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Louisiana’s chief medical officer Dr. Joe Kanter steps down


Louisiana’s chief medical officer Dr. Joe Kanter steps down

Feb 26, 2024 | 2:52 pm ET
By Greg LaRose
Louisiana’s chief medical officer Dr. Joe Kanter steps down
Dr. Joe Kanter has stepped down as Louisiana's state health officer. He took over the post in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. (LDH photo)

Dr. Joe Kanter, the physician who led Louisiana’s battle against COVID-19 and other public health threats is stepping down from his post, the Louisiana Department of Health confirmed Monday.  

Kanter has been the state health officer since January 2021, having replaced Dr. Jimmy Guidry who held the office for 24 years. 

“It has been an incredible honor and privilege to serve the people of Louisiana,” Kanter said in a text message when reached Monday afternoon. He declined to comment on the reasons for his departure. 

Dr. Pete Croughan, deputy LDH secretary, has been named interim state health officer, a department spokesperson said.

As the state’s top medical official, Kanter gained prominence during the COVID pandemic for providing regular updates on the virus’ impact and the state’s response to it. Staying above the political fray over the virus, he countered rampant misinformation — much of it from dissenting public officials — about the coronavirus, government and business mandates to limit its spread and eventually COVID vaccines.

Kanter’s message on COVID vaccines was consistent and backed by solid science: The shot alone doesn’t convey immunity, but widespread inoculations could reduce COVID spread and severity among those who contract the virus. 

His pro-vaccination stance is at odds with public statements from Gov. Landry, who as attorney general invited vaccine-skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to testify before a legislative health committee in December 2021. Kennedy, who is running a dark horse campaign for president, has leaned on widely debunked theories to justify his opposition and spread disinformation on the COVID vaccines and other shots. 

After a lengthy, falsehood-filled presentation from Kennedy, Kanter appeared before the House Health and Welfare Committee that was considering the addition of the COVID vaccine to those required for school children. The doctor questioned why Kennedy, accompanied by Landry at the hearing, was given the platform to share “cherry-picked” data that he twisted to support his points.

“If you look at this individual and his track record, he has done the exact same thing for countless vaccines,” Kanter said. “He has been at the center of pieces of myths and misinformation on other vaccines that have really caused families harm.”

Kanter spearheaded vaccine drives among nursing home residents and staff, who were among the hardest hit with COVID fatalities and serious illnesses early in the pandemic. Cases dropped significantly at sites where vaccination rates surpassed the 80% rate.  

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in 2021, Kanter led state efforts to relocate residents from seven senior care facilities in southeast Louisiana who were taken to a warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish to ride out the storm. 

Days later, state health officials found the elderly and infirm in squalid conditions at the site. Five deaths were attributed to their evacuation, and Kanter ordered all of the nursing homes involved closed. Residents and their families have sued owner Bob Dean, who can no longer receive federal dollars  to operate nursing homes.  

In his nearly six years at the state health department, Kanter worked under four different state health secretaries: Dr. Rebekah Gee, Dr. Courtney Phillips and Stephen Russo, all appointees of Gov. John Bel Edwards; and, for less than two months, Dr. Ralph Abraham, Gov. Jeff Landry’s pick to lead the state health department.

Kanter would not say what his next professional move will be. He continues to hold the others jobs he maintained while working with the state. He’s on the medical staff at University Health Center in New Orleans and a faculty member at LSU Health Sciences Center and Tulane University School of Medicine. 

 Julie O’Donoghue contributed to his report.