Suspending health department head for advocating vaccinations is not right

·3 min read

Surreal.

That's the only way to describe our reaction to the suspension of Dr. Raul Pino, who heads up the Orange County Health Department. He was relieved of his duties for encouraging his staff to get vaccinated and sending an email noting that only 14% of the 568 employees had received a complete series of vaccinations and a booster.

"I am sorry, but at this point in the absence of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated," Pino wrote in the email sent to his staff on Jan. 4. He also referred to the percentage of vaccinated employees as pathetic.

It is. But that's beside the point.

Orange County, Florida health officer Dr. Raul Pino says two young women disguised themselves as much older women in hopes of getting the coronavirus vaccine. He says the fake 'grannies' were probably in their 20s. (Feb. 19)
Orange County, Florida health officer Dr. Raul Pino says two young women disguised themselves as much older women in hopes of getting the coronavirus vaccine. He says the fake 'grannies' were probably in their 20s. (Feb. 19)

As the director of the Orange County Health Department, Pino was doing his job. He is a doctor and was hired in 2019 to lead, which raises the question: When did the COVID-19 vaccine become something we don't even want our health officials to promote?

Yes, it is against Florida law, since last year, to mandate vaccinations but Pino never did that. Did he recommend strongly? Did he express dissatisfaction with the numbers? Yes, but that was no reason for him to be suspended from his position.

Wouldn't a dental practice recommend that employees practice good dental hygiene? Wouldn't a military commander recommend soldiers heading into battle wear their helmets?

A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Health released a statement this week saying an investigation is underway to see if Pino broke the law by sending his email.

“As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case. The Department is committed to upholding all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees and will take appropriate action once additional information is known.”

The appropriate action should be to immediately reinstate him. Pino, it seems, has the support of the community as well as Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who stated that Pino "has been our trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic. His sound medical advice has helped guide me and countless other Orange County leaders to make the best decisions possible in dealing with COVID-19.”

Sound advice. Leadership.

It's absurd that that the health advocate for Orange County is now prohibited from advocating by a governor who once championed the vaccine in Florida and made a big and early push to roll it out when it became available.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the Legislature on Jan. 11 in Tallahassee.
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the Legislature on Jan. 11 in Tallahassee.

DeSantis has sure done a whiplash-like pivot, an "about-face."

Now he refuses to admit whether he's received his booster shot, drawing the ire of former President Donald Trump whose Operation Warp Speed pushed the medical community to produce effective vaccinations against the virus that help prevent severe illness and death.

The message is no longer that the vaccine serves as a game-changer in fighting the virus. Instead the message now is about freedom from mandates and restrictions and how DeSantis has helped make Florida the "freest state in these United States."

Free, that is, as long as you don't go against the governor's political grandstanding by recommending the vaccine.

— Florida Today Editorial Board

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Editorial: Suspension for advocating vaccinations is wrong

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