Florida Surgeon General Altered COVID-19 Data

On April 25 2023, a popular Imgur post asserted that Florida’s surgeon general had “altered” COVID-19 vaccine safety data, transcribing a portion of text in a screenshot:

Today in one sentence: Fox News parted ways with Tucker Carlson, effective immediately; …  Florida’s surgeon general personally omitted information from a state study about Covid-19 vaccines last year to suggest that young men should not get vaccinated …

Fact Check

Claim: Florida’s surgeon general personally altered COVID-19 vaccine safety data in a manner conflicting with most public health guidance.

Description: Florida’s surgeon general Joseph Ladapo altered COVID-19 vaccine safety data, portraying a higher risk to young men than what had been established by the broader medical community. These changes were in conflict with most public health guidance.


Rating Explanation: Investigative reports by Politico.com, CNN.com, and more indicate this claim to be valid. Ladapo himself has acknowledged the changes, justifying revisions as a normal part of such assessments.

On Twitter, several prominent tweets made similar claims about Florida’s attorney general and COVID-19 vaccines:

One day prior, a Reddit user submitted the claim to r/politics:

All three tweets and the Reddit post linked to the source of the claim, an April 24 2023 Politico.com article: “Florida surgeon general altered key findings in study on Covid-19 vaccine safety.” Its subheading indicated that Florida’s surgeon general did not dispute the claim, but instead defended his decision:

Joseph Ladapo defended the move, saying revisions are a normal part of assessing such analysis.

At the beginning of the investigative piece, the outlet reiterated that Florida’s surgeon general (Joseph Ladapo) acknowledged having “personally altered” vaccine safety data. Politico.com further described Ladapo as a “well-known COVID-19 vaccine skeptic”:

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo personally altered a state-driven study about Covid-19 vaccines last year to suggest that some doses pose a significantly higher health risk for young men than had been established by the broader medical community, according to a newly obtained document.

Ladapo’s changes, released as part of a public records request, presented the risks of cardiac death to be more severe than previous versions of the study. He later used the final document in October [2022] to bolster disputed claims that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were dangerous to young men.

The surgeon general, a well-known Covid-19 vaccine skeptic, faced a backlash from the medical community after he made the assertions, which go against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics. But Ladapo’s statements aligned well with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stance against mandatory Covid-19 vaccination.

Later in the piece, Politico.com included commentary from public health expert about Ladapo’s edits:

Yet the researchers who viewed a copy of the edits said Ladapo removed an important analysis that would have contradicted his recommendation. Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called Ladapo’s changes “really troubling … He took out stuff that didn’t support his position.”

On April 25 2023, CNN.com covered the Politico.com report, explaining that Ladapo’s assessment was in conflict with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Florida’s American Academy of Pediatrics:

The state Department of Health said [on April 25 2023] that Ladapo stands by his guidance to recommend against the vaccine for certain groups.

Multiple studies have found cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart and heart lining, are rare after mRNA vaccines, although they are more likely to occur among young men. The risk of heart inflammation is far greater from Covid-19 than from vaccination.

Florida is an outlier in its recommendations against the Covid-19 vaccine for young men and healthy children; it is at odds with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommendations from other states and Florida’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Local news sources had also addressed Ladapo’s decision to alter the data. On April 11 2023, WUSF called Ladapo’s “withholding of Florida COVID vaccine data … irresponsible at best,” following a paywalled April 7 2023 Tampa Bay Times report.

On April 24 and 25 2023, several social media posts claimed that Florida’s surgeon general Joseph Ladapo, a known “vaccine skeptic”, had “personally altered” vaccine safety data with respect to recommendations; the posts all referenced a Politico.com investigative report. In response to questions from news outlets, Ladapo himself acknowledged the veracity of the claim, and stated that he had “never been afraid of disagreement with peers or media.”