Joseph Ladapo — Florida’s surgeon general appointed by the state’s anti-LGBTQ Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — is trying to make people distrust the monkeypox vaccine, stating that there is “little data” on it, which is misleading.
Ladapo’s position is hardly surprising considering that he spent years spreading COVID-19 disinformation and echoing DeSantis’ distrust in vaccines.
On Tuesday, DeSantis criticized the Democratic governors of California, Illinois, and New York for declaring states of emergency over monkeypox. The declarations give their governments greater ability to mobilize resources against the virus. (U.S. President Joe Biden declared a national state of emergency for monkeypox on Thursday.)
DeSantis said the governors were using the emergency declarations to stoke fear, control people, and “restrict your freedom.”
Ladapo backed up DeSantis’ words, stating, “It’s just kind of remarkable to see some of the headlines — the headlines that very clearly are trying to make you afraid of monkeypox or fill-in-the-blank. You know, because if you’re not afraid of this there will be something else after that and something else after that.”
“These people are determined to make you afraid and do whatever it is they want you to do. And, um, you know, I hope that more and more people choose not to do that,” he added.
Then after revealing that Florida had distributed 8,500 monkeypox vaccines, Lapado said, “You should know that there’s actually very little data on this vaccine.”
To understand why Lapado’s claim is misleading, a little background is necessary.
As of Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 6,326 monkeypox cases within the United States. The Florida Department of Health shows 525 monkeypox cases statewide, The Florida Phoenix reported.
The U.S. has purchased seven million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine to prevent a worse monkeypox outbreak. The vaccine, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September 2019, is based on the smallpox vaccine, which has been around since 1796.
The Jynneos vaccine is made from a virus that is closely related to, but less harmful than, monkeypox viruses. It does not cause disease in humans and cannot reproduce in human cells.
A study of 400 individuals found that the Jynneos vaccine was as effective against monkeypox as the ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine, which the FDA approved in 2007. The safety of Jynneos was assessed in more than 7,800 individuals who received at least one dose of the vaccine, the FDA said. Previous studies have shown that smallpox vaccines are 85% likely to provide a high level of immunity against monkeypox for up to two years, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Ladapo’s authority on vaccines is highly questionable at best.
In July 2020, near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in a 43-minute viral video as part of a group called America’s Frontline Doctors. The group, which had no epidemiologists or immunologists qualified to speak on infectious diseases, promoted the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, even though no studies substantiated that claim. The video also said that face masks do not slow the virus’s spread and that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu. Both claims are untrue.
The video also featured Dr. Stella Immanuel, a pediatrician and religious minister who gained notoriety in 2020 for her bizarre theories, including that “demonic seed” causes endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Immanuel explained on her church’s website that demons insert sperm into sleeping individuals when they have sex in their dreams.
The doctors’ recorded speech was organized by the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group backed by wealthy Republican donors. Lapado has written numerous op-eds repeating the video’s false claims.
The video received millions of views when then-President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and other right-wing media figures shared it on social media. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all removed the video for violating their policies on sharing COVID-19 misinformation.
In October 2020, Ladapo signed the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement that called for developing societal herd immunity to COVID-19 through natural infection. In response, 80 medical researchers signed an open letter published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, calling the declaration’s theory “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.”
Florida ranks third among U.S. states with the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and related deaths. DeSantis has signed orders expanding exemptions for people who don’t want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccines and to prevent schools and local governments from instating face mask mandates in Florida.