ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A health official who has helped lead central Florida's response to the pandemic has been put on administrative leave as state officials investigate whether he tried to compel employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in violation of state law.
The state health agency is conducting an inquiry into Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, “to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” Florida Department of Health press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in an email.
A measure Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last fall prohibits government agencies from implementing vaccine mandates and restricts private businesses from having vaccine requirements unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear.
“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," Redfern said in the email. He didn't offer further details.
Orlando's WFTV reports that Pino was put on leave after he sent an email to staff earlier this month critical of their vaccination rate.
Pino wrote that out of 568 staffers, only 77 had received booster shots, 219 had gotten two vaccines doses and 34 only had a single dose, according to the television station.
“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” 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 and we are not even at 50% pathetic.”
Pino has led the health agency in Orange County since 2019 and has served as a leading figure in the public response to the pandemic in metro Orlando.