Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried celebrated a milestone Wednesday — 12 million Floridians having gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. But she also expressed concern about the state’s new chief health officer.
Fried congratulated Floridians for taking that step and took credit for driving the push for preventive pokes.
“The people of the state of Florida need to be congratulated for finally listening to the calls and listening to all of our recommendations of the last eight weeks, asking people to getting vaccinated,” Fried said.
Fried, appearing at Florida A&M University, has aggressively messaged on the need for vaccinations and taken credit for gains, while castigating Gov. Ron DeSantis for inoculation “disinformation.” The midweek press conference continued in that vein.
Fried noted that 56% of the state is now vaccinated, up 8% since she started her briefings two months ago. But she won’t “let up.”
The messaging comes as metrics continue to improve, as the seasonal surge DeSantis pronounced continues to abate after weeks of crushing hospital capacity statewide. Hospitalizations now are under 8,200 at last count, way down from previous highs.
Meanwhile, this was Fried’s first press conference since DeSantis brought on a controversial new Surgeon General who, like DeSantis, sees vaccines as optional.
“It seems like the Governor went out of his way to find him and bring him to Florida,” Fried said.
Surgeon General Joe Ladapo was introduced to media Tuesday, and very quickly made his mark, repealing a July emergency order from his predecessor. That move mooted a series of legal challenges and allowed parental opt-outs to be sufficient to evade school mask requirements. The rule also eliminates a four-day quarantine period for students who had close contact to someone with COVID-19.
Fried did not address the new rule, speaking in more general terms.
“The Surgeon General is supposed to be a very important job … it leads the direction of our health care policies. So it is important that we have an administrator that believes in public health, that works and does everything possible to promote safe, reliable medicines.” Fried contended.
It is doubtful the new Surgeon General will meet Fried’s muster, even as he will represent a contrast from his predecessor.
Ladapo, a signatory to the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration, has been very vocal in his positions opposing mask mandates, government shutdowns, and vaccine mandates.
In her remarks Wednesday, Fried again derided the previous Surgeon General, pediatrics specialist Dr. Scott Rivkees, as “MIA” during the pandemic.
“He was pulled out of one briefing,” Fried noted, “and then we never saw him again.”
In contrast to Rivkees, who was divorced from live microphones for most of his tenure, expect Ladapo to be very forward in pushing the administration’s preferred approach to virus mitigation … or lack thereof.
“Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health. So we are done with fear,” Ladapo said Tuesday in his debut press conference at the Capitol. “That’s been something that’s been unfortunately a centerpiece of health policy in the United States ever since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s over here. Expiration date. It’s done.”
Ladapo will have to be confirmed by the Senate, of course, but there is little expectation the Republican-controlled body will buck DeSantis on his pick.
Capitol Reporter Christine Sexton contributed to this report.