The Florida Department of Health has placed a top official on administrative leave after he criticised staff over their vaccination rate.
In an email on 4 January, Dr Raul Pino called unvaccinated staff members “irresponsible” and wrote “we are not even at 50% – pathetic”.
Legislation passed in Florida late last year prohibits employers, public and private, from mandating jabs.
DOH confirmed on Wednesday the doctor’s actions were being investigated.
“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the BBC.
“The 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.”
According to local media, Dr Pino wrote to employees that, out of 568 DOH staffers, less than 40% had gotten two jabs and only 77 had received boosters.
“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” he said.
“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 and we are not even at 50% – pathetic.”
He continued: “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it.”
An epidemiologist who joined DOH in 2019, Dr Pino, 58, has led pandemic response for the Orange County region in central Florida.
Over the past two years, the former Cuban refugee became a regular fixture at Covid-19 news conferences with the mayor in tourist-heavy Orlando, urging residents in English and Spanish to stay protected.
But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who is reportedly eyeing a run at the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – has fiercely opposed attempts to mandate vaccines and has called getting the jab a private choice.
The state has the third highest death toll in the country, with more than 63,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but .
About 64% of the state is double-jabbed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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