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Florida Surgeon General Ladapo Used ‘Flawed’ Vaccine Science, Panel Says

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Joseph A. Ladapo, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida and state surgeon general, relied on flawed analysis and may have violated academic research integrity rules when he published instructions. last fall, discouraging young men from taking common coronavirus vaccines, according to a report by a medical school task force.

Ladapo recommended in October that men under 40 are not taking mRNA vaccines against covid-19, indicating an “abnormally high risk of cardiac death”. Doctors and public health officials quickly rushed, dismissing the underlying research for its small sample size, lack of detail and flimsy methodology.

In its new report, a faculty council task force at the University of Florida College of Medicine cites numerous flaws in the analysis Ladapo used to justify its vaccine recommendation. A summary said the work was “seriously flawed”. The report’s authors claim that Ladapo engaged in “negligent, improper or controversial research practices”.

The report, which was shared Tuesday night with medical school faculty members and obtained by The Washington Post, is the first formal challenge issued to Ladapo by his academic colleagues, which could trigger a broader academic investigation. The report was forwarded to the university’s Office of Research Integrity, Security and Compliance, a UF the spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday. That forces the state’s flagship university to consider a formal investigation of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ surgeon general for violating research integrity principles. (Ben Sasse, an incumbent Republican senator from Nebraska, is expected to become UF president in February.)

The faculty panel does not suggest that Ladapo committed any classic research fault, such as data falsification or plagiarism. Instead, his report focuses on what he describes as methodological flaws in the analysis, which was presented to the public without any named authors — let alone their credentials. The analysis relies on data that are not statistically significant, the task force concluded, and it fails to compare the risks of vaccination with the benefits, such as limiting covid-19-related deaths and reduction in hospitalizations. Finally, the analysis claims that the deaths are heart-related without sufficient evidence to support this, the task force said. As a result, he adds, Ladapo’s advice may have violated a section of UF’s Research Integrity Policy that relates to “questionable research practices.”

The task force highlights the tensions between Ladapo’s role as a politician and a university professor. “While Dr. Ladapo has the right and responsibility to develop public health policy as the state’s surgeon general, he must simultaneously meet the expectations and responsibilities of a tenured professor,” the group said. work in the report summarizing its conclusions.

Read the University of Florida report

Ladapo did not respond to emails Tuesday seeking comment. But he has publicly defended his advice before. “Based on the data, I stand by my recommendation against Covid-19 mRNA vaccination for young males,” Ladapo wrote in an October column in The Wall Street Journal. “At this stage of the pandemic, the benefits are unlikely to outweigh these risks.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that anyone 6 months of age or older receive a coronavirus vaccine.

In response to a summary of the task force’s findings, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health questioned why Ladapo’s academic colleagues would “vilify” him for his work as a general surgeon.

“The ‘research’ conducted has no affiliation with the university and was a surveillance evaluation of public health data within the authority of the Surgeon General,” wrote James “Jae” A. Williams III, Associate of the department’s deputy press, in an email. “It is interesting that the Faculty Council has spent so much time defaming his colleague’s work.

DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, is a prominent vaccine skeptic. In December, he successfully persuaded the state Supreme Court to order a grand jury investigation into “crimes and wrongs in Florida related to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Daniel Salmon, a vaccinologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University, said in a recent interview that Ladapo’s affiliation with UF “increases his credibility” – and, as such, “also increases the likelihood that he will do wrong”.

Ladapo, who was known early in the pandemic for his public skepticism of vaccines and mask mandates, was appointed to UF in 2021, around the time DeSantis named him surgeon general. Prior to his hire at UF, Ladapo was an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. He holds a medical degree and a doctorate in health policy, both from Harvard University.

Recent controversies are behind what some at UF say is a hyper-politicized environment. Ladapo joined the university with tenure through a fast-track process that drew criticism from a panel of faculty. In October, students and professors criticized an opaque presidential search process that ended with the nomination of Sasse, the senator, as the sole finalist for the UF presidency. In 2021, the UF faced criticism for blocking faculty from participating in litigation against the state over issues such as voting rights and mask mandates. UF reversed its position under heavy criticism.

“The climate is not good,” said Ira Longini, a member of the working group and professor of biostatistics. “People feel worried and threatened. The governor controls or attempts to control the universities in the state. The whole system is under siege right now.

Professors sue University of Florida, demanding restrictions on free speech

In addition to experts in biostatistics, the working group included professors specializing in infectious diseases, pediatrics, public health, vaccines and epidemiology. Michael Haller, chief of pediatric endocrinology at UF, chaired the group.

Haller declined to comment on the task force.

In an email to the medical school on Tuesday evening, Martin Rosenthal, chair of the medical school council, said, “The task force found no research misconduct.” But the report points to a provision of university policy on “violation of research integrity[s].” Rosenthal told the faculty that “any further investigation is handled by the Office of Research Integrity.”

Rosenthal did not respond to numerous inquiries from the Post.

At UF, a referral triggers a preliminary evaluation from the Office of Research Integrity, according to an online description of the university’s processes. But that does not guarantee a formal investigation. Violations are subject to disciplinary action, including termination.

The case against Ladapo falls into a “grey area” of research compliance, according to Christopher J. Cramer, former vice president of research at the University of Minnesota.

“I certainly wouldn’t call it misconduct,” said Cramer, professor emeritus of chemistry. “The question then arises: ‘But what about integrity?’ The University of Florida faculty might be within its rights to suggest that the surgeon general should take a leave of absence or disassociate himself from the university due to a breach of his academic responsibilities.

The challenge to Ladapo by his UF colleagues recalls a recent case at Stanford University where, in 2020, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution condemning Scott Atlas, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a group of reflection hosted by Stanford. As President Donald Trump’s pandemic adviser Atlas has questioned the science of mask-wearing and once urged people in Michigan to “rise up” against covid restrictions. In a recent interview with The Stanford Review, Atlas said the faculty’s criticism of him “has no basis.”

Paul Offit, a professor of vaccinology and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said Ladapo put people at risk with his vaccine advice. The university needs to stand up and say this, Offit said.

“If people are making statements that are incorrect and potentially harmful,” Offit said, “then I think it’s incumbent on the university to put that person speaking to the test.”

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