TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - During a contentious confirmation hearing on Tuesday where Democrats pressed the state's top doctor to promote shots, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo refused to say whether had been vaccinated for COVID-19.
After Democrats peppered him with questions for nearly two hours and said he was part of the politicization of the pandemic, the Republican-controlled Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to back Ladapo's confirmation.
Republican Sen. Doug Broxson called the Democrats' questioning "hazing and badgering" and praised Ladapo for maintaining his composure.
"I believe to the best of your knowledge you've expressed what you've learned, what you know," Broxson said. "And I am very proud that you're the doctor of the state."
Democrats, however, objected to Ladapo's approach to the pandemic and other health issues facing the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Ladapo in September, touching off months of controversy about the physician.
Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy said Ladapo's "policy positions are dangerous."
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, pointed to the more than 66,000 deaths of Florida residents from COVID-19 and said the state "needs a doctor who will push back on the politics of this administration and focus only on the health of 22 million Floridians."
"We don't need him and the governor doing their dog-and-pony show across the street, talking about how masks and vaccines are useless," Polsky said. "So, what is your alternative to prevention? A healthy diet. I can't believe that this candidate is the best we can come up with, especially in a time of crisis."
After the meeting Ladapo said he understood the line of questions.
"There are a lot of perspectives and opinions," Ladapo said. "And unfortunately, there's a lot of inaccurate information out there."
With Tuesday's approval, Ladapo's confirmation is ready for a vote by the full Senate. As surgeon general, Ladapo serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, and he also has a faculty position at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
Ladapo and DeSantis, in part, have posed questions about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, opposed lockdowns and rejected mask and vaccination requirements.
Ladapo told the committee he expects more states and countries in the coming weeks and months to drop testing requirements for people not showing signs of COVID-19.
"The reason for that is because we are now in a place where there is widespread immunity from prior infection and availability of vaccines, so essentially there are a lot of protections," Ladapo said. "As omicron (the omicron variant of the coronavirus) demonstrated, in the states that told their nurses and doctors to come to work even if they tested positive, it's just not a reasonable strategy to manage a contagious respiratory virus by testing people who don't have symptoms."
Democrats walked out of a Jan. 26 meeting of the Senate Health Policy Committee instead of voting on the confirmation because they said Ladapo was not answering questions.
After that, Ladapo drew additional scrutiny because of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement background check conducted for the Senate. In the report, an unidentified former supervisor of Ladapo's at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine said Ladapo's hands-off approach to COVID-19 violated the doctor's Hippocratic oath of doing no harm and "created stress and acrimony among his coworkers and supervisors."
On Tuesday, Ladapo brushed off the criticism.
"What concerns me is how some science has been ignored the past two years when it doesn't fit the agenda, and how opinions that are different from the mainstream have been suppressed," Ladapo said. "Those are the things that concern me."
Ladapo also said other former co-workers offered praise for his work.
Polsky asked why he couldn't say vaccines would help prevent the spread of COVID-19 or whether he's been vaccinated.
Ladapo, calling his medical history private, said the Department of Health's approach has been to provide education and access rather than approach the pandemic with "coercion" and "propaganda," and that "people can make decisions for themselves."
In October, Ladapo refused to wear a mask when he and two aides arrived for a meeting in Polsky's Senate office to discuss his confirmation. Polsky told Ladapo she had a serious medical condition --- later announced as breast cancer.
Ladapo defended his decision by saying he cannot communicate clearly "when half of my face is covered."
(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)
for more features.