TAMPA (WFLA) – Several doctors held a virtual panel on Thursday to sound the alarm about the spread of the delta variant of coronavirus in the state of Florida.
Three doctors with the Committee to Protect Health Care, a nationwide organization of doctors describing themselves as “key health care advocates” committed to patient advocacy, said state officials are not doing enough to protect Floridians.
“For weeks, cases have been rapidly increasing,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a cardiologist in Miami. “So it is curious to me as a physician when, on Sunday, Gov. DeSantis gave a speech to a large crowd in Tampa basically poking fun at Dr. Anthony Fauci.”
On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis made his most forceful appeal yet for all Floridians to get the vaccine.
“If you are fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” DeSantis said. “These vaccines are saving lives.”
But it’s his comments about further health measures that worry some doctors — like the governor’s stance on masks.
“I get a little bit frustrated when I see some of these jurisdictions saying ‘even if you’re healthy and vaccinated you must wear a mask because we’re seeing increased cases’,” DeSantis said. “Understand what that message is sending to people who aren’t vaccinated: it’s telling them that the vaccines don’t work.”
Dr. Mona Mangat, one of the doctors with CPHC who is board certified in allergy/immunology, internal medicine and pediatrics, said that’s the opposite message people should be getting.
She said while vaccinated people can still get the virus, it’s at much lower rates, still offers better protection from serious illness or death, and helps the most vulnerable among us.
“Think about all of the children in our communities that cannot have vaccines because there is not a vaccine approved for them yet,” said Dr. Mangat, who runs two clinics in St. Petersburg. “Think about all the people with high-risk diseases that either make vaccines ineffective or they are unable to receive vaccines.”
Dr. Frederick Southwick, an infectious disease specialist in Gainesville, said he is speaking out about this problem now because public health policies are being driven by politicians, instead of doctors and experts.
“One of the problems with physicians is we tend to be quiet and want to do our work,” said Dr. Southwick. “What’s happening over this pandemic is our voices aren’t being heard. Our hospitals are being overwhelmed because of this disinformation and this lack of rigorous, scientifically-based policies. It’s criminal.”
Dr. Ashby said while doctors are doing their best, the problem is systemic.
“The U.S. health care system is not designed to take care of patients,” said Ashby. “It is a profit-driven system that has forgotten its mandate to care for the health and wellness of our country.”