Florida physicians call on Gov. Ron DeSantis, Ladapo to drop politics from public health

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Three prominent Florida physicians on Wednesday called on Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo to focus on public health and stop politicizing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Frederick Southwick, a Gainesville infectious disease specialist, Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist, and Dr. Michael Teng, a Tampa virologist, joined a Zoom conference call with news media as members of the Committee to Protect Health Care.

"We are here today to set the record straight on the monoclonal antibody therapies that Gov. Ron DeSantis has been making hay about," Ashby said. "Unfortunately the governor has been playing politics once again rather than focusing on actions that would save lives and prevent suffering on a larger scale."

Florida Surgeon Gen. Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon.
Florida Surgeon Gen. Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon.

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"It's very clear that Dr. Joseph Ladapo is being influenced by Gov. DeSantis. He is currently espousing policies that are contrary to the evidence," said Ashby, who is state leader of the committee.

Earlier this week, DeSantis and Ladapo condemned a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to halt the distribution of antibody treatments that have become central to the state's COVID response.

Despite all previous indications and warnings from the federal government that these drugs don’t work against the omicron variant, DeSantis has made it the main part of the state’s response to COVID-19, bucking the prevailing wisdom of the national medical community.

Backstory:

Ladapo — whose appointment by DeSantis was approved Wednesday by a committee in the Florida Senate — said the feds “failed to adequately provide the United States with adequate outpatient treatment options for COVID-19.”

'We need to get away from the politics'

Ashby said it was clear during the confirmation hearings that Ladapo's statements are not backed by science. "We need to get away from the politics of this and focus on the science," Ashby said.

He criticized Ladapo for only acknowledging the effectiveness of vaccines after repeated prompting from senators. "He should have said that from the top of his lungs," Ashby said.

"Florida has been at the bottom when it comes to hospitalizations and death" from COVID-19, Ashby said. "They are failing us in that regard."

Dr. Bernard Ashby, Miami cardiologist and state leader for the Committee to Protect Health Care, speaks during Wednesday's online conference call with news media.
Dr. Bernard Ashby, Miami cardiologist and state leader for the Committee to Protect Health Care, speaks during Wednesday's online conference call with news media.

In his prepared remarks, Southwick explained that the most commonly used monoclonal antibody treatments are not effective against the omicron variant of COVID-19, which now account for more than 90% of new cases.

He said DeSantis is "trying to score political points at the expense of patient care."

"He has staked his whole approach to the pandemic on these monoclonal antibody treatments, which are no longer helpful and refuses to change course. He has anchored his mind to this old and now ineffective treatment," Southwick said.

"I'm not sure why Gov. DeSantis wants to die on this hill, so to speak, but it is a dangerous course of action," Southwick said.

"It's a politics-first approach, even as millions of Floridians get sick and tens of thousands die," Southwick said. He clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the University of Florida, where he is a researcher, but said his views are supported by recognized experts in his field.

'Focus on what works'

Southwick said Ladapo has minimized the value of vaccines, ignores the importance of good quality masks, and has advised people without symptoms not to get tested for the disease.

"On all three of those phases, he is wrong. He is directly opposing all of the infections disease specialists," Southwick said. "I'm not out on some limb here. These are standards that have been in place for more than 100 years."

"Focus on what works and stop focusing on what doesn't work," Southwick said.

Teng pointed out that public health measures require broad compliance in order to work, but said DeSantis and Ladapo have instead undermined confidence in vaccines, masks and testing.

"If you are not thinking about public health and you are only thinking about individual risk, that's not serving public health," Teng said.

Jeffrey Schweers contributed.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Physicians want Governor DeSantis, Ladapo to focus on public health

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