‘Misinformation’: Biden administration responds to Florida COVID vaccine letter

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo wrote the federal government warning of the vaccine’s risks in February.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joeseph Ladapo speaks during a roundtable discussion at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joeseph Ladapo speaks during a roundtable discussion at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published March 10, 2023|Updated March 10, 2023

Top Biden administration officials responded Friday to a February letter from Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, doubling down on the federal government’s stance that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

In a letter of their own dated March 10, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky admonished Ladapo for what they said were “misleading” claims about the health risks associated with the vaccines.

“Misleading people by overstating the risks, or emphasizing the risks without acknowledging the overwhelming benefits, unnecessarily causes vaccine hesitation and puts people at risk of death or serious illness that could have been prevented by timely vaccination,” Califf and Walensky wrote.

The letter came in response to a Feb. 15 communique from Ladapo to Califf and Walensky in which the state’s surgeon general expressed his concern about what he said was a troubling trend of adverse health events associated with the COVID-19 shots.

Related: Florida surgeon general, again questioning COVID vaccines, sends letter to CDC, FDA

In that letter, Ladapo cited a study that he said showed that the vaccines left patients at a greater risk for acute cardiac injuries, Bell’s palsy and encephalitis, among other conditions.

He also cited an increase in the number of reports from Florida submitted to the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, as evidence of a problem with the vaccines.

“To claim these vaccines are ‘safe and effective’ while minimizing and disregarding the adverse events is unconscionable,” Ladapo wrote then.

Califf and Walensky disputed Ladapo’s reasoning, saying it contained “misinformation” about VAERS.

They noted that VAERS reports do not necessarily mean that the vaccination caused the event. They noted that regulations around the vaccines require more events to be reported to VAERS, likely adding to the total number of reported incidents. And they noted that although some rare, serious adverse reactions have been associated with the shots, vaccine providers have been instructed to warn about them.

When asked about the letter from the leaders of the CDC and FDA, a spokesperson for the Department of Health brushed aside the criticism.

“The response from the federal government is just another redundant display of the same apathetic talking point of ‘safe and effective.’ Googling their fact sheets would have achieved the same result,” wrote Nikki Whiting, the Department of Health spokesperson.

Taking the coronavirus vaccines as recommended is far less risky than avoiding the shots, the federal officials wrote.

“Not only is there no evidence of increased risk of death following mRNA vaccines, but available data have shown quite the opposite: that being up to date on vaccinations saves lives compared to individuals who did not get vaccinated,” the letter reads.

Califf and Walensky cited studies that they said showed the risk of adverse effects from COVID-19 is much higher in unvaccinated populations across all age groups.

By questioning the safety of the vaccines, Ladapo is contributing to vaccine hesitancy, the federal officials argue in the letter.

“It is the job of public health officials around the country to protect the lives of the populations they serve, particularly the vulnerable. Fueling vaccine hesitancy undermines this effort,” they wrote.

This spat is just the latest in a series of disagreements between the federal government and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration about how best to handle the coronavirus response. Previously, the two governments have also argued about monoclonal antibodies and vaccines for children.