who viewed Ladapo’s edits on the study and have followed the issue closely, criticized the surgeon general for making the changes. One said it appears Ladapo altered the study out of political — not scientific — concerns.

In case anyone needs a refresher, this seems like a good time to remind folks that it’s tough to defend Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to choose Ladapo for this leadership post in the first place. Revisiting our earlier coverage, let’s not forget that Ladapo’s former supervisor at UCLA discouraged Florida officials from hiring the controversial doctor, explaining that he relies on his opinions more than scientific evidence. The UCLA supervisor added that Ladapo’s weird theories “created a stressful environment for his research and clinical colleagues and subordinates,” some of whom believed the doctor “violated the duty in the Hippocratic Oath to behave honestly and ethically.”

It was not the first time Ladapo’s work at UCLA generated scrutiny. It was during his tenure in California when the physician also claimed in a USA Today op-ed that his perspective on Covid treatments had been shaped by his experience “taking care of patients with COVID-19 at UCLA’s flagship hospital.” Two weeks later, Ladapo added in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he had his experience “caring for patients with suspected or diagnosed Covid-19 infections at UCLA.”

Thanks to reporting from The Rachel Maddow Show, those claims have since been called into question. As my colleague Kay Guerrero explained in a report in November, “Several former colleagues of Dr. Joseph Ladapo ... say he misled the public about his experience treating Covid-19 patients.”

One UCLA source also said, in reference to Ladapo, “A lot of people here at UCLA are glad that he is gone because we were embarrassed by his opinions and behavior. At the same time, we don’t wish this on the people of Florida. They don’t deserve to have someone like him making their health decisions.”

The reporting came on the heels of a Ladapo press conference in which he was critical of Covid testing.

A few months prior, Ladapo questioned the efficacy of Covid vaccines, denounced vaccine requirements, referenced unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to argue against the vaccines, and encouraged Floridians to “stick with their intuition,” as opposed to following the guidance of public health officials who actually know what they’re talking about.

As regular readers may recall, it was around the same time when Ladapo started pushing “innovative” Covid treatments with little track record of success, to the frustration of state physicians and medical experts.

Before taking office, the doctor also spent much of the pandemic questioning the value of vaccines and the efficacy of masks, while simultaneously touting ineffective treatments such as hydroxychloroquine.

It led the editorial board of The Orlando Sentinel to describe Ladapo as a “COVID crank” who’s been “associated with a right-wing group of physicians whose members include a physician who believes infertility and miscarriages are the result of having sex with demons and witches during dreams.”

Stepping back, the question is not whether Ladapo has a credibility problem. It’s painfully obvious that he’s a difficult man to take seriously. The more important questions are why DeSantis chose him for this job, why the governor hasn’t yet fired him, and what DeSantis intends to do now in response to revelations such as these.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.