Florida health official calls for stopping Covid vaccines


Florida’s surgeon general on Wednesday called for pausing the use of Covid vaccines, citing widely debunked concerns that vaccine contaminants could permanently integrate into human DNA.

“These vaccines are not appropriate for use in humans,” Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general and top health official, said in a statement released by the Florida Department of Health.

Federal health officials and other experts have repeatedly tried to counter Dr. Ladapo’s erroneous comments about vaccines, noting that a careful review of the scientific evidence has found no basis for his claims.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it had not identified any “safety concerns related to the sequence or amount of residual DNA.”

The Covid vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna use so-called messenger RNA, or mRNA, a type of genetic material, to instruct the body to produce immune molecules against the coronavirus.

Dr. Ladapo’s latest statement amplifies Florida’s growing anti-vaccine stance. He was appointed surgeon general in 2021 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and has since increasingly aligned himself with anti-vaccine claims that the shots cause serious harm.

In March 2022, Dr. Ladapo published guidance advising against healthy children receiving vaccines, despite studies showing vaccines are safe and effective at all ages. That fall, he recommended that young men ages 18 to 39 avoid mRNA vaccines because of the high risk of cardiac death, reaching that conclusion by altering the findings of a state-led study.

Last year, Dr. Ladapo blamed Covid vaccines for life-threatening conditions reported in Florida and elsewhere, prompting the FDA to issue a rebuttal. And in September, Florida recommended all residents under age 65 skip vaccinations.

Dr. Ladapo’s latest statement is “very irresponsible,” said John Wherry, a vaccine expert and director of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“However, he has demonstrated a weak understanding of science and medicine in general over the course of the pandemic, so this is not surprising,” Dr. Wherry said.

Neither DeSantis’ presidential campaign nor his governor’s office immediately responded to requests for comment. The Florida Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the basis for Dr. Ladapo’s assessment. or its potential effect on vaccine adoption in the state.

Dr. Ladapo’s escalating rhetoric has led federal agencies to directly address his claims. In a letter to Dr. Ladapo published in December, the FDA detailed the many reasons why his claims are implausible.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives, the agency said in a statement Wednesday. He rebuked Dr Ladapo for feeding misinformation that contributes to low vaccine uptake and continued deaths and serious illnesses from Covid.

Covid is resurging once again in the United States and fewer than one in five American adults have received the latest vaccines. Even among people aged 75 and over, who are most at risk of contracting Covid, only one in three have received the most recent version of the vaccine. Florida’s vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country.

“The FDA strongly supports the safety, efficacy, and manufacturing quality of the approved and authorized Covid-19 vaccines, and respectfully disagrees with the opinion of the Florida Surgeon General,” the agency said.

In his statement on Wednesday, Dr. Ladapo argued that vaccine contaminants could integrate into human DNA, theoretically causing chromosomes to become unstable and healthy cells to become cancerous.

Experts in virology and immunology said those ideas made no sense.

“You’ll see a lot of ‘powers’ there,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “There is no evidence that any of this chain of ‘powers’ actually happens or can happen.”

DNA vaccines have many orders of magnitude more DNA than is present as a contaminant in the mRNA vaccine, and yet they have never been associated with cancer, Dr. Moore noted.

“All members of my immediate family have received doses of the mRNA vaccine,” he added. “I am absolutely certain that none of them are at risk of getting cancer as a result of it.”

For Dr. Ladapo’s claim to be true, humans would need to have an enzyme that can incorporate foreign DNA into their genomes.

“We don’t have any,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee and editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“There is no credible mechanism or evidence,” Dr. Rubin said.

mike ives and Nicolas Nehamas contributed reports.

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