Trust Index: Fact-checking Florida surgeon general’s guidance recommending against mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for men ages 18-39

The News4JAX Trust Index Team rates the guidance as ‘be careful’

News4JAX ran a statement from Florida’s surgeon general through the Trust Index after Twitter flagged the state Department of Health’s new anti-vaccine guidance as misinformation.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Lapado’s new guidance recommends against the messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccine for men ages 18 to 39 years old. According to the Florida Department of Health, its analysis found there is an 84% increase in relative incidents of cardiac-related deaths within 28 days following the mRNA vaccine.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is rebuking Lapado’s guidance in a statement of its own.

“This decision is flawed and a far cry from the science. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective, and severe adverse reactions are rare. Vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials and since then, tens of millions of Americans have received COVID-19 vaccines,” said Sarah Lovenheim, with HHS.

State officials say they came to their conclusion on the guidance based on cross-referencing data from the state’s reportable disease repository, the State Health Online Tracking System, and death records. They analyzed this data from December 2020 through June 2022.

We took this new guidance to Duval County Medical Society Foundation President Sunil Joshi.

“Think it’s important to keep in mind that his statement was based on very, very limited data,” Joshi said.

Joshi says he understands why the state’s guidance is being questioned and criticized. He says that state officials didn’t publish the author of the analysis and that the guidance wasn’t reviewed by any peers — methodology typically included in scientific studies.

“This was basically data that was looked at after looking at death certificates and then going backward in time to see who received the vaccine and who did not. And by listing things, such as cardiac death, without specifying what was actually happening, doesn’t really give us a lot of information,” Joshi said.

Joshi says “cardiac death” is listed frequently on Florida death certificates and doesn’t definitely mean the death was the result of COVID-19 or myocarditis, which is the inflation of the heart muscle.

Joshi says it’s important for men ages 18 to 39 to consult with their physician before getting vaccinated, but he’s still accusing Florida’s surgeon general of spreading disinformation.

“There’s a big difference between misinformation and disinformation,” Joshi said. “So misinformation is when there’s a bunch of stuff out there that may not be accurate and people are reading it. Disinformation is when you are taking in misinformation and purposely using it in a way to promote a certain point of view that may in fact hurt the people that you’re discussing it with.”

News4JAX reached out to FDOH, asking who the author of the analysis is and why it wasn’t peer-reviewed. We also asked the surgeon general for a response about allegations of disinformation and we are waiting on a response.

After reviewing statements from HHS and a local medical expert, the News4JAX Trust Index Team rates the guidance that men ages 18 to 39 should not get the vaccine as “be careful.”

Medical experts say there is a small risk of heart conditions following vaccinations — but not to the extent this new guidance suggests.

Be Careful

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About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.