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Florida Health Department Director Dr. Raul Pino On Administrative Leave Over Email Criticizing Low Vaccination Rate

ORLANDO (CBSMiami/CNN) - Dr. Raul Pino, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, has been placed on administrative leave after he sent an email expressing his frustration at the low vaccination rate among his colleagues.

The email sent on January 4 has also led to an investigation to determine if any laws were broken, according to Weesam Khoury, communications director at the Florida Department of Health.

In the email that cited the low numbers of vaccinated employees, Pino wrote he had "a hard time understanding how can we be in public health and not practice it!"

"The reasons can be many, but so many of us?" read the message, which was released by the Florida Department of Health.

"I am sorry, but at this point in the absence of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible no (sic) to be vaccinated," he wrote.

Pino's case comes amid ongoing culture wars that have politicized vaccinations. Last week, the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden's vaccine and testing requirement aimed at large businesses. A vaccine mandate for certain health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs did go into effect nationwide.

Pino was appointed director in May of 2019 after previously serving as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, according to the department's website.

In his email, Pino shared employee vaccination statistics but never demanded his colleagues be vaccinated. Of the 568 employees in the department, only 77 (or 13.55%) have received their booster shot while 219 (38.55%) have "a complete vaccine series," according to Pino.

Only 34 (5.98%) FDOH employees have one dose of the vaccine, Pino wrote.

"We have been at this for two years, we were the first to give vaccines to the masses, we have done more than 300 000 (OC DOH) and we are not even at 50%, pathetic," his email read.

"As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case," Khoury said in a statement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in November banning vaccine mandates and imposing fines on businesses and hospitals that require employees to be vaccinated without exemptions.

Khoury said the state's health department "is committed to upholding all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees and will take appropriate action once additional information is known."

Local and state politicians expressed their support of Pino.

"Dr. Raul Pino has been our trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic. His sound medical advice has helped guide me and countless other Orange County leaders to make the best decisions possible in dealing with COVID-19," said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings in a statement Wednesday.

"It is my fervent hope that Dr. Pino returns to work on behalf of the residents of Orange County soon," the mayor said.

State Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Orange County, tweeted Tuesday that Pino was a public servant and hero in the community.

"The Tallahassee decision to place him on administrative leave appears purely political," Smith's tweet read. "When you work for the #DeSantis administration, telling the truth has consequences. Pino did the right thing."

(©2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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