As Florida hospitals and doctors roll out the latest FDA-authorized vaccines for children as young as 6 months old, the Biden administration said it will work to supply pediatricians and family physicians in the state who cannot access small quantities of the shots due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision not to provide the vaccines for infants and toddlers through county health departments.
In Miami to visit Borinquen Health Care Center, a federally funded clinic, Admiral Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that as of last week Florida medical providers had ordered 20,000 doses of the new vaccine for children younger than 5.
“We are working hard to get these doses to the state as quickly as possible because Florida families should not suffer because of statements and actions that are politically motivated by the governor,” Levine said.
Levine, who holds the rank of admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service, said the president is committed to making COVID-19 vaccines for every eligible age group available to anyone who wants them.
“This is why we are committed to pulling every lever possible to get vaccines doses to Florida children as soon as possible,” she said, “and we will continue to push the state to order doses for their local health departments.”
Florida’s surgeon general has advised against vaccinating healthy young children, contrary to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for kids. The health department and governor’s office did not respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment Tuesday.
Doctor vaccinates her two young children
At Borinquen, Dr. Emy Jean-Marie, who works for the clinic, had her two young children vaccinated during the visit by Levine and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava as part of a campaign to spread the word among parents.
Jean-Marie said she vaccinated her two young children, Emiola, 3, and Deji, 9 months, because she has led by example during the pandemic — getting vaccinated while she was pregnant to make the point that the shots are safe and effective.
“I am fine,” Jean-Marie said, repeating what she tells hesitant patients and parents. “I don’t have a tail. I don’t have an extra arm. My baby is fine, and you know ... you’re not going to be as ill if you were to contract the virus as individuals who are not vaccinated.”
In South Florida, as elsewhere in the country, doctors and other medical providers have encountered low demand for the new vaccines. Among parents of children younger than 5, a nationwide survey released in May found that 1 in 5 wanted to get their child vaccinated “right away” once the shots were authorized.
More than a third said they would wait and see, while another 11 percent said they would vaccinate their children “only if required,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Confusion over vaccine in Florida
Dr. Deborah Gracia, chief medical officer for Borinquen, said parents have been asking about the vaccine for newly eligible children, but many were not sure the shots would be available in Florida because of the state’s actions.
“Because of the news, a lot of people don’t know it’s available,” she said.
The governor’s decision not to use state resources to provide the new vaccines means that neither patients or doctors can get them through county health departments. Pediatricians cannot procure small amounts through county health departments — as they are able to do for every other age group eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Children under 5 are the last group to be authorized for the COVID vaccines.
The minimum order for the new vaccines is 100, and they come packaged as 10 doses per vial. Once a vial is opened, a medical provider has a few hours to administer all doses before they expire.
Local pediatricians and family doctors who ordered the vaccines said they received them about two days later — faster than expected given that Florida officials had missed a CDC deadline for pre-ordering the shots.
But some said they were forced to throw away shots due to the way they’re packaged and the low demand.
Levine emphasized that, for the first time during the pandemic, almost every American can get vaccinated, which greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
“These vaccines are safe, and these vaccines are effective,” she said, “and they are strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.”
COVID vaccine drive for young children
Levine Cava, the county mayor, emphasized during a press briefing that the vaccines will be available at no cost in Miami-Dade, including Wednesday during a pediatric vaccine drive that will offer the shots at eight different locations.
It’s not clear how much longer vaccines and tests will be available for free, said Admiral Levine, who added that the Biden administration has urged Congress to renew funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response.
“Our funding in the future and our ability to continue these measures are at risk,” she said.
But Levine also pledged to help parents access vaccines for the youngest children in states where health officials and elected leaders have recommended against it, contrary to the CDC’s guidance.
“We want to get vaccines to all the local clinics, to all the pediatricians, to all the family physicians and as well as our federally qualified health centers,” Levine said. “We’re going to do that rapidly as we can and as hard as we can, but the challenge is that the actions of the governor and the surgeon general are making that more difficult.”