Throughout the pandemic, Florida's Dr. Raul Pino has been the public face for Orange County's Department of Health, appearing during news briefings to offer updates on case numbers and vaccinations. The county health director may not be on camera for a while, though: The state DOH announced Pino has been placed on administrative leave after he encouraged his own staff to get vaccinated, reports WMFE. Pino's vaccination push came during a Jan. 4 email to employees in which he noted that of the nearly 570 workers in his department, 34 had received one dose of vaccine, 219 had been fully vaccinated with two doses, and just 77 had received a booster shot.
"In the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated," Pino noted, per WFTV. He added that although the county has so far administered upward of 300,000 doses to members of the public, it's "pathetic" that his own staffers hadn't yet reached a 50% vaccination rate. "I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice [vaccination]," he wrote.
WMFE notes that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates and frequently aligned with the anti-vaccination crowd, even positioning himself counter to former President Trump on the matter, who's been actively promoting the benefits of vaccination of late and talking up his own role in vaccine production before he left the Oval Office. The state Department of Health is apparently taking the governor's stance, noting in a statement that 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," per WFTV.
The DOH adds it's looking into whether Pino's email violated any laws. Per FOX 35, Pino, who's headed up the county health division since May 2019, has a doctorate in medicine from the University of Havana, as well as a master's degree in public health from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. WESH notes it's not clear how long Pino's leave is in place; the office of Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says it wasn't notified by the state about it. Democratic state lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith is calling the move against Pino "political." (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)