Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo was confirmed to his position Wednesday, as Senate Republicans approved the nomination of the state's top doctor over criticism that his opposition to coronavirus mandates is too aligned to the politics of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Ladapo, who was appointed by DeSantis in September, has drawn intense scrutiny over his shared resistance with the governor to COVID-19 mandates for vaccines and masks and other health policies endorsed by the federal government.
“People have opinions, I know that things have been pretty politically charged, but I want to assure everyone that I’m really passionate about health, good health,” Ladapo told reporters after his confirmation. "I’ve been consistently talking good health from the beginning of the pandemic, holistically and not in one particular lane, so that’s what I’ll continue doing as the surgeon general.”
His confirmation capped a legislative process that had Ladapo appear before two Senate committees for hearings that grew contentious when Democrats accused him of dodging questions and not doing enough to promote vaccines. On Wednesday, Democrats reiterated those concerns and urged Ladapo, who watched the debate from the Senate gallery, to break from the Republican governor.
“When you are noncommittal to anything, then the optics are that you're a yes man,” said Sen. Jason W. B. Pizzo, a Democrat, as he looked in Ladapo's direction. “And we can't have the third-largest state in the country's top doctor being a yes man to a politician.”
Through his confirmation, Ladapo described himself as a medical professional married to data, once telling a Democratic senator who pressed him on whether vaccines are effective that “yes or no questions are not that easy to find in science.” He later would say that vaccines have been shown to provide protection against hospitalization and death but waning ability to prevent infections.
In one of the hearings, Democrats stormed out of a committee room after saying they weren’t getting answers from the surgeon general. In another, Ladapo refused to disclose whether he had received a coronavirus vaccine, prompting another wave of criticism.
The surgeon general, in addition to his coronavirus policies, drew national attention for refusing to wear a mask in the office of state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat who told him she had a serious medical issue. She later revealed a breast cancer diagnosis. Ladapo released a statement that said he was “saddened” by the news of her illness and wished her “blessings and strength.”
In picking Ladapo, DeSantis found a former UCLA doctor and researcher with degrees from Harvard who shared his views against coronavirus mandates. Those same policies have turned DeSantis into one of the GOP's rising stars as he runs for reelection and flirts with a 2024 presidential bid.
“I guess politics is a component of my role, but I’m not here for the politics, I’m here for health,” Ladapo said Wednesday. "It just so happens that the governor and I happen to sort of see things similarly among some major health issues, and that’s good.”
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report.