County Appoints Vaccine Critic to Health Board

Note: The following story first appeared in The Pilot on Jan. 26, 2023. 

Tom LoSapio uses props to make a point about masks and the coronavirus at a Board of Education meeting in September 2021. || Photograph by Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

A West End man who once declared he would “rather die of COVID” than get vaccinated has been appointed to the board that oversees the Moore County Health Department.

Tom LoSapio, an outspoken critic of vaccines, masks and other infection-control measures promoted by the Health Department, was selected Tuesday by county commissioners to take over an at-large seat on the Moore County Board of Health. He will replace Dr. Paul Kuzma, who resigned earlier in January with three months left in his term.

LoSapio has repeatedly gone before the Board of Health with comments alleging that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe. In December 2021, he told the board he was “extremely disappointed” to learn that a small percentage of children in the county had been vaccinated.

“Anyone who allows an experimental drug to be injected into our children should be ashamed,” he said at the time. “I’m 66 years old. I’m overweight. I have diabetes. I have kidney disease. I’d rather die of COVID than get that shot.”

LoSapio also regularly attended meetings of the Moore County Board of Education to protest a policy requiring students and faculty members to wear face masks in schools. In one appearance during a 2021 school board meeting, he used props to argue that cloth masks contain holes through which the respiratory droplets that spread COVID-19 can easily escape.

“I would like someone on the board to tell me how this hole stops this particle from getting through,” he said while holding up a hoop representing a mask and a small plastic ball representing a virus particle.

In a two-page letter accompanying LoSapio’s application to the Board of Health, a copy of which was provided to The Pilot on Friday, he accuses the board of “blindly following one narrative only, with COMPLETE DISREGARD for any other information source” in its response to the pandemic.

“For the last two years, I have attended Board of Health meetings and have been speaking at these meetings to bring the Board and the community information contrary to the CDC data that is selectively and singularly presented to this board by the Moore County Health Department,” he wrote, referring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It is obvious that critical information regarding Covid 19 from researchers and scientists around the world is not being presented and may, in fact, be excluded from all Health Department presentations made to the Board of Health.”

Commissioner Jim Von Canon made the motion to appoint LoSapio, which succeeded in a 4-1 vote. The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Frank Quis, who is currently the commission’s designated liaison to the Board of Health.

“I respectfully disagree with the way this is being handled,” said Quis, who went on to suggest that LoSapio had not submitted a formal application for the position. “As is tradition, we, in considering appointments, are given applications by interested individuals so that we could understand what they would bring to a board.”

But Laura Williams, clerk for the commissioners, confirmed that LoSapio’s application and letter were submitted to the county on Jan. 19 and distributed to the commissioners the following day.

Addressing his fellow commissioners, Quis argued that Tony Price, chairman of the Board of Health, should have been given an opportunity to weigh in on LoSapio’s appointment. While Quis acknowledged that the commissioners are not required to notify board chairs of potential appointments, he said it was still “the courteous thing to do.”

“Whether it’s the Board of Health or any board that serves here in Moore County, I think it sends a message to the members of whatever board it is that we haven’t thought enough of the board chair to let them know who we’re appointing or to get some input from them,” Quis said.

Nick Picerno, the commissioners’ chairman, contended that the appointment was listed on the agenda distributed in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.

“If I was the chairman of the Board of Health and saw an appointment, I think I would have been here,” he said.

Price said he did not see the appointment on the agenda. Moreover, he said the possibility of an appointment being made was not mentioned during a breakfast meeting he had the previous morning with Quis and newly elected Commissioner Kurt Cook, who will be replacing Quis as the commission’s liaison to the Board of Health.

“I did meet with the outgoing representative for the Board of Health and the incoming representative for the Board of Health the day before, and neither of us at that point were aware that an appointment was going to be made for the Board of Health,” Price said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Had I had a better feel for that, I would have made the meeting.”

Price, who is CEO of Moore Free and Charitable Clinic, was appointed to the Board of Health in 2020 and named the board’s chairman in January 2022. He has presided over several meetings in which LoSapio espoused unfavorable opinions — and unfounded theories — about COVID-19 vaccines.

But Price said he is not bothered by the commissioners’ decision to appoint LoSapio.

“I welcome the commissioners’ appointment,” he said. “I think that diverse opinion, input and ideas will result in the best decisions that the Board of Health makes, so I welcome that.”

The 11-member Board of Health is the policy-making body for the Moore County Health Department. By law, seven of the board’s seats must be filled by health care professionals who work in different fields.

One seat on the board is reserved for a county commissioner. The three other positions are at-large seats that can be filled by any resident appointed by the commissioners.

While those seats are technically open to members of the general public, past commissioners have shown a predilection for applicants with backgrounds in health care. Kuzma, for example, is a former anesthesiologist who practiced medicine in Moore County for over 20 years. He recently received a master’s degree in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

In the letter accompanying his application, LoSapio said he found it “highly unreasonable that the three Board of Health seats specifically reserved for ‘members of the general public’ have been filled by medial professionals or individuals related to the medical profession.”

His appointment comes amid a countywide advertising campaign — administered by the Health Department and supported by the Board of Health — encouraging residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He commented on the campaign in his letter, calling it “deceptive in nature.”

“There is never discussion of the VAERS report or the potential risks of this still experimental ‘vaccine’” he wrote, referring to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System website.

Anyone can report an adverse vaccine reaction to VAERS, and the website is filled with speculative posts from people who are not medical professionals. A disclaimer on the website even cautions that data based on the reports “may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”

“Reports to VAERS can also be biased,” the disclaimer says. “As a result, there are limitations on how the data can be used scientifically.”

Data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services showed that about a quarter of local adults aged 18 and older remained unvaccinated as of Wednesday. All of the “currently approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and reduce your risk of severe illness,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Moore County Health Department recorded a moving, daily average of 23 new infections for the week ending Wednesday, up from an average of about 22 new infections on Jan. 18. Over 40 percent of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 tests administered in Moore County were returning positive as of last week.

A total of 31,200 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Moore County since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest available data from the Health Department. At least 352 of those cases, or about 1.1 percent, have been fatal.

LoSapio was one of two men involved in a brief altercation at a Board of Education meeting last May. At that meeting, LoSapio and Carthage resident Kevin Lewis expressed conflicting views during a public comment period. Shortly after LoSapio finished speaking and walked back to his seat, a video recording of the meeting captured audio of a brief altercation between the two men in the auditorium. The camera recording the meeting was focused away from the incident.

The following morning, both Lewis and LoSapio pressed charges against each other for simple assault. Charges were later dropped by both, and neither commented on the matter.