Multiple media outlets have suggested a Florida health official is on leave and under investigation for encouraging fellow employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but the actual reasoning appears to concern how he may have accessed colleagues' private health data.

A local Orlando outlet reported this week that Orange County (Fla.) Health Director Dr. Raul Pino was placed on administrative leave following a Jan. 4 email he sent to Orange County Department of Health staff criticizing its low internal vaccination rate. 

The Associated Press picked up the report ("Florida suspends health official in probe over vaccine law"), as well as the Washington Post ("Florida health official placed on leave after encouraging employees to get vaccinated"), New York Times ("A Florida public health official is put on leave after emailing his staff to urge vaccination"), Reuters ("Florida suspends health official who urged staff to get vaccinated), and Business Insider ("Florida Department of Health suspends medical director after he sent email encouraging staff to get vaccinated"), among others.


FLORIDA, USA - AUGUST 24: A woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine during a vaccination event, in Key Biscayne, Florida, United States on August 24, 2021. (Photo by Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Some headlines in particular suggested Pino was placed on leave specifically because he wanted colleagues to get vaccinated – Florida under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned coronavirus vaccine mandates, including for government employees – but the email obtained by Fox News Digital shows him referencing the specific vaccination data of fellow Orange County health workers.


Pino wrote he asked their analyst to run vaccination data on the county's 568 active staffers and learned to his chagrin that only 77 had received boosters after their first series of shots, 219 had received the two-shot vaccine series, and 34 had gotten just one dose. With those numbers, he wrote, it was likely more of them would get sick.

"I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated," he wrote in the Jan. 4 message. "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 percent, pathetic."

The Washington Post's lead sentence reads, "The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday placed a top official on administrative leave after he allegedly encouraged employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus." However, in the seventh paragraph of its story, the article noted a tweet from NBC News reporter Marc Caputo, a veteran journalist covering Florida, who wrote there was "more to the story" and Pino "may have accessed potentially confidential worker health info."

There is a Department of Health investigation underway in the meantime. According to someone familiar with the matter, the controversy is not simply about Pino urging vaccinations, but how Pino went about getting the vaccine data; that was referred to the Inspector General for investigation, in case there were any laws broken or privacy violations.

Pino didn't respond to a request for comment. 


Florida's coronavirus handling has attracted a great deal of national attention, in part due to its size but also DeSantis, whose opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates has won him conservative plaudits and also sharp liberal media criticism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in November 2021. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in November 2021. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


Media outlets in Florida and elsewhere have hyped indications that DeSantis is punishing dissidents on his coronavirus policies, such as the feverish reporting on former state health official Rebekah Jones. She became a media darling during the coronavirus pandemic over her explosive claim that she was pressured by the DeSantis administration to alter the state's data in order to push for reopening. But reporting from multiple outlets refuted the allegations of Jones, who is facing felony cybercrime charges for allegedly hacking a state messaging service.

Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.