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Florida infants, toddlers face COVID vaccine delay, White House says

While parents wait and worry, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Biden administration clash over vaccines for children ages 4 and under.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha speaks during the April 26 daily briefing at the White House. Jha said Friday that Florida's failure to preorder doses of the vaccine for children 4 and under will delay delivery to the state's pediatricians, children’s hospitals and medical facilities.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha speaks during the April 26 daily briefing at the White House. Jha said Friday that Florida's failure to preorder doses of the vaccine for children 4 and under will delay delivery to the state's pediatricians, children’s hospitals and medical facilities. [ SUSAN WALSH | AP ]
Published Jun. 17|Updated Jun. 21

The COVID-19 vaccine for young children will be delayed reaching Florida pediatricians, children’s hospitals and medical facilities, according to the White House, because state officials failed to preorder doses.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha also said Florida officials prevented medical providers from ordering the doses through the state — until Friday.

The delay likely will affect infants and toddlers younger than 18 months the most, because they may not be old enough to get vaccinated at retail pharmacies unaffected by the delay.

While the rest of the nation awaits final approval and rollout of the vaccines for 18 million babies, toddlers and preschoolers, Florida parents find themselves in a state of confusion. Florida medical facilities can now order the vaccines, but no one can say when they will arrive.

Related: Florida only state not to preorder COVID vaccine for young kids

The matter turned into a war of words between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and the Biden administration. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and the Republican governor could be rivals in the 2024 presidential election.

”There are parents across America of kids under 5 who have been waiting a very long time, and for many of them, this delay introduced by the actions of the governor and the Department of Health, I think is unconscionable,” Jha said.

The Biden administration wouldn’t say how long parents will have to wait. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for young children are expected to get final approval Saturday. The first vaccinations in other states should start early next week.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw defended the governor on Twitter, denying a White House spokesperson’s earlier assertion that “DeSantis reversed course and is now ordering vaccines.”

“What they have couched as a reversal is actually the Governor’s steadfast position that the State of Florida does not recommend nor distribute shots for babies,” Pushaw wrote on Twitter. “Any healthcare provider that wants the vaccines can obtain them and any parent who wants it for their child can get it.”

How long parents will have to wait is unclear.

White House senior policy adviser Sonia Bernstein said Friday the government has already started sending out a first wave of preorders to 49 states and the District of Columbia after the vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to give final approval to the vaccine this weekend.

Florida children’s hospitals and pediatrician offices will face “days of delay,” she said.

The delay is causing confusion among parents across the state, said Miami pediatrician Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Parents of young children have been through so much during this pandemic, and they have waited a long time to offer their children this protection,” she said. “Our phones are ringing off the hook with concerned parents eager to know where they can get the vaccine. Right now, we don’t have a good answer.”

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Retail pharmacies such as Costco, CVS, Publix, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie will get their doses through a different federal pipeline, so they shouldn’t be affected by the delay. But there are age limits to who they’ll vaccinate.

‘The best resource we have’

Earlier this week, Florida Department of Health spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement that the state did not preorder the vaccines because it does not recommend them for healthy children. That contradicts advice from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids should get the shot.

“The Florida Department of Health … 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 statement said.

”It is also no surprise we chose not to participate in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when the Department does not recommend it for all children.”

Gwynn said the vaccines are the best tool for keeping children safe from a virus that is once again spreading across Florida. Infections had been rising for 12 straight weeks, fueled by new variants.

“Pediatricians’ number one job is to keep children healthy and safe,” she said. “The vaccine is the best resource we have for combating COVID-19 and, right now, we will not be able to offer this vaccine to our youngest eligible patients when it becomes available.”

Vaccinating the last segment of the American population that has gone unprotected the longest during the 2-year, 3-month pandemic is cause for celebration, said Joseph Perno, the chief medical officer of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

But this may be the hardest vaccination effort yet. Only a quarter of Florida kids ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated. Perno said the surgeon general’s recommendation against vaccinating healthy children, and now the delay in obtaining vaccines, could make it more difficult to convince wavering parents:

“Anywhere families get misinformation, whether it’s politicians, whether it’s social media or friends and families, as healthcare providers who are relying on the science we need to swim upstream against that.”

‘It’s definitely been confusing’

The White House and Florida health officials also clashed over whether medical providers were able to preorder doses.

In Redfern’s statement earlier this week, he said: “Doctors can order vaccines if they are in need, and there are currently no orders in the Department’s ordering system for the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group.”

But the Tampa Bay Times spoke to two Florida children’s hospitals that said they were unable to preorder doses from the state using the same method they’ve used in the past.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital staffers tried to preorder the vaccines through the state earlier this week but couldn’t, Perno said. The hospital vaccinates patients and children who use its pediatric clinics in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

They were finally able to place an order on Friday.

“It’s definitely been confusing,” Perno said. “It’s frustrating when you don’t know those answers.”

Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood shared a similar story.

The Department of Health allowed hospitals to preorder the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 when it was approved in November, said hospital representative Kerting Baldwin. But when the hospital’s director of pharmacy tried to preorder the new pediatric doses, the state’s website did not list it as an option.

Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital staff called the state health department multiple times on June 10 to request doses when they became available, Baldwin said. Redfern said he was not aware of the hospital’s calls.

Jha, the White House official, said Florida could have avoided delays by pre-ordering the vaccines.

”The state of Florida intentionally missed multiple deadlines to order vaccines to protect its youngest kids,” he said. “Now despite repeated efforts to reach out and engage officials in the state of Florida, elected officials deliberately chose to delay taking action to deny Florida parents the choice of whether to vaccinate their children or not.”

Redfern said the state does not anticipate a delay in vaccines reaching medical providers.

• • •

How to get tested

Florida: The Department of Health has a list of test sites.

The nation: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can help you find a testing site.

• • •

How to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine is being administered at clinics, doctors’ offices, public health offices and retail pharmacies. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.

• • •

More coronavirus coverage

SYMPTOMS: Think you might have COVID-19? Here’s a guide to symptoms and treatments.

CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Babies and toddlers can now get vaccinated. Here are the answers to your questions.

WARNING: How the CDC’s COVID-19 warning system fails Tampa Bay and Florida.

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