Members Only | March 17, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
CDC, FDA eviscerate Doctor Antivax
Ron DeSantis believes that antivax is the fast lane to the White House, and Dr. Ladapo is his eager co-pilot.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo went mask-off (so to speak) at a press conference in Winter Haven, Florida, Thursday, revealing himself to be an unvarnished antivaxer.
“These vaccines have a terrible safety profile at this point in the pandemic,” Ladapo said of the covid vaccines. “You know, I’m not sure anyone should be taking them and that’s the honest truth.”
“Respectable” antivaxers are normally at pains to convince the public that they’re only concerned about the mRNA vaccines, or the use of vaccines in certain populations. For example, they’ll say they’re not against covid vaccines per se, they’re just worried that the risks don’t justify the benefits for young men, or for boosters, or whatever. That was Ladapo’s tack until the CDC and the FDA eviscerated him in a letter last week, debunking his insinuation that an uptick in reported adverse events is an indication that the covid vaccines are unsafe.
Last month, Ladapo wrote to the heads of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Like so many antivaxers, Ladapo has been doing his own research. Unlike most cranks, he briefly came under investigation for allegedly falsifying the data his department put out about covid vaccines. In his letter, pointed out that reports of adverse vaccine events to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database had risen since the covid vaccines were introduced.
Judging by his grumbling about federal health agencies at the press conference, Ladapo’s feelings were hurt by the reply he got last week from FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Anyone would be. The two agency heads neatly dismantled Ladapo’s claim that an increase in adverse event reports since the advent of the covid vaccines is an indicator that the covid vaccines are unsafe. The two agency heads also accused Ladapo of fuelling vaccine hesitancy and undermining public health.
“The claim that the increase of VAERS reports of life-threatening conditions reported from Florida and elsewhere represents an increase of risk caused by the COVID-19 vaccines is incorrect, misleading and could be harmful to the American public,” the commish and director wrote. They went on to explain exactly why Ladapo’s inflammatory statistics are misleading.
“Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination do not mean that a vaccine caused the event,” Califf and Walensky said, zeroing in on the logical fallacy behind Ladapo’s inflammatory claims, and adding that “The Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for the COVID-19 Vaccines require sponsors and vaccine providers to report certain adverse events through VAERS, so more reports should be expected.”
In other words, anyone can submit a report to VAERS if they think there’s any connection between a vaccine and a symptom. Moreover, covid vaccines are special because health care providers are required to report adverse events even if they don’t believe there’s any link between the shot and the symptoms. This extra-low reporting threshold is part of the most intensive vaccine safety monitoring program in US history. As Califf and Walensky pointed out in their letter, the CDC and FDA are already well aware of the VAERS reports and that they’ve been actively looking into them to make sure they’re not signs of a larger safety problem.
“Both FDA and CDC have continued to collect outcome data from multiple sources that demonstrate the clear benefit of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing death, serious illness, and hospitalization from SARS-CoV-2 infection, along with indicating a modest benefit in the prevention of infection and transmission that wanes over time, even as new variants have emerged.”
Ladapo’s shift to a hardcore antivaxery may also reflect the presidential ambitions of his boss, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis believes that antivax is the fast lane to the White House, and Dr. Ladapo is his eager co-pilot.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.