TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis went west to find Florida's new surgeon general.
DeSantis announced Tuesday that he has appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo to succeed Dr. Scott Rivkees as the state's top doctor.
Ladapo comes to Florida from UCLA in California, where he was the associate professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine.
According to UCLA Health, Ladapo's "primary research interests include assessing the cost-effectiveness of diagnostic technologies and reducing the population burden of cardiovascular disease."
Ladapo said moving cross-country was an easy sell for his three boys, who know that Walt Disney World is in Florida.
"Anytime they have any complaints, we mention Disney World and everything's OK again," he joked.
DeSantis praised Ladapo, saying the state welcomes his leadership "with open arms."
Ladapo said he hopes Florida will set the example for other states when it comes to approaching public health.
"Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health," Ladapo said. "So we're done with fear."
Lapado said fear has been the "centerpiece of health policy in the United States ever since the beginning of the pandemic."
The Nigerian-born former Wake Forest decathlete also vowed to be explicit about the differences between science and opinions.
"You'll know when we're talking about data, and you'll know when we're talking about our opinions, our impressions, our preferences about the data," Ladapo said. "That will always be clear here. So you can count on that."
Ladapo said he'll also "never lose sight of the fact that public health is not one thing," such as COVID-19.
"That is a part of public health, but it's not the only thing," he said.
Ladapo wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year that masks are a distraction from the pandemic reality.
When a reporter asked Ladapo about his stance on the state's role in promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, the Harvard-educated doctor said those decisions should be an individual choice.
"The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn't the only path to that," Ladapo said. "It's been treated almost like a religion, and that's just senseless, right? There are lots of good pathways to health, and vaccination's not the only one."
Ladapo will also join the faculty at the University of Florida.
"To be able to get someone of Joe's caliber to a Florida university, that's a coup in and of itself," DeSantis said. "And, yeah, I'm happy that he's going to do this job and I think he's going to do a great job, but that's a big deal. So I think any university would be foolish not to want (Ladapo)."
When pressed about Ladapo's thoughts on natural immunity, DeSantis railed against President Joe Biden and reiterated his support for an effective treatment that has been in use since the end of last year.
DeSantis, who has been criticized for touting monoclonal antibody treatments instead of promoting vaccinations, said he believes the federal government is fearful that more people will reject the vaccine in favor of getting the treatment.
"But I do think that one of the reasons why this was not something that was put out there very publicly by the experts and by the powers that be in D.C. is because they feared that if you tell people there's an effective treatment, you tell people COVID's a treatable illness, they feared some people would say, 'Well, you know, maybe I won't get vaccinated. I'll just get the treatment,'" DeSantis said. "And so they didn't want that message out because they feared how people would behave."
DeSantis reiterated that the treatment should serve as a complement to the vaccine, which is why the state has raised awareness and expanded access to it.
"If you want to cover all your bases, do it as a complement, but you can't not tell people that this is something that's available," DeSantis said.
DeSantis criticized the Biden administration for "dramatically cutting" Florida's supply of monoclonal antibody treatments.
"That's wrong," DeSantis said. "That is dead wrong, and why are they targeting Florida? Biden, he loves talking about Florida. He hates Florida more than anything, and this is absolutely going to hurt people."
Rivkees served as Florida's surgeon general from June 2019 through September 2021. He is now employed by UF Health.