Brownstone » Articles » Introducing Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Surgeon General of Florida: Video and Transcript

Introducing Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Surgeon General of Florida: Video and Transcript

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Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the newly appointed Surgeon General of Florida, has been a voice of reason throughout these confusing and chaotic times in which governments have attempted collective control measures somehow to control, contain, or crush a virus. He assumes this role from his position as associate professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and takes up a new position at the University of Florida. 

In addition to his impressive list of academic publications, he has most recently written that “Vaccine Mandates Cannot Stop Covid’s Spread.” In the summer of 2020, he wrote on “The Coronavirus Credibility Gap.” In February 2021, he wrote on “The ‘Universal Vaccination’ Chimera.” In the summer of 2021, he issued a serious warning: “Are Covid Vaccines Riskier Than Advertised?” Each article has proven prescient at many levels: the failure of stringencies, the dangers of ignoring known risk disparities in population groups, the loss of trust in public health authorities, and so on. 

His appointment in Florida has been cheered by the many people who have worked for 20 months to draw attention to the data, traditional public health principles, the known science behind viruses and epidemics, the priority of therapeutics over vaccine mandates, as well as the values of freedom and human rights. 

At the same time, his appointment was greeted with highly politicized criticism, and even an official and thoroughly false statement from the Democratic National Committee (a statement that perfectly illustrates the dangers of having politicized this virus in the first place):

 “Instead of going with a trusted advocate for science, DeSantis is once again playing games with peoples’ lives by appointing someone who has trafficked anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric… The American people are ready to return to normalcy and the DeSantis playbook of prolonging the pandemic is dangerous and wreaking havoc on his own state.”

And mainstream coverage of his appointment was greeted with a predictable reprinting of wild attacks on Twitter, including a medical professional who tweeted: ““I’m speechless” and another who said “He is a public health danger.”

The press conference below illustrates the highly politicized actions of the press. Instead of being respectfully asked about his opinions on sickness and health, he was immediately questioned about his rejection of lockdowns and his associations with various groups and statements. 

Therefore, of course, Wikipedia will assume its now-common role in living biography as a billboard for smears, as we can already see from the mention of the appointment in Ron DeSantis’s entry. 

In the interest of accuracy, clarity, and public knowledge, Brownstone Institute is pleased to offer this video of his initial press conference as well as a transcript of Dr. Ladapo’s statement and the Q&A session with reporters. Dr. Ladapo makes the essential points: fear achieves nothing, public health is about more than one pathogenic threat, science matters more than politics, therapeutics matter for individuals, and a calm and reasoned approach to pandemic management needs to take priority over fanaticism. 

Governor DeSantis offers his own perspective, including a pointed criticism of the Biden administration for its inexplicable reallocation of monoclonal antibody treatments away from Florida. 

Ron DeSantis:

Well, good afternoon. I’m pleased to be able to be with y’all today to announce that Dr. Joseph Ladapo will be succeeding Dr. Scott Rivkees as the surgeon general for the state of Florida. Dr. Ladapo comes with us by way of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He is married. He has three children. He was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was five.

His father is a microbiologist and brought his family to the United States to continue his own studies, and the apple doesn’t fall falr from the tree because Joe has had a remarkable academic and medical career.

He was also a great athlete in college. He was a decathlete on Wake Forest men’s varsity track and field team. He was the captain of that team. He also has a passion for mentoring middle and high school students, which he has done for much of his career.

He graduated from Wake Forest and received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and his PhD in health policy from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and his medical board certifications include internal medicine, American Board of Internal Medicine in 2011. He had residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, east campus starting in 2011.

As a physician in health policy research, his primary work has focused on patient-centered approaches to improving the health of individuals evaluated for coronary artery disease and behavioral economic interventions to promote sustainable cardiovascular health, including among adults with HIV.

Dr. Ladapo also leads the health economic and quality of life evaluation of multiple NIH-funded randomized trials focused on cardiovascular disease and tobacco cessation. His national honors include the Daniel Ford Award for health services and outcomes research. He is also a regular columnist with The Harvard Focus during medical school and residency where he discussed his experiences on the medical wards and perspective on health policy issues.

He comes to Florida with really a superb background bringing superb intellect, but also I think will bring great leadership. This is a big deal to move across the country from Southern California to come to the state of Florida. But we feel that Joe is just the right guy for the job.

I also want to thank Dr. Scott Rivkees who worked incredibly hard, and not just with COVID, but worked very hard prior to COVID on a number of health issues that are affecting the state. Then of course, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, was really been a seven day a week type of job. I want to thank him for his service to the state.

I also want to thank Shamarial Roberson, who is a great deputy and she’s going to be leaving I believe sometime in October. She’s been a great asset to the state as well, and again, has worked incredibly hard, basically seven days a week nonstop.

If you look at some of the things that they’ve been able to accomplish, just most recently, you look at what they were able to do to work with our department of emergency management to establish these COVID-19 treatment centers for monoclonal antibodies, our hospital admissions are in absolute free fall. We’ve never seen declines this sharp throughout the whole pandemic. That’s a direct result of getting some people who were infected the treatment that they needed. They were both instrumental in doing that and facilitating that. I want to thank them.

I also want to welcome Joe Ladapo to the state of Florida. I think he’s going to do very well here, and certainly we’re welcoming him with open arms. Doctor, the floor is yours.

Joseph Ladapo:

Hello. I have to check my watch because I’m in a different time zone. Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m just really very happy to be here in Florida working with Governor DeSantis and the leadership here in Florida to really think thoughtfully and in a very positive way about our public health here in Florida, and frankly, hopefully set an example for other states around the country and maybe even further than that.

I’m really just honored and overjoyed to be here. My family’s looking forward to coming. We’ve sold the kids, we’ve got three boys, so they know Disney World is here and they’re looking forward to that and whatever, anytime they have complaints, we mention Disney World and everything’s okay again.

I’m very happy to be in this position, very happy to be joining the faculty of University of Florida also. I talked to the governor and there are a few things that we’re going to keep in mind as we approach public health here in the state of Florida. The first is that Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health. We’re done with fear. That’s been something that’s been unfortunately a centerpiece of health policy in the United States ever since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s over here. Expiration date. It’s done.

We’re compassionate. We get it. There are scary things. We’ve seen a lot of fear from COVID over the past almost the past year and a half. It’s very understandable, but the way to approach that is not from a place of fear because it doesn’t lead to good decisions. We’ve seen a lot of that where the risk and benefits of decisions haven’t been considered wholly or thoughtfully. That’s over here.

In terms of our approach, we are going to have a positive approach. We’re going to acknowledge the fact that there are some things that are scary, but that’s not the only thing. That’s not the place that we’re going to make decisions from. We’re going to really think globally about the health policy decisions that we make in this state.

The second thing that I plan to be sure is very clear in our policy making is that we’re going to make it very explicit, we’re going to be very explicit about the differences between the science and our opinions. We all have opinions. We all have a perspective and we are absolutely entitled to those perspectives.

What’s been happening over the past year is that people have been taking the science and they’ve been misrepresenting it. They’ve been using the science and it’s been unclear when the discussion about the science ends and discussion about how you feel about the science and what you want people to do with the science begins. That will never be a problem here. That’s never going to be something that we do here. You’ll know when we’re talking about data and you’ll know when we’re talking about our opinions, our impression, our preferences about the data. That will always be clear here. You can count on that.

Then the third thing is that we are going to never lose sight of the fact that public health is not one thing. Public health is not about a single item. It’s not about how many cases of COVID there are in a location. That is a part of public health, but it’s not the only thing. As all of you know, that’s how public health has been treated over the past year and a half. That’s over. It’s not going to happen here.

We’ll be interested in and concerned about all aspects of public health that we think are important. It goes for schools. This is just a perfect example of how glaringly we’ve ignored what public health really means. It’s been how we’ve just brazenly pulled children who need the structure of school and need the structure of a routine in their lives, out of school and done that. We’ve done that for not even, I mean, it’s terrible to do it for all kids, but we’ve also done it for kids with disabilities and people have hardly even batted an eye.

Our interest in public health will truly be public health. It will not be sort of one thing or whatever the flavor of the month is going forward. Those are the main items I wanted to communicate to you all. Again, we’re really excited about coming here to Florida, really happy to be here.

Ron DeSantis:

Anyone have any questions?

Speaker 3:

[crosstalk 00:08:44].

Joseph Ladapo:

I’m sorry. Go ahead please.

Joseph Ladapo:

Sure. No. Before I answer your question, I’ll tell you that part of that fear that you’re talking about and part of, I think you said, did you say conspiracy theories?

Speaker 3:

[inaudible 00:09:22].

Joseph Ladapo:

Part of why that is an issue is because of the climate of distrust that has been engendered over the past year and a half. That was a direct result of scientists, my colleagues, some of them, taking the science and basically misrepresenting it to fit their agendas, their interests, what they wanted to see people do. It’s partly a product of that.

In terms of that, I think vaccines will [be] treat[ed] like any other preventive issue. The goal will be education and that will be the goal and this idea that people don’t get to make their own decisions on issues of health related to their own personal health is wrong. It’s not something that we’re going to be about. We’re going to be about education.

Speaker 3:

[crosstalk 00:10:20] Linda [crosstalk 00:10:21] question.

Speaker 4:

[crosstalk 00:10:22] your priorities [crosstalk 00:10:23].

Speaker 3:

Hold on one second please.

Speaker 4:

[inaudible 00:10:27, but pertains to the Great Barrington Declaration and friendship with Jay Bhattacharya].

Joseph Ladapo:

Well, that’s an interesting question. There are good reasons to reject lockdowns. There are a lot of them. They don’t even have to have anything to do with fear. One of the things, again, with misrepresentation of science is that a great study, a really high quality study came out of the National Bureau of Economic Research a few months ago. No one heard about it because it didn’t fit the agendas that some of our public health officials have been advancing. That study that showed that in the United States after lockdowns, overall mortality [inaudible 00:11:05]. I’m just going to say that again. After lockdowns, overall mortality increased. Lockdowns are bad. Lots of reasons why they’re bad. That’s just one really good one.

Yes, I am. I am. In fact, Jay Bhattacharya is a good friend of mine and yes, I am. I think part of the reason, I think again, just sort of the step back here. There’s this idea that things are black and white. You wear the mask all the time or you don’t, or you have to have the vaccine or you don’t. Even with that Great Barrington Declaration, there were a couple things.

I talked to Jay before he made it public. There were a couple things that I didn’t totally agree with, but the spirit of what they believe that we need to respect human rights, that people do have autonomy over their lives and it’s not okay to, it’s not even not okay, but it’s not virtuous and it’s not right to just sort of take away those rights from individuals. Completely agree with that. That’s why I signed it.

Speaker 4:

You had mentioned vaccinating [inaudible 00:12:10].

Joseph Ladapo:

Just to be clear, you asked a few things there. Vaccines are up to the person. There’s nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure. Absolutely, great things about vaccines for COVID-19, prevent the risk of serious illness, fantastic. People get to make a choice about what they want to do with that info.

Speaker 4:

Do you think the state should be promoting them?

Joseph Ladapo:

The state should be promoting good health and vaccination isn’t the only path to that. It’s been treated almost like a religion and that’s just senseless. There are lots of good pathways to health. Vaccinations [are] not the only one. We support measures for good health. That’s vaccination, it’s losing weight, it’s exercising more, it’s eating more fruits and vegetables, everything. We support it all.

Speaker 4:

How did the University of Florida get wind of your appointment as surgeon general and [inaudible 00:13:16]?

Ron DeSantis:

He did the university separately and that was just based on his credentials.

Speaker 4:

[crosstalk 00:13:30].

Ron DeSantis:

No. I don’t think anyone who interviewed him knew that he was going to be appointed this. That wasn’t anything that we had done. Obviously we wanted to see how that shaked out before we formulated an offer to him. But I view it as look, University of Florida, number five now public university. One of the top is UCLA. It’s ahead of us. Be able to get someone of Joe’s caliber to Florida University, that’s a coup in and of itself. I’m happy that he is going to do this job. I think he’s going to do a great job, but that’s a big deal. I think any university would be foolish not to want to get [crosstalk 00:14:10].

Speaker 4:

[crosstalk 00:14:10].

Speaker 3:

[crosstalk 00:14:10]. Do you have any questions?

Speaker 4:

[inaudible 00:14:12].

Speaker 3:

Go ahead.

Speaker 4:

[inaudible 00:14:18].

Ron DeSantis:

Remember when the legislature provided additional for some of the folks? The salary for the surgeon general is now higher. Then you do have a similar arrangement where you will be at UF and then also be doing [inaudible 00:14:43].

Ron DeSantis:

I think it’s a similar contract. I have not reviewed [inaudible 00:14:52]. We’ll give you the answer on that.

Joseph Ladapo:

Do you want to ask me what you really want to ask me?

Ron DeSantis:

Well, I would just say, I mean, one thing I’ll let Joe answer, but I mean, it’s declining everywhere in Florida now and all the schools. I mean, remember, we had kids back in school, millions of kids coming back into the classroom and what happened at the very height of this, and since all that has happened, it’s continued to go down. This idea that somehow schools drive this and that we can’t have kids in school, that should be definitively proven wrong. It was proven wrong last year.

But from where we are now versus where we were before with all the kids in school, and I would also say you look at the different, most of the districts follow state law, they’re providing parental choice with masks. There’s a few districts who have kind of gone rogue and they’re forced masking the kindergartners, first graders, all that stuff. There’s not any difference. It’s going down everywhere. I just think the Doctor mentioned having kids out of school, that’s a health issue too, because that is devastating.

We’ve worked really hard last year to do it. We’re working really hard now to do it. We’re going to be working on, when they say schools close, it’s usually not because everyone tests positive. Someone will test positive and then they send the healthy kids home. That needs to be reevaluated. That’s not how they do it in most European countries and they’ve had very positive results.

I know we’re going to be looking at that because quite frankly, you talk about parents’ bill of rights. A parent has a right to have a healthy kid in school. What are you going to say? You pass someone in the hall and so you got to sit there for 10 days or 14 days? That has a huge cost on kids upbringing.

But the data’s very clear. I remember a month ago, we knew the data because we’ve seen this play out, but everyone was saying, “Oh, if you give parents a choice, you’re going to have major outbreaks leading this. In reality, not only are we down with everything and we are big time down with pediatric admissions, but we’re down ED visits, we’re down huge on hospital admissions, the census. Census was down 8% today on a Tuesday, which usually is an increase because of the way they do discharges.

Then of course, you’re seeing the cases go down dramatically as well. Keep these kids in school. If someone’s sick, by all means, you send them home, but healthy kids, they have a right to be in the classroom.

Speaker 5:

[crosstalk 00:17:38]

Joseph Ladapo:

Right. I’m discussing that with my team in terms of recommendations. It’s complicated. There are factors that may be specific to different school districts. We’re discussing what works best for …

Speaker 5:

[crosstalk 00:18:06] Going forward, reflecting a little bit on [crosstalk 00:18:07]. [inaudible 00:18:12].

Joseph Ladapo:

As a scientist, this is one of the most startling aspects of the pandemic for me, in terms of what some of my colleagues are saying and doing. I mean, you don’t need to go to med school to look at the data and see that there’s really great protection, terrific protection, variable protection, robust protection, sort of variant protection that confers some resistance to variants. Obviously the story is still being written so we don’t really know exactly what’s going to happen in the future.

There’s tremendous, tremendous data that supports the fact that natural immunity protects people from getting very ill, also protects people from being infected again. That’s what it is and that’s great.

Speaker 5:

[crosstalk 00:19:20].

Ron DeSantis:

Let me just talk. But I think this is important with natural immunity and why people and these experts have tried to act like it doesn’t exist because, and I think you were going to ask this question. They think if you tell people recovery from COVID provides strong protection that some people say, “Oh, I might as well just go get infected. I have that.” I don’t think most people would do it, but even if someone does, you have to say the truth to people. You can’t tell noble lies to try to get them to behave in a way that you think you want them to behave in. We see that time and time again on this issue of natural immunity. Clearly, if this wasn’t something that was durable, you’d have massive reinfections by now. That’s just the reality.

I think if you look at what’s going to mediate future waves, that natural immunity is going to be a huge part of it. We have a lot of people who are vaccinated and they’re getting infected, mostly mild. That is building immunity effectively as well. But I think Joe understands, no noble lies. You tell the truth on what the data’s saying.

The same thing with the treatment and the antibodies. Part of the reason when I rolled out the antibodies, we were in the midst of a wave. People like Fauci said, “If 50% were vaccinated, you would have no more surges.” We had that. In fact, our seniors were over 90% and yet you see admissions going up. What do you do? People were saying, “Well, most of these people aren’t vaccinated who are being admitted.” True. 100%. I wish that they had been. I think many of them probably wouldn’t have been admitted.

At the same time, when you’re in the midst of a wave, you can vaccinate immediately. It doesn’t kick in for weeks, probably six weeks after that. What are you going to do to help people in the meantime, and we were seeing people who were vaccinated getting infected. We hope that it would produce sterilizing immunity.

Remember the Pfizer trial? 95% reduction. That’s clearly not happening. I mean, we look around, people are getting infected, the role that vaccinated people play in spreading it, I don’t know. But I can tell you, I think every state in the country had higher cases this summer than they did last summer when no one was vaccinated. It’d be hard for me to think it’s only occurring amongst a small slice. Nevertheless, we saw that and we knew our most vulnerable people overwhelmingly were vaccinated.

What do you do? Well, we had an effective treatment that’s been emergency use since the end of 2020. It was used on the president of the United States to help him recover from COVID. This is something that many of our hospitals were using, but it was something that almost none of these people being admitted to the hospital even knew about. Many physicians as of last month were still telling people, “Okay, go home. Hope you don’t get deathly ill. If you get deathly ill, then go to the hospital.” There was never any interest or belief that this should be treated or even could be treated. I don’t know why.

But I do think that one of the reasons why this was not something that was put out there very publicly by the experts and by the powers that be in DC is because they feared that if you tell people there’s an effective treatment, you tell people COVID is a treatable illness, they feared some people would say, “Well, maybe I won’t get vaccinated. I’ll just get the treatment.” They didn’t want that message out because they feared how people would behave.

My view is, we’ve always said it complements. If you want to cover all your bases, do it as a complement, but you can’t not tell people that this is something that’s available. The result is when we started doing our push, I was attacked for it, saying, “You’re not supposed to do it.” We did it. We raised awareness, which is very important, and then we expanded access. The result has been, I think we’re at what, 29 straight days where the hospital census has declined, 8% reduction in the census, as of this morning. ED visits, this is all tanking. It was the right thing to do.

Now you have other states where they’re now following Florida’s lead. I get people, people will write into the office here from these other states thanking me because they didn’t know about this. They started bothering some of their doctors in these other states to be able to get this. Having the treatment is the right thing to do.

I think increasingly as we see more vaccinated people test positive again, I think most of the time it’s going to be a mild case and you’re probably not going to need this, but we are seeing some very vulnerable people who have been saved for this. If you look at some of the places, I mean, Miami, I think it’s like 60 some percent of the people that have gone to our treatment site and in Dade have been vaccinated. Broward is I think 52%. some of the other sites, more rural areas, the majority are unvaccinated. I’d say overall, you’re looking at 40% to 45% of the people statewide that have gotten this treatment have been vaccinated who were either infected or were exposed and are in high-risk situations.

Telling the truth, I think is important. I think that’s what Dr. Ladapo understands [is] that you got to tell people the truth and you got to let them make decisions. They may not always make the decision that you want them to make. But I think that’s much better than pulling the wool over their eyes.

Now we have a situation in Florida now where in spite of this data where we see far fewer people being admitted to the hospital, thankfully we’re seeing people kept out, we’re seeing lives saved. The Biden administration has dramatically cut the share of [monoclonal antibody treatments]. First of all, they seized control of the supply nationwide. Now they’re dramatically cutting what’s coming to the state of Florida. That’s wrong. That is dead wrong. Why are they targeting Florida?

Biden, he loves talking about Florida. He hates Florida more than anything. This is absolutely going to hurt people. We’re going to work like hell to make sure that anyone who needs it, we’re going to figure out ways to be able to do. I hope to have an announcement on that soon, but how could you cut it given all the things that we’re seeing on the ground? You don’t even need, … You can look at the hospital data. It’s very compelling. Just talk to people that have gotten this treatment. Talk to them about how they were feeling, where they feared this was going to end up, and then what happened after they were able to get the treatment.

It’s been something that’s benefited thousands and thousands and thousands of Floridians. They say there’s no supply problem, but they’re doing this anyway for temporal equity because they fear a similar wave happening in some of these other parts of the country later on in the year. But if they’re not, if they don’t have enough of it, then that’s mismanagement on their part because this is something that’s very significant.

I know they did another deal with Regeneron, but they should absolutely be sourcing the needs. Now, fortunately, our sites are down probably 40% from the peak in terms of the people going in because we have fewer people that need it right now, which is good. Hopefully that continues to go down.

But why would you cut it now, given the success that we’ve seen? We’re going to absolutely fight back against this. We have ways to go around it potentially. Hopefully we’ll be able to finalize that. But cutting these treatments is wrong.

There’s a time for politics. I get that. But to be so obsessed with trying to kneecap Florida any way you can, that you would take away life-saving treatments, I’m sorry, some things should be beyond politics. I don’t know who the hell is going to our sites. I don’t know their political affiliation. We just want to help people. Obviously Joe Biden feels differently.

Ron DeSantis:

I’ll do one more than I got to run.

Speaker 5:

Question for the doctor.

Ron DeSantis:

Okay.

Speaker 5:

[inaudible 00:26:56].

Joseph Ladapo:

It’s actually your question highlights just one of the examples of confusion with thinking about the pandemic. Different places have factors that contribute to surges and how ill people become that we don’t fully understand yet. I mean, no one knew that Florida would have a surge during these past several weeks. No one knows when the next one’s coming in California or in some of the Northeastern states, for sure.

Basically I think the game of sort of doing these state-to-state comparisons and saying so and so, they did a good job and they did … I think that is a silly game. I think that what we need to be doing is thinking about the people in the state, their circumstances, what their values are, what their constraints are and doing the best we can for people in each state.

Ron DeSantis:

All right. I think we’re good. See you guys.

Joseph Ladapo:

Okay. Bye.

Brownstone Authors and Contributors

  • The Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research is a nonprofit organization conceived of in May 2021 in support of a society that minimizes the role of violence in public life.

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