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Florida suspends a health official urging staff to be vaccinated

Syringes filled with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sit on a table during an employee vaccination at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, USA, September 24, 2021. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton

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January 19 (Reuters) - A top Florida official has been put on administrative leave as officials investigate whether he violated a state ban by emailing employees about their low vaccination rate against COVID-19 and urging them to be shot.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican widely believed to be planning a candidacy for the U.S. presidency, signed a law banning schools, businesses and government entities in November from requiring vaccination against COVID-19, drawing condemnation from health experts and Democrats leaders.

The official who was taken on leave, Dr. Raul Pino, Florida Department of Health's director in Orlando, sent his staff an email on Jan. 4 noting their low vaccination rate and urging them to get shots, according to Orlando's WFTV. Pino had an analyst to retrieve vaccination data for its employees, WFTV reported.

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The Florida Department of Health said it was conducting an investigation to determine if any laws were violated.

"Since the decision to be vaccinated is a personal choice of doctor that should be taken free from coercion and mandates from the employers, the employee in question has been put on administrative leave," the department said in a statement.

In the January 4 email, Pino said he had retrieved vaccination data for his 568 active employees and that less than half had two doses while only 14% had their booster, according to WFTV.

"I'm sorry, but for lack of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated," Pino wrote.

Pino, who was instrumental in spearheading Florida's response to the pandemic, was not immediately available for comment.

Florida was among several conservative-led states suing the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent it from enforcing a now-defunct large-scale vaccine mandate introduced by President Joe Biden.

The Supreme Court last week blocked this mandate - a policy that conservative judges considered an inappropriate imposition on life and health for many Americans - while approving a separate federal vaccine requirement for health facilities.

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Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing Aurora Ellis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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