Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a politician by profession, so he easily puts politics above all else, even when it concerns the fight against a virus that has killed 870,000 Americans, including 61,000 of his constituents.
“Without a shred of clinical data to support its decision, the Biden Administration has revoked the emergency use authorization for lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments,” DeSantis tweeted after the FDA’s Monday night announcement that it was suspending approval of the two main therapeutics offered by the centers he opened with great fanfare just last week.
DeSantis went so far as to say, “This indefensible edict takes treatment out of the hands of medical professionals and will cost some Americans their lives. There are real-world implications to Biden’s medical authoritarianism – Americans’ access to treatments is now subject to the whims of a failing president.”
But Dr. Joseph Ladapo, appointed by DeSantis appointed as the state’s surgeon general and now awaiting lawmakers’ confirmation to that post, is a physician. Ladapo therefore had the moral and professional responsibility to set people straight regarding the clinics that were opened by the health department he heads. He instead affirmed the governor’s fiction.
“The federal government has failed to adequately provide the United States with adequate outpatient treatment options for COVID-19,” Ladapo said. “Now, they are scrambling to cover up a failure to deliver on a promise to ‘shut down the virus.’”
The truth is that the treatment options being offered by the clinics had been rendered all but useless by the Omicron variant. The manufacturer of one of the two main monoclonal treatments acknowledged that in a statement on Tuesday.
“The original REGEN-COV antibody cocktail has been administered to millions of people, and we are extremely proud of the critical role this medicine has played during the pandemic. However, it does not work against #Omicron in lab tests, which tells us that unfortunately it is also not going to work in people infected with this variant,” a Regeneron spokesperson said. “According to the CDC, over 99% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are now caused by the Omicron variant, and thus we believe the FDA’s decision to amend the Emergency Use Authorization was appropriate at this time.”
Ladapo just ignored this inconvenient reality. He had at other times described reliance on vaccines and face coverings and testing as “the trifecta of stupidity.” And he gave no indication he would not simply further his reckless and irresponsible nonsense on Wednesday, when he is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing by the Health Policy Committee of the state Senate.
Early misgivings about his suitability arose during a “get acquainted” visit to the Senate after his appointment in October. The senators Ladapo visited included Democrat Tina Polsky, who has a sign on her door asking all who enter to wear a mask. He and two men with him strode inside and stood in the waiting area with their faces uncovered.
Polsky asked Ladapo to put on a mask. He suggested there were alternatives such as going outside.
“I said, ‘No, I would like to sit here in my office where I have chairs and a comfortable setting, but I would like you to wear a mask,’” she recalled to The Daily Beast.
Ladapo balked and seemed to seek a debate.
“But I wouldn’t engage in it,” she remembered, “And it just went on and on.”
Polsky had particular cause for concern. She had recently undergone surgery for breast cancer and was about to begin a regimen of radiation that would be disrupted if she tested positive for COVID-19
“I said. ‘I have a serious medical condition’’’ she remembered. “He said, ‘We can talk about that.’ I said, ‘No.’ I kept backing up into my aide’s office because I was so uncomfortable. I had my mask on, of course.’”
Ladapo continued to refuse.
“I didn’t talk to him about any substantive issues because he wouldn’t put on a mask so I could sit down and have a conversation with him about his credentials,” she remembered.
She realized that he was likely just to go on and on.
“I said, ‘You can leave now, if you’re not going to wear a mask. I know everything I need to know about you and your role as the top medical professional in the state,’” she recalled.
“The real kicker was when he left, my other aide was outside and heard him say something like, ‘I love to rile up those liberals,’” Polsky told The Daily Beast.
When word of the encounter reached the press, DeSantis defended Ladapo, saying Polsky had just been playing politics. But the president of the state Senate, Wilton Simpson, is a gentleman as well as a Republican.
Simpson sent a memorandum to all the senators and their staff with the subject “Respect and Decorum in the Senate.” He reported that he had learned of an “interaction” in Polsky’s office “during which her request that visitors… wear a mask was not respected.”
“This incident is even more disappointing given the health challenges Senator Polsky is currently facing,” the memo said. “However, it should not take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interaction during a pandemic. What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”
Ladapo said nothing until six days after the incident. He offered no apology.
“It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people,” he tweeted. “I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”
As there is no mandate in the senate, Ladapo would not be required to cover any of his face when he appeared before the Health Committee. The Democratic members include Sen. Janet Cruz, who promised she will “ask many questions” about Ladapo’s positions.
“In my opinion, he’s proven time and time again that data and science are not on the top of his mind when making decisions about the health and wellness of Florida,” she told The Daily Beast.
“So much misinformation is flying around, it’s important to have Florida’s top doc, if that’s what you want to call him, grounded in fact and not in extreme political rhetoric. His rhetoric does not line up with the reality,” she said, adding that “he takes this direction from a governor that feels the same way.”
Cruz noted that Ladapo attended Harvard, but wonders if this is proof that sometimes an Ivy League education does not stack up to “just plain common sense.”
“Or is it just a straight up opportunist who will say and do anything to advance his career?” she wondered. “I don’t know, but I’m disappointed. I’ve been disappointed by many of his comments.”
Cruz spoke of a friend whose 42-year-old nephew failed to get vaccinated and ended up critically ill with COVID in a small community hospital. The friend called to ask Cruz to help get him transferred to a hospital in Tampa that could better treat him.
“I said, ‘Yeah, let’s try,’” Cruz recalled.
But the nephew died before he could be moved. Cruz noted that the nephew’s wife had gotten vaccinated and was fine, but now a widow.
“That’s the kinda stuff that makes me nuts, when I have a Harvard-trained physician that will not recognize the power of the vaccine,” Cruz said.
Cruz noted that her husband is a retired nephrologist, a specialist who was sought out by other specialists with difficult cases.
“I watched him devote 50 years of his life to saving sick patients,” she said. “I’ve watched this man get up at four o’clock in the morning and try to go save someone… And then I see a physician who won’t stand up for a vaccine. I just can’t believe that someone could go to one of the finest medical institutions in the country and perhaps the world and deny the efficacy of a vaccine and the fact that it saves lives.”
Cruz is nonetheless all but certain the Health Policy Committee will approve Ladapo. He will then appear before the Ethics and Elections Committee, whose members include Polsky. The whole Senate will then vote on the appointment. And it seems likely the Senate will impugn its own dignity by approving Ladapo as Florida’s top doctor.
The ultimate question is whether he should be a doctor at all.
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