FILE - Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo gestures as speaks to supporters and members of the media before a bill signing by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla. Florida's controversial surgeon general is drawing criticism for his handling of an elementary school's measles outbreak, telling parents of unvaccinated children it is their choice whether their student attends class — a direct contravention of federal guidelines. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
- Sponsored -
Share article

Editor’s note: This story updates a previous version published.

The Department of Health criticized media coverage of a recent measles outbreak at a Broward County elementary school and tried to clarify its position on whether parents should keep their unvaccinated children home.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo has been lambasted by physicians and public health officials for a Feb. 20 letter deferring to parents Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston on whether to send unvaccinated children to classes.

“Many media outlets are reporting false information and politicizing this outbreak,” said Grant Kemp, spokesman for Ladapo’s Department of Health.

“The Department has also worked with Manatee Bay Elementary to educate parents on measles and ensure that any parent who is concerned for their child, regardless of their immunization status, may choose to keep their children home and utilize continuous learning during this time.”

Kemp went onto say that measles oubreaks are occurring in multiple states.

The Broward County school district said that 33 of Manatee Bay’s 1,067 students don’t have at least one shot of the two-dose measles vaccine, WLRN reported.

- Sponsored -

The outbreak started at the school just a week ago with four cases. So far, nine children in Broward County, including seven students at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, have been diagnosed with measles. Over the weekend, another case was reported on the state’s disease surveillance page, in Polk County, bringing the total to 10 cases.

Ladapo is known for his outspoken skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school, DOH is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.” Lapado wrote in the letter.

Ladapo’s wording contradicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which tell school officials that unvaccinated children “must be excluded” for three weeks. States are not required to follow those recommendations, however.

Dr. Jorge Mendia, an OB-GYN who lives on Key Biscayne, said measles cases in the U.S. were unheard of 20 years ago before anti-vaccination sentiment started to take hold in a segment of the population.

“It’s very disappointing, that it’s even happening. Obviously, talking to colleagues, the level of frustration with the Surgeon General, can not be higher,” Mendia said. “His job is protecting, improving the health and safety of Floridians. It’s that simple. And he’s done nothing towards that end.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25) during a press conference at her Sunrise office Tuesday called for Lapado to step down.

“(Joseph) Ladapo instead politicizes public health and peddles risky freedom of choice rhetoric that fuels vaccine hesitancy and downplays the public and personal health necessity for vaccination,” Wasserman said.

“His decision not to declare a public health emergency, and to leave all of the burden of deciding whether to send children to school on parents is grossly irresponsible.”

Such outbreaks are rare in the United States, though reported cases have spiked from 58 for all of 2023 to 35 already this year, according to the Associated Press.

The measles virus in this image taken by an electron microscopic. (Photo/Centers for Disease Contrl & Prevention).

Lapado was appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in September 2021, with whom he shares an opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, mask mandates and school closures. 

In calling for his resignation or termination, Wasserman Schultz said Lapado, “didn’t even use the most basic of public health guidance and say, ‘all children should be vaccinated against measles with two vaccinations.’”

A file photo of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who she spoke during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Wasserman Schultz was joined by Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, the Chair of the Epidemiology Department at Florida International University. She explained the disease was once a “major killer” in the U.S. until the 1960s when a vaccine was created.

Measles causes fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. Those symptoms are followed by a blotchy rash that starts on the head and works its way down. It causes hospitalization on average in about one in five people, brain damage in about one in a thousand people and death in about one in 1000 people of the people who are infected, according to Trepka.

It is recommended that all people have two doses of the measles vaccine, according to Trepka. To avoid unintentionally spreading the disease, she also recommended that people who think they may have contracted it call a doctor and not show up to an emergency room.

WLRN and the Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

- Sponsored -

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.