Florida Health Officer suspended to encourage staff to get COVID vaccine

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – A health official who has helped lead Central Florida’s response to the pandemic has been put on administrative leave as state officials investigate whether he tried to force employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in violation of state legislation.

The state health agency is conducting an investigation into Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, “to determine if any laws were violated in this case,” Florida Department of Health press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in an e-mail. mail.

A measure signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in the law last fall prohibits public authorities from implementing vaccine mandates and restricts private companies from having vaccine requirements unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective equipment.

“The department is committed to enforcing all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees, and will take appropriate action once more information is known,” Redfern said in the email. He gave no further details.

Orlando’s WFTV reports that Pino was put on leave after he sent an email to staff earlier in the month who were critical of their vaccination rate.

Pino wrote that out of 568 employees, only 77 had received booster shots, 219 had received two vaccine doses and 34 had only a single dose, according to the television station.

“I’m sorry, but for lack of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” Pino wrote. “We’ve been at this for two years, we were the first to give vaccines to the masses, we’ve made more than 300,000, and we’re not even 50% pathetic.”

Pino has headed the Orange County health agency since 2019 and has served as a leading figure in the public response to the Orlando Metro pandemic.

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