Former Florida surgeon general challenges state vaccine and transgender advice

TALLAHASSEE — Scott Rivkees, Florida’s first surgeon general appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, doesn’t seem to agree with recent guidelines from the department he once headed.

The Health Ministry, which is now led by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, issued guidelines in March on the potential dangers of administering COVID-19 vaccines to healthy children. This month, the Department of Health released a statement advising against social transitioning or gender-affirming surgery for transgender children.

Related: Former Florida surgeon general heading to Brown University

Rivkees — who has since left the state to take a job at Brown University — recently publicly challenged both positions.

In a month of March column in Weather Titled “Setting the Records Straight on COVID-19 Vaccines for Children,” Rivkees wrote that healthy children should get vaccinated.

“Some people suggest that severe COVID-19, meaning cases requiring hospitalization or resulting in death, only affects children who have underlying medical conditions,” said Rivkees, a board-certified physician in general pediatrics. “It’s wrong.”

Rivkees did not mention his former department in this opinion piece. Instead, he presented a series of facts and figures to demonstrate that vaccination is safe, effective and far less risky for children than contracting the virus.

Drawing intense criticism, the state warned in its guidelines that children who take the vaccine could contract serious diseases such as myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle. At least four of the researchers whose work was cited by the department in its guidelines said their comments were taken out of context. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended COVID-19 vaccines for eligible children 5 years of age or older.

Rivkees said in his essay that the risk of a child getting myocarditis after being infected with COVID-19 is 25 times greater than the risk of getting myocarditis after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

This week, Rivkees signed a letter published in the Tampa Bay Weather which offered a more direct critique of the department he headed.

The state recommended last week that transgender children not receive certain medical interventions often given to help people with gender dysphoria. Children should not receive hormone therapy, or gender-affirming surgery – or undergo “social gender transition,” in which a child assumes a new social identity, his advice said. Such a transition can be marked by a change of name, pronouns or clothing.

The letter signed by Rivkees and some 300 other medical professionals argued that the advice “distorts the weight of evidence, does not enable personalized patient and family-centered care and, if followed, would lead to higher rates of depression and suicidality among young people. .”

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The Department of Health has again been accused of handpicking evidence from sources to back up its claims. For example, the Ministry of Health said its guidance was in line with recommendations made by Sweden, Finland, the UK and France.

“In fact, none of these countries advise against social gender transition,” the letter responds.

The document notes that the state guidelines run counter to advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for DeSantis, said the advice was sound.

“Governor DeSantis agrees with the guidelines issued by the Florida Department of Health on vaccinating children against COVID and gender dysphoria in children, as these guidelines are supported by the best available evidence,” said wrote Pushaw in an email. “Dr. Rivkees, like any other citizen, is entitled to his own opinions and is free to express them.

As surgeon general, Rivkees oversaw the health department during some of the worst months of the coronavirus pandemic in Florida. However, he was hardly the public figure that Ladapo turned out to be. While the current surgeon general makes frequent appearances with DeSantis and on conservative cable news programs, Rivkees has been largely sidelined as Florida’s top health official.

The turning point in Rivkees’ tenure appears to have been an April 2020 press conference in which Rivkees warned that Floridians may be forced to social distance and wear masks until vaccines are widely available. .

After making that comment, a DeSantis aide pulled Rivkees out of the press conference. The surgeon general was barely seen again until the state rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination program in January 2021. He left the department in September.

Rivkees did not respond to emails seeking comment on Thursday.

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