TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo on Tuesday declined to disclose whether he has received a coronavirus vaccine during a contentious confirmation hearing where Democrats pressed the state's top doctor to promote the shots.
Ladapo, appointed in September by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, has attracted national scrutiny over his close alignment with the governor in opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other health policies embraced by the federal government.
Ladapo and DeSantis, in part, have posed questions about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, opposed lockdowns and rejected mask and vaccination requirements.
"We don't need him and the governor doing their dog-and-pony show across the street, talking about how masks and vaccines are useless," Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, said Tuesday. "So, what is your alternative to prevention? A healthy diet. I can’t believe that this candidate is the best we can come up with, especially in a time of crisis."
On Tuesday, Democrats grew visibly frustrated with Ladapo, accusing him of evading questions and endangering public health through what they described as a laissez-faire approach to vaccines.
"It certainly seems like there has been a lot of questions about vaccines and there is some equivocation on your part. Is there a reason why you just can’t come out and say that you believe vaccines are a very important step for prevention?" Polsky asked, pushing Ladapo to reveal whether he's been vaccinated.
Ladapo refused to disclose his vaccination status, calling his medical history private.
He said the Department of Health’s approach has been to provide education and access rather than approach the pandemic with "coercion" and "propaganda," and that "people can make decisions for themselves."
In October, Ladapo refused to wear a mask when he and two aides arrived for a meeting in Polsky’s Senate office to discuss his confirmation. Polsky told Ladapo she had a serious medical condition -- later revealed to be breast cancer.
Ladapo released a statement that said he was "saddened" by the news of Polksy's illness and wished her "blessings and strength," but defended his decision by saying he cannot communicate clearly "when half of my face is covered."
After Democrats peppered Ladapo with questions for nearly two hours and said he was part of the politicization of the pandemic, the Republican-controlled Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to back his confirmation. Ladapo must now receive approval from the full Senate before he is officially confirmed.
Late last month, during Ladapo's first confirmation hearing, Democrats in the Senate Committee on Health Policy abruptly stormed out of the room before casting their votes, accusing Ladapo of dodging questions on the state's coronavirus response.
The News Service of Florida and the Associated Press contributed to this report.