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Florida surgeon general recommends against Covid vaccination for 'healthy' children

The state's top medical officer cited possible links to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, among young men and teenage boys as the rationale for his suggestion.
Image: Children Age 5-11 Receive COVID-19 Vaccines in Altamonte Springs, US - 09 Nov 2021
A nurse gives a girl a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine while her brother covers his eyes at a vaccination site for children 5 to 11 at Eastmonte Park in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Paul Hennessy / Sipa USA via AP file

Florida's surgeon general on Monday announced that "healthy" children shouldn't get Covid-19 vaccines then softened that stance just 24 hours later.

In a roundtable featuring Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo said that "the Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the Covid-19 vaccines for healthy children."

The reasons for that, according to DeSantis and Ladapo, have to do with lingering questions about the vaccines' potential health risks for young people. In rare cases, mRNA vaccines have been linked to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, among young men and teenage boys.

However, on Tuesday, Florida's Department of Health issued its new guidance about Covid vaccines for kids, which does not recommend against the shots.

Instead, it suggests that some healthy children "may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine," and focuses on youngsters with underlying conditions as "the best candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine."

"These decisions should be made on an individual basis, and never mandated," Ladapo said in a statement published with the guidelines.

It was the first detail offered following Ladapo's Monday statements, in which he did not specify what qualifies a child as "healthy" nor note the specific age group to which he was referring.

The Florida Department of Health did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment on why the policy was different than what Lapado announced a day earlier.

Dr. Tina Carroll-Scott, medical director at South Miami Children’s Clinic, blasted Ladapo's verbal directive on Monday, calling it "irresponsible and incorrect."

Following the department's announcement on Tuesday, she said: "Basically what they did was just soften the stance a little bit so it wasn't so strongly coming out against any 'healthy child' getting the Covid vaccine."

Ladapo’s Monday announcement contradicted guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says all people over age 5 should get vaccinated. When asked for comment, a CDC spokesperson simply referred to its current recommendations.

"The known risks of Covid-19 illness and its related, possibly severe complications, such as long-term health problems, hospitalization, and even death, far outweigh the potential risks of having a rare adverse reaction to vaccination, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis," the agency’s website says.

The CDC has been monitoring reports of myocarditis, and found that cases of the condition "have rarely been reported, especially in adolescents and young adult males within several days after" vaccination.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January suggested that even among the group with the most reports of myocarditis — males ages 16 and 17 — the rate was about 106 out of 1 million.

Those who have reported myocarditis have generally "responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly," the CDC said.

Still, the agency suggested last month that males between 12 and 39 years old consider waiting eight weeks between the first and the second doses of an mRNA vaccine to reduce myocarditis risk.

Dr. Marissa Levine, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida, said the small risks presented by myocarditis are far outweighed by the benefit of Covid vaccines.

"What we saw here was a small group of people talking about some specific data they may have but it's not a comprehensive view of what's going on," Levine said of DeSantis' Monday roundtable, which also included several doctors and researchers.

Carroll-Scott said she feared a "trickle down effect" from Ladapo's stance that could prompt parents to question whether to get their children other shots such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough.

"I'm seeing this in my own practice already," she said. "Because now it's Covid but people are going to say, 'My child is healthy, why do they need all of these other vaccines?'"

DeSantis tapped Ladapo to lead Florida's health department last fall. Ladapo previously worked as a health policy researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and as a physician, and has been vocal in his opposition to vaccination mandates and lockdowns.

Ladapo replaced Dr. Scott Rivkees, whose contract expired. In the pandemic's early days, Rivkees recommended that Floridians wear masks in public settings, which put him at odds with DeSantis.

Approximately 81 percent of people over 5 in the U.S. have received at least one shot, according to CDC data. Of those 12 and older, the rate is 86 percent.