U.S. health officials could approve the vaccines this week, but delivery to Florida’s pediatricians, clinics and hospitals could be delayed.
By Christopher O’Donnell Times staff and Ian Hodgson Times staff
Florida is the only state in the union that did not preorder the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines for the nation’s youngest children.
The third-largest state missed Tuesday’s deadline to preorder the doses from the federal government, which the Miami Herald reports could delay delivery to Florida’s pediatricians, clinics, pharmacies and pediatric hospitals.
Thousands of medical facilities across the country will get the doses, according to the Herald report, but Florida facilities that rely on the federal pipeline may not until the state places its order.
”It’s disappointing if this happens,” said Carrollwood pediatrician David Berger. “Any family that feels they should vaccinate their child and get protection, they should have a right to do it once it’s been authorized.”
”It is also no surprise we chose not to participate in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when the Department does not recommend it for all children. Doctors can order vaccines if they are in need, and there are currently no orders in the Department’s ordering system for the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group.”
In March, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued his recommendation against vaccinating healthy kids. He cited several studies when he said the risks of vaccinating them “may outweigh the benefits.” The Tampa Bay Times spoke to four experts Lapado cited who said their research was taken out of context, and that they believe the vaccines are effective.
The timing is critical as this week U.S. health experts evaluate whether to recommend Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for young children. The nation has about 18 million babies, toddlers and preschoolers in the last age group awaiting approval to get vaccinated, and the rollout could happen early next week.
Chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens have their own federal supply, but there are limits to whom they’ll vaccinate. CVS said it plans to administer shots to kids as young as 18 months, while Walgreens said the youngest children it will vaccinate will be 3 years old.
That means parents of infants and toddlers will be more reliant on pediatricians and medical facilities most affected by the state’s failure to order shots.
The region’s largest pediatric hospitals — Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa — get their vaccine supply from the state program known as Florida SHOTS. Officials from both hospitals declined to comment on how the state’s decision could affect their vaccine supply when the vaccines are distributed.
The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of independent experts on Wednesday approved Moderna’s two-shot regimen and Pfizer’s three-dose series. Pfizer’s vaccine is for children ages 6 months to 4 years, while Moderna’s is for 6 months through age 5. The FDA says both vaccines appear to be safe and effective for children as young as 6 months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to convene its own panel of experts at the end of the week. Once the CDC director approves both vaccines, the first doses will go out.
The FDA’s vaccine chief, Peter Marks, told Wednesday’s panel that the U.S. saw a “troubling surge’’ in child infections during the omicron wave, according to The Associated Press. The U.S. has lost 442 children age 4 and under to the pandemic, he said. While far more adults have died, Marks said children are still at risk from the virus.
“Each child that’s lost essentially fractures a family,’’ he said.
The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis referred all questions to the Florida Department of Health. Failing to preorder vaccines for Florida’s youngest children is the latest development in a state whose leaders have cast doubt on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
In November 2021, the Times reported that Florida preordered an initial supply of about 90,000 pediatric doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. By comparison, Texas preordered 1 million doses and California sought 860,000. A Florida spokesperson said then that was only an initial order and that more doses would be ordered.
Earlier this week, Ladapo said he doesn’t support young children getting vaccinated, according to the News Service of Florida. “From what I have seen, there is just insufficient data to inform benefits and risk in children,” he said.
Berger’s office doesn’t give out COVID-19 shots because it doesn’t have the specialized refrigeration to store doses. Instead, he sends parents and their children to the nearest Walgreens or CVS. He said the evidence presented by the surgeon general did not support Ladapo’s “irresponsible” recommendation.
Meanwhile COVID-19 infections in Florida have been rising for 12 weeks straight, fueled by new variants. About 86% of Floridians live in counties with “high” levels of COVID-19 and should wear masks in public indoor spaces, according to federal health data released June 10.
Downtown Tampa resident Leslie Ferrara, 40, said she’s spent months looking forward to getting her 4-year-old daughter, Cameron, vaccinated. She had planned to take her daughter to her pediatrician. A dentist, both she and her husband are vaccinated and boosted. She said evidence shows the vaccine is effective at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalizations.
“As a mom, of course I want that for my child,” she said. “I don’t want her to get sick. I don’t want her to miss school and activities and life.”
She said it’s “disappointing” that Florida is the only one of the 50 states not to preorder the vaccine:
“It sets a poor precedent for the general public if our leaders are not encouraging families to protect their children.”