WASHINGTON — Florida parents with kids under 5 years old may find themselves waiting longer than the rest of the country to get their youngest children vaccinated against Covid since state officials have decided not to order any doses for that age group.
Florida is the only state that hasn't submitted a request with the federal government for doses of the Covid vaccine specifically tailored for children ages six months to five years in anticipation of U.S. regulators giving clearance for that age bracket as early as this weekend, said a person familiar with the matter.
Food and Drug Administration advisers voted Wednesday to recommend approval of Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines for young children, and FDA officials are expected to authorize the vaccines in the coming days. Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to vote on whether to endorse the shots this weekend.
Despite the recommendation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said the state isn’t ordering the vaccine because it doesn't recommend vaccinating the youngest kids, particularly those under two years. He added there is "practically zero risk" in that age group, calling clinical trial data "abysmal."
"Our department of health has been very clear, the risk outweigh the benefits and we recommend against it. That’s not the same as banning it. People can access it if they want to," DeSantis said during an event announcing the 2022 python catching contest.
The Florida Department of Health said individual doctors and hospitals could still place orders for the vaccine, but that there wouldn't be any state involvement in ordering and distributing the shots.
The agency said in a statement it "has made it clear to the federal government that states do not need to be involved in the convoluted vaccine distribution process, especially when the federal government has a track record of developing inconsistent and unsustainable COVID-19 policies."
The Miami Herald first reported Florida’s outlier status.
At least 442 children under 5 have died due to Covid through the end of May, exceeding the number or deaths typically seen from flu or other severe respiratory illnesses, Peter Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine regulator, told the FDA committee Wednesday.
Children under age five are the only group not yet able to get vaccinated against Covid due to months of delays as vaccine makers conducted additional studies.
As soon as the federal agencies have signed off, government officials said they are prepared to immediately start shipping doses and anticipate the first shots going into arms Tuesday.
The federal government started taking orders from states two weeks ago for 10 million doses. But since Florida hasn't placed an order, it's unclear when parents there will be able to get their young children vaccinated.
As of last week, 52 of 62 jurisdictions had placed orders for the first batch of 5 million doses, and officials were still talking to the other jurisdictions to remind them to get in their orders, said a senior administration official on a call with reporters last week.
Florida's decision not to seek vaccines from the federal government is likely to increase scrutiny of the governor's response to the pandemic. DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has been an outspoken opponent of vaccine and mask mandates during the pandemic.
“There’s not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to get Covid jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns," he said Thursday. "That’s not something we think is appropriate and so that’s not what we are going to be utilizing our resources in that regard."
The Florida Department of Health issued guidance in March saying healthy children aged 5 to 17 "may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine," and that parents who have children with underlying conditions should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor.
Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, a Democrat, said Wednesday it was "reckless and unconscionable" for the state not to be ordering vaccines for the youngest kids.
“Governor DeSantis has once again failed the people of Florida when it comes to protecting them from the pandemic," Crist said in a statement. "And his latest failure is aimed squarely at our children."