According to the White House, the COVID-19 vaccine for young children will be delayed to pediatricians, children’s hospitals and medical facilities in Florida because state officials did not pre-order doses.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha also said Florida officials did not allow healthcare providers to order doses through the state until Friday.
The delay will likely affect infants and children under 18 months of age the most because they may not be old enough to be vaccinated at retail pharmacies not affected by the delay.
While the rest of the country awaits the final approval and deployment of vaccines for 18 million infants, toddlers and preschoolers, Florida parents are in disarray. Florida healthcare facilities can now order vaccines, but no one can say when they will arrive.
The case turned into a war of words between the office of Governor Ron DeSantis and the Biden administration. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and a Republican governor could be rivals in the 2024 presidential election.
“Across America, there are parents of children under 5 years of age who have been waiting for a very long time, and for many of them, this delay caused by the actions of the governor and the Department of Health, I consider it unfair,” said Jha.
The Biden administration did not say how long parents would have to wait. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for young children are expected to receive final approval on Saturday. The first vaccinations in other states should begin early next week.
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushow defended the governor on Twitter, refuting an earlier claim by a White House spokesperson that “DeSantis has reversed course and is now ordering vaccines.”
“What they presented as a denial is actually the Governor’s firm position that the State of Florida does not recommend or distribute vaccinations for infants,” Pushow wrote on Twitter. “Any healthcare provider who needs vaccines can get them, and any parent who wants them for their child can get them.”
How long parents will have to wait is unclear.
White House Senior Political Adviser Sonia Bernstein said on Friday that the government has already begun sending out the first wave of pre-orders to 49 states and the District of Columbia after vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to give its final approval to the vaccine this weekend.
Children’s hospitals and pediatric surgeries in Florida will face “delay days,” she said.
The delay is causing confusion for parents across the state, said Miami-based pediatrician Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Parents of young children have been through a lot during this pandemic and they have been waiting a long time to offer their children this protection,” she said. “Our phones are ringing with concerned parents wanting to know where they can get the vaccine. We don’t have a good answer right now.”
Stay up to date with Tampa Bay’s top news
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
Every weekday morning, we’ll bring you the latest news and information you need to know.
You are all subscribed!
Would you like to receive more of our free weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s start.
Explore all your options
Retail pharmacies like Costco, CVS, Publix, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and Winn-Dixie will get their doses through another federal channel, so they shouldn’t be affected by the delay. But there are age limits for those who are vaccinated.
“Best resource we have”
Earlier this week, Florida Department of Health spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement that the state did not pre-order the vaccines because it does not recommend them for healthy children. This goes against the advice of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that children should be vaccinated.
“Florida’s Department of Health… has made it clear to the federal government that states should not be involved in the convoluted process of vaccine distribution, especially when the federal government has a track record of developing inconsistent and erratic COVID-19 policies.” says in the statement.
“It is also not surprising that we have decided not to participate in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, as the Department does not recommend it for all children.”
Gwynn said vaccines are the best tool to protect children from the virus, which is once again spreading across Florida. Infections have been on the rise for 12 consecutive weeks, fueled by new variants.
“The number one job of pediatricians is to ensure the health and safety of children,” she said. “The vaccine is the best resource we have to fight COVID-19 and right now we will not be able to offer this vaccine to our youngest eligible patients when it becomes available.”
The vaccination of the last segment of the American population that remained unprotected the longest during the 2-year and 3-month pandemic is a cause for rejoicing, said Joseph Perno, chief medical officer of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
But this may be the most difficult vaccination attempt. Only a quarter of Florida’s children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated. Pernot said the surgeon general’s recommendation against vaccinating healthy children, and now the delay in getting vaccines, could make it difficult for hesitant parents to convince:
“Wherever families receive misinformation, whether it’s from politicians, social media, or friends and family, as health care providers who rely on science, we must swim against the tide.”
“It’s definitely confusing”
White House and Florida health officials also squabbled over whether healthcare workers could pre-order doses.
In a statement from Redfern earlier this week, he said: “Physicians can order vaccines if they need them, and there are currently no COVID-19 vaccine orders for this age group in the Department’s ordering system.”
But the Tampa Bay Times spoke to two Florida children’s hospitals who said they can’t pre-order doses in the state using the same method they’ve used in the past.
Staff at Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital tried to pre-order vaccines through the state earlier this week but were unable to, Perno said. The hospital vaccinates patients and children using the services of children’s clinics in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
Finally, on Friday, they were able to place an order.
“It’s definitely confusing,” Perno said. “It’s frustrating when you don’t know those answers.”
A similar story was at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
The Department of Health allowed hospitals to pre-order the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 when it was approved in November, hospital spokesman Curting Baldwin said. But when the hospital’s pharmacy director tried to pre-order new doses for kids, the government website didn’t list that as an option.
Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital staff called the state health department several times on June 10 to request doses when they became available, Baldwin said. Redfern said he was unaware of the calls to the hospital.
Jah, a White House spokesman, said Florida could have avoided delays by pre-ordering vaccines.
“The state of Florida deliberately missed several deadlines to order vaccines to protect its youngest children,” he said. “Now, despite repeated attempts to reach out to Florida state officials and get them involved, elected officials have deliberately decided to delay taking action to deprive Florida parents of the choice whether or not to vaccinate their children.”
Redfern said the state does not expect a delay in getting vaccines to healthcare providers.
• • •
How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find free public COVID-19 testing sites in the Bay Area.
Florida: The Ministry of Health has Web site which lists test sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
United States: The Department of Health and Human Services has Web site this may help you find a site to test.
• • •
How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 and over, as well as booster shots for eligible recipients, are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores, and public vaccination sites. Many allow you to make an appointment online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination locations in your zip code.
Additional help: Call the national COVID-19 vaccination helpline.
Telephone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email [email protected]
• • •
OMICRON OPTION: Omicron has changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious variant of COVID-19 is affecting masks, vaccines, boosters, and quarantines.
CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Have questions about your child’s vaccinations? Here are some answers.
BOOSTER SHOTS: Not sure which COVID booster to buy? This guide will help.
BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here are the answers to your questions.
PROTECTION OF THE ELDERLY: Here’s how older people can protect themselves from the virus.
GET DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATES: Subscribe to receive the latest information.
We are working hard to bring you the latest Coronavirus news in Florida. This effort requires a lot of resources to collect and update. If you haven’t subscribed yet, Consider purchasing a print or digital subscription.