'Grossly irresponsible': Florida congresswoman blasts surgeon general over measles outbreak

A congresswoman from South Florida is calling for the removal of the state’s controversial surgeon general due to his handling of a measles outbreak in Broward County.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo, whose skepticism towards the COVID-19 vaccine has been widely noted, sent a letter to parents at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston last week, where seven students have contracted measles. Despite this, he refused to declare a public health emergency. In total, nine cases of the highly contagious and potentially fatal virus have been confirmed in Broward County, according to state health officials.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25) criticized Ladapo’s approach, accusing him of politicizing public health and promoting rhetoric that fosters vaccine hesitancy. She emphasized the necessity of vaccination for public and personal health and condemned Ladapo’s decision not to declare a public health emergency, leaving the burden of school attendance decisions solely on parents.

Measles outbreaks are rare in the United States, but reported cases have increased, with 35 cases already reported this year compared to 58 for all of 2023, according to the Associated Press. While it is recommended that unvaccinated students who have not had the disease stay home for three weeks to prevent infection, Ladapo’s letter indicated that the state would not mandate this recommendation, instead deferring the decision to parents or guardians.

Ladapo, appointed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in September 2021, shares DeSantis’s opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, mask mandates, and school closures. Wasserman Schultz called for Ladapo’s resignation or termination, criticizing his failure to follow basic public health guidance, such as recommending all children receive the measles vaccine.

The measles outbreak at Manatee Bay Elementary School began just a week ago with four cases, but has since spread to a total of nine children in Broward County, including seven students at the Weston school. Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, Chair of the Epidemiology Department at Florida International University, highlighted the severity of measles, which can cause fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a blotchy rash. She stressed the importance of vaccination and advised individuals who suspect they have contracted measles to contact a doctor rather than go to an emergency room to prevent unintentional spread of the disease.