Top Florida health official suspended after urging staff to get vaccinated

·2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, was placed on administrative leave after emailing employees about their low COVID-19 vaccination rate, telling them it was "irresponsible not to be vaccinated."

WFTV reports that Pino had an analyst gather vaccination data on his department's 568 employees, and found that less than half had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and just 13 percent had their booster. "I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it!" Pino wrote in his Jan. 4 email. "The reasons can be many, but so many of us? I am sorry, but at this point in the absence of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated." He added that for the department to not even hit a 50 percent vaccination rate is "pathetic."

In November, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law prohibiting government agencies, schools, and businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccination, and officials are investigating whether Pino violated the ban, Reuters reports.

In a statement, the Florida Department of Health said that 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."

Pino works closely with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who has been critical of how DeSantis is handling the pandemic, WESH reports, and Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith called Pino's suspension "political." In a statement, Demings said Pino "has been our trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic" whose "sound medical advice has helped guide me and countless other Orange County leaders to make the best decisions possible in dealing with COVID-19. It is my fervent hope that Dr. Pino returns to work on behalf of the residents of Orange County soon."

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