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Florida doctors say they can now order pediatric vaccines

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has agreed to allow state pediatricians and health care providers to order new authorized vaccines for children under 5 after the state became the only one in the nation this week not to pre-order the injections, said White House officials Friday.

However, DeSantis angrily rejected the White House’s characterization that he had reversed himself, saying in a statement that “we never took the position that the state would prohibit health care providers from ordering the vaccine. We have always maintained the position that the State of Florida has chosen not to be involved in the pre-ordering or distribution of the vaccine to children under the age of 5.”

Florida pediatricians cheered the news that they might be able to order the injections, though they, too, seemed baffled as to how and why that had happened. State health officials are now accepting the orders from providers, which they didn’t before Friday, said Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida division of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Our main concern now is that we are not sure when the vaccine will be delivered because we missed the order deadline.” she said, noting that parents eager to vaccinate their children have frantically called doctors’ offices.

The debate over his policy on vaccines for the youngest Americans is the latest controversy engulfing DeSantis and his response to the coronavirus, amid projections of an ommicron-powered wave in Florida this summer that will fill all the state’s hospitals and as he seeks reelection to a second term and positions himself as a Republican presidential frontrunner in 2024 eager to take the populist mantle from former President Donald Trump.

Riding a wave of Predominantly partisan anger at pandemic restrictions, DeSantis has turned the coronavirus into a culture war issue that critics say is using it for political advantage. As temperatures rise and state infection rates continue to rise — Florida ranks among the top five states for novel coronavirus infections, According to an analysis by the Washington Post – his embrace of views that violate federal health guidelines on vaccines, masks and other devices is raising concern among doctors and others.

“I don’t see the benefit to this other than a little political theater for the governor,” said Holly Bullard, a Sarasota mother who was eager to get her 2-year-old vaccinated. “Me and many other parents I know have been counting down the days until we could give our children the vaccine. We talk about the rights of parents, but I have the right to have my pediatrician have medicines that will help my child. I don’t want to have to go to the back of the local store with my son when we have a doctor he knows and trusts.”

The state’s stance on childhood vaccines builds on the views of Governor-appointed health official, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who has repeatedly questioned the safety and efficacy of the injections, despite robust evidence that they protect against serious illness and disease. passing away. This year, Ladapo became the first state health official to recommend coronavirus vaccinations for healthy children, as he claims they have a lower risk of serious illness from Covid – a position rejected by pediatricians and top infectious disease experts. advising the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida still refuses to offer the pediatric vaccines through its state and local health departments, which will make it more difficult to vaccinate children who don’t have a regular supplier. “This will particularly leave Florida’s most vulnerable, disadvantaged children behind,” Ashish Jha, White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said during a phone call with reporters on Friday, calling the decision “deplorable.”

DeSantis and Ladapo have said the risks of administering coronavirus vaccines to healthy children may outweigh the benefits, as children are not at high risk of developing serious illness from the virus. Medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, and top federal health officials disagree, saying that while children are less likely than older adults to be hospitalized or die, they are still vulnerable.

More than 31,000 children with Covid have been hospitalized in Florida since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. So far, more than 14,000 have been admitted in 2022.

Studies also show that unvaccinated children are more vulnerable to serious illness: A CDC study found that hospitalizations of children ages 5 to 11 during the omicron period were twice as high for those who had not been vaccinated compared to children who received the injections. Thirty percent of the hospitalized children had no underlying medical conditions, the study found.

Nationally, the covid death toll of those 18 or younger is 1,257, according to the CDC. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 45 children aged 15 and under died from Covid on June 9 in Florida.

In his own words, DeSantis’ opposition to federal health guidelines has paid off for him politically as he polishes his conservative creeds. “Before covid, I was known, but I wasn’t known as I’ve become since covid and all the other issues we’ve been tackling,” he said on a conservative podcast last month called “The Truth with Lisa Boothe.”

DeSantis boasts that under his “freedom first” leadership, Florida’s economy is booming, in part because he pushed and signed legislation banning masks and vaccine mandates. For a while, the state involved funding from school districts defying his ban on mask mandates.

He also remains popular in Florida, with a rating of 58 percent for approval and 37 percent for disapproval, according to a February University of North Florida poll.

The governor also insists the coronavirus is in the rearview mirror, often suggesting that Florida is doing better economically than New York, which, like the rest of the country, had closed schools and non-essential businesses in the first year of the pandemic, but had been reopened for over a year. year ago.

But Florida residents have fared much worse than New Yorkers since vaccines became widely available in the spring of 2021. At the start of the pandemic, Florida had a lower age-adjusted death rate than New York, which was consumed by infection that first spring.

In the past 11 months, Florida’s death rate has been about twice that of New York, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Between July 2021 and April, the age-adjusted death rate in Florida was 110 per 100,000 population, compared to 58 per 100,000 for New York, a Post analysis showed.

DeSantis’ development from vaccine booster to apparent skeptic was gradual. After heavily promoting vaccinations for seniors in early 2021, he spent the past year questioning the efficacy of booster shots, calling them a “private matter” and refusing to reveal whether he had received one. . He was also previously promoted antiviral treatments called monoclonal antibodies to covid. Today, however, Florida ranks among the worst states for availability of the highly effective covid antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Florida Democrats are also pointing to his September appointment of Ladapo, a Harvard-trained physician who has embraced controversial views on masks and vaccines. Ladapo signed the Great Barrington Declaration in the early days of the pandemic, encouraging state governments to let the coronavirus spread unchecked among healthy people to boost herd immunity before vaccines and effective treatments were available.

“The governor placed this person, who most people would consider a lunatic, in the highest public health position in Florida,” said state representative Kelly Skidmore, a South Florida Democrat who served on the House Public Health subcommittee.

While DeSantis says his covid policies have saved the state’s economy, Skidmore wondered why promoting and giving residents easy access to tools to protect themselves from the coronavirus, such as vaccines, boosters and antivirals, would harm the economy.

“Can’t we have both?” she asked. “Why couldn’t we open up everything and protect our economy and allow people to protect themselves and their families without making fun of them and making them feel like it’s an attack on freedom?”

Jacqueline Dupree and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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