Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo appeared this week on a far-right podcast known for sharing QAnon-related conspiracy theories and misinformation.
During a 30-minute interview with the X22 Report, Ladapo talked about his controversial recommendations against giving mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to children and to men ages 18 to 39.
Ladapo stuck mostly to explaining his recommendations — and promoting “Transcend Fear,” a book he’s written about public health leadership. But some media and public health experts are questioning whether his appearance gives credence to a show that has been suspended by YouTube and Twitter and removed from Spotify because it violated the platform’s policy against content that “promotes, advocates or incites violence against others.”
One day before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, X22 Report told its listeners that then-President Donald Trump would need to “remove” many members of Congress to further his plans; its presenter declared: “We the people, we are the storm, and we’re coming to D.C.,” according to an Associated Press report.
In March, the podcast cited the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court as proof that a cabal of pedophiles operates at the highest levels of the government, a central tenet of the conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
“This show should not exist and any support you provide for it, including appearing on the show, is helping to further its mission,” said Kim Walsh-Childers, a University of Florida professor of journalism who researches health communications. “Its mission is antithetical to public health. It’s a little weird for the head of public health in any state to be providing, essentially, his stamp of approval.”
Florida Department of Health communication officials said they are not involved in interviews that Ladapo does to promote his personal publications. Emails and calls made Friday to Ladapo’s publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, were not returned.
Walsh-Childers said it would have been a public service if Ladapo had urged X22 listeners to get vaccinated according to current COVID-19 guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ladapo did acknowledge that vaccines have proven effective at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalization of those infected with COVID-19. But in most of his statements, he was heavily critical of the CDC and Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert. Ladapo accused the CDC of suppressing information about harmful side effects of the vaccine that people have a “God-given right” to know.
He also joined in with X22′s anonymous host in criticizing the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, saying there were no studies that showed that masks were effective.
“It was a manipulative, destructive, divisive policy that was implemented for the purpose of control and maintaining control and showing people who’s boss and making people bow down to this COVID-19 mindset hegemony,” he said during the show.
Ladapo’s statements about the lack of studies on the side effects of mRNA vaccines are sensationalized, inaccurate and misleading, said Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Instances of myocarditis have been studied by the CDC and the American College of Cardiology. The Food and Drug Administration required Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to include a warning with doses. But the risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 infection is still higher than from the vaccine, Wallace said.
She said his appearances are likely intended to sell his book but are having a detrimental impact on public health messaging.
“He’s a public health official going on a show known to promote QAnon nonsense,” she said. “There are better ways and venues for him to disseminate information.”
Ladapo was appointed surgeon general by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September 2021. Formerly an associate professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, he holds a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a doctorate in health policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
He has been at the center of several controversies over health policy that run counter to the consensus of the medical community since taking office.
In April, he announced that the state would no longer allow Medicaid to be used for treatment of children with gender dysphoria. Florida was also the only state that did not preorder COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 5 when they were approved earlier this year.
Most recently, he released a recommendation against the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for men ages 18 to 39. It was based on an analysis he said showed an increase in relative cardiac-related death among men.
The analysis has been criticized by other scientists for relying on imperfect data and not adequately explaining its methodology.