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Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks to supporters and members of the media before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks to supporters and members of the media before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla.Chris O'Meara / AP, File

Florida’s Ladapo reportedly faced investigation over Covid report

We knew Joseph Lapado made a controversial recommendation regarding vaccines. We didn't know about an inspector general's investigation into the move.


In early October, 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 a dubious study that had been widely panned by qualified professionals.

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, there’s new reason to question the details surrounding his decision. Politico reported on a previously undisclosed investigation:

The Florida Department of Health’s inspector general last fall investigated Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general, after the agency received an anonymous complaint alleging he falsified a report focusing on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for young men. Among other things, the complainant alleged Ladapo committed “scientific fraud” and “manipulated data” in a report....

Ladapo denied any wrongdoing, though he apparently had a critic with a credible perspective: Politico’s report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, noted that the unnamed individual who filed the complaint with the inspector general’s office “appeared to have detailed knowledge of state health agencies.”

The November complaint against Ladapo asked the inspector general to speak with employees at the state Department of Health Communicable Disease Division, who helped write earlier drafts of the report that was eventually released. Emails were kept to a minimum, the complainant wrote, and notes were hand-delivered. “You may not find these documents by email, as they get transmitted by hand,” the complainant stated, according to state documents. “But they have been seen by several individuals. ... Lots of people know about this,” the individual stated.

It’s difficult to speculate, of course, but this did not sound like someone with an outsider’s perspective.

The inspector general’s office opened an investigation soon after, but it didn’t last. The problem wasn’t that exculpatory information cleared Ladapo; the problem was that the person who filed the complaint didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

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.”

With this in mind, when faced with allegations that he committed “scientific fraud” and “manipulated data,” Ladapo did not exactly have a deep reservoir of credibility to draw upon.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.