Advertisement
Why did state remove Orlando health director? | Editorial
Public health chief is sidelined after promoting vaccinations
Dr. Raul Pino, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, puts on his mask after speaking during a COVID-19 briefing at the Orange County Administration Center on July 19. Last week, Pino was put on administrative leave after sending an email to his staff decrying his agency's low vaccination rate.
Dr. Raul Pino, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, puts on his mask after speaking during a COVID-19 briefing at the Orange County Administration Center on July 19. Last week, Pino was put on administrative leave after sending an email to his staff decrying his agency's low vaccination rate.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 25|Updated Jan. 25

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign against vaccine mandates took a dark turn last week, as his administration removed Orange County’s public health chief for urging his employees to get the shot. It was an Orwellian moment even for the extremes this administration has gone to politicize a pandemic that’s killed nearly 64,000 Floridians.

Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, sent an email to employees Jan. 4. bemoaning the agency’s low vaccination rate. In a message with the subject line “Concerned for us and our families,” Pino noted that fewer than half the agency’s 568 employees had completed a vaccine series and only 77 had received a booster shot.

“I have a hard time understanding how can we be in public health and not practice it,” Pino wrote. While he acknowledged that some employees might have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine — some Americans decline for medical or religious reasons — he decried the low vaccination rate overall: “We are not even at 50%, pathetic.” And Pino noted that the low rate put agency employees at risk of getting infected, which could impact the delivery of health services to Orange County residents. “I am sorry, but at this point,” he continued, “it is irresponsible (not) to be vaccinated.”

The Department of Health would not say why Pino was placed on administrative leave or who ordered the move. But a spokesperson suggested that the decision revolved around the state’s newly-passed law outlawing vaccine mandates. “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 agency said in an email Thursday. “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.”

At least two things are wrong here.

First, Pino didn’t mandate anything. He merely expressed frustration as a medical professional responsible for public health in fast-growing Orlando. Promoting vaccines is part of his job, and it’s something DeSantis himself did when vaccines first became available, before the governor caved to anti-vax hysteria from pro-Trump Republicans. Pino also had the sense to realize that his agency’s low vaccination rate would set a bad example. In short, he was trying to invigorate a mission DeSantis continually undermines.

Second, who removes an employee then goes looking for justification? Shouldn’t the department have concluded first whether any laws were broken before removing Pino? Is the DeSantis administration blind to due process, or was it so eager to send a chilling signal to other health officials that it merely made Pino an example? Punishing a public official before conducting an inquiry is banana republic stuff. And it says volumes about DeSantis’ regard for science and concept of freedom.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Is Florida really a place where you can keep your job after refusing the vaccine but lose it after recommending one? This episode has all the trappings of a witch hunt, and it’s time the administration explained itself, and either charge Pino with something concrete or reinstate him to office.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge