Miami Children’s Hospital doctor administering a vaccine. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday was still refusing to order COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, for the country’s youngest children. But by Friday, the governor had “reversed course and is now ordering vaccines,” according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“We are encouraged that after repeated failures by Governor DeSantis to order COVID-19 vaccines even after every other state had ordered, the State of Florida is now permitting health care providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children. We believe it is critical to allow parents everywhere to have the choice to get their kids vaccinated and have a conversation with their pediatrician or health care provider,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
She added: “Even though Governor DeSantis reversed course and is now ordering vaccines, we will pull every lever to get pediatricians across Florida vaccines as quickly as possible. This is an encouraging first step, and we urge the state to order vaccines for its state and local health departments, so that all Florida parents have the opportunity to get their children vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, Florida Press Secretary Christina Pushaw claimed in a tweet that both the White House press secretary and the McClatchy news outlet in Washington, D.C., “are both spreading disinformation. NOTHING has “reversed” or changed. The State of Florida is not placing any orders of covid shots for 0-5 year old babies & kids.”
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said Friday afternoon that Florida officials’ decision to refuse pre-ordering would likely lead to a days-long delay in vaccine distribution to certain locations in the state.
He also rebuked DeSantis and the state health department for declining to participate in vaccine distribution.
“State and local public health departments have always played a very large role in helping children get vaccinated, especially kids who don’t have a regular source of care, especially kids who don’t have a regular pediatrician or family physician,” Jha said on a call with reporters. “By refusing to allow state public health departments to offer these vaccines and vaccinate these children, this will specifically leave the most vulnerable, underserved children of Florida behind.”
Allowing pediatricians and hospitals to order the vaccines, Jha said, would increase the number of locations where parents will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine beyond the federal pharmacy partners like CVS and Walmart as well as the community health centers.
Jha strongly cautioned against a proposal from some in Florida that health care providers could measure out lower doses of the adult Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to the lower amount authorized for kids under 5.
“If you have a little kid, you want the vaccine that is specifically formulated, packaged and ready for your child. You don’t want somebody pulling up a big bottle and trying to get the dosing right. That’s how you get dosing errors,” he said. “That’s why the FDA manages these things very specifically and carefully to make sure that these things are done safely.”
Jha declined to say specifically if the state of Florida had reversed course overnight, something the governor’s press secretary disputes. But he did note that “yesterday, pediatricians in every state in the country could order vaccines or had the opportunity to order vaccines for their offices, except for pediatricians of Florida.”
“As of today, pediatricians of Florida now have that choice,” he continued. “Whether that’s a reversal or not, I will leave up to you to decide. But something clearly changed between yesterday and today in the state of Florida.”
In what had become a standoff over vaccines for the youngest children in Florida, DeSantis on Thursday said that state government would not participate in vaccinating kids under 5 and claimed parents could get access to vaccines for young children through doctor offices and hospitals.
That claim was disputed by the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In a press release on Friday, FCAAP wrote:
“The COVID-19 vaccine distribution system is state-based and not designed to allow individual doctors or institutions to order directly from the manufacturer. As a result, if a state fails to pre-order an allotment of vaccines, as is the case in Florida, the vaccines will be available only to federally qualified health centers and certain pharmacies, not to hospitals, private practice pediatricians, or family practice physicians. Further, clinicians cannot administer vaccines formulated for older populations to younger children.”
Federally Qualified Health Centers are “community-based health care providers that receive funds…to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients,” according to the federal Health Resources & Services Administration.
“The centers may be Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless” according to the website. People can go on the agency’s website, to “Find a Health Center.”
For example, there are hundreds of centers sprinkled across Florida.
As to pharmacies, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried mentioned several potential locations to get vaccines for young children and infants, including Costco, CVS, Publix, Harvey’s, Walmart and Walgreen.
For example, CVS confirmed to the Florida Phoenix that it has a partnership with the federal government enabling it to order vaccines regardless of state government. However, it has a finite number of outlets.
Michael Jackson, pharmacist and executive vice president of the Florida Pharmacy Association, said national chain pharmacies likely will be able to secure doses for Floridians but that independent pharmacies likely will not be able to supply them. That is because pharmacies are no longer being reimbursed with COVID federal funds for providing the shots to people who are underinsured or uninsured.
As a press conference Friday morning, Fried had called on DeSantis and the state health department to “to put politics aside” and place orders for the children vaccines.
Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize a three-dose vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years, while Moderna is seeking authorization for a two-dose vaccine for kids ages 6 months through 5 years.
“We are anticipating that tomorrow the CDC will” approve the shots following FDA’s approval,” Fried said. “Which means these shots will be ready for families across the country early next week. However, here in Florida unfortunately we are going to be a little delayed.”
Fried, who also is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the DeSantis administration continues to push “anti-science and dangerous COVID” messages that are “putting our kids at risk once again.”
“Not only is the [Florida] Department of Health not recommending COVID vaccines for kids, against mainstream public health guidance, they’re taking away parents rights to protect those young children.”
She added, “In the last 24 hours, the amount of parents who reached out to me were confused, frustrated, not knowing how to get vaccines for their kids because of the governor’s lack of empathy, lack of willingness to put aside politics.”
She said her agency has been in communication with White House officials.
The McClatchy news outlets “first reported on Wednesday that Florida was the only U.S. state that had not ordered COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5, missing a deadline for preorders set by the federal government. Public health officials and the Biden administration warn that parents across the state will struggle to find vaccines for their kids as a result. The news sparked a public outcry from doctors in the state. On Friday morning, a congressional panel established to oversee the federal coronavirus response demanded an explanation from the governor unless he reversed course.”
McClatchy also reported that: “State health facilities will still not be placing orders for vaccine doses, a Biden administration official said.”
Meanwhile, the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a recent survey that:”
“The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor survey finds that about one in five parents of children under age 5 (18%) are eager to get their child vaccinated right away, while a larger share (38%) say they plan to wait a while to see how the vaccine is working for others.”
Washington, D.C. reporter Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.
Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.
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