Former Surgeon General Frank Farmer: On mandates, vaccines and a new surgeon general

'In general, I do not support medical mandates because I do not think they are very effective and do not achieve what they desire.'

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  • | 7:00 a.m. November 11, 2021
  • Palm Coast Observer
  • Opinion
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Frank Farmer
Frank Farmer

by: Frank Farmer, Ph.D, M.D.

Recently, Dr. Joseph Lapado, the designated surgeon general of Florida, went to the office of Sen. Tina Polsky in preparation for his confirmation by the Senate. At the meeting, Sen. Polsky requested that he wear a mask as she had a compromised immune condition. Later, she revealed that this was due to a newly diagnosed breast malignancy. Dr. Lapado declined to do so, and the meeting imploded. The incident has resulted in much publicity and accusations by both pro mask and anti mask factions.

As a former surgeon general of Florida, I have been asked about my views on the matter. 

Before I was a physician, I was a historian in a university setting and wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the attempts to eradicate a specific disease in the South in the early 20th century. As I researched that topic, I became very familiar with the history of vaccines and continued that interest throughout my medical education and career. As a historian and physician, I believe that with all the great medical innovations over the last 300 years such as blood typing, transfusions, MRIs, CT scans, new surgical techniques, antibiotics and others, none have saved more lives and helped benefit society more than vaccines. 

Because of vaccines, we no longer have the great scourges of smallpox, polio, yellow fever, influenza, and other diseases that have claimed millions of lives over the centuries. I encourage all eligible individuals to get the COVID vaccine with the advice of their physician.

In general, I do not support medical mandates because I do not think they are very effective and do not achieve what they desire. A mandate is exactly what is says — an order to do something. This is a rigid doctrine and, in my opinion, does not consider all the variables that should go into every medical decision. In the case of COVID-19, some of those variables include the general health of the individual, the age group of the patient, previous infection with COVID-19, immune status of the person, religious beliefs, psychological condition and mental health, to name a few.

The American people are an intelligent group and very independent, with a strong sense of their ability to make their own decisions about their health. They respond much better to explanations and reasoning than to mandates.

Dr. Lapado is an intelligent person, with a degree from Harvard and hundreds of published scientific papers. I am sure that he can make persuasive arguments on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but the incident in Sen. Polsky’s office is more than Dr. Lapado’s views on mask wearing.

The surgeon general is the embodiment of all the physicians in Florida. When he entered that senator’s office, with her name on the door, he was essentially entering her home. If he declined to wear a mask, he could have congenially exited and offered to have a zoom or telephone conference.

Dr. Lapado has the right to wear or not wear a mask anywhere in any public area of the Capitol, but surely we can accept that an announced immuno-compromised sitting state senator, in her office, can be afforded a little leeway in regard to her request. Courtesy, compassion and empathy should reside in all of us.

With all the above being said, Dr. Lapado is a very well qualified medical doctor. He deserves a bit of patience as he adjusts to his new role as the surgeon general. Let us give the grace to Dr. Lapado that we should give to all human beings. He will either embrace this role or he will not.

Frank Farmer, of Ormond Beach, was Florida's surgeon general from 2011 to 2012.


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