In a briefing to a congressional subcommittee Tuesday, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo confirmed that the state decision to block county health departments from obtaining COVID-19 vaccines for young children may prohibit an estimated 30,000 disadvantaged kids from obtaining access to the vaccines.
But the state’s top health official also doubled-down on his criticism of the vaccine as appropriate for that age group.
“In Florida, we don’t recommend” coronavirus vaccines for children under 18, Ladapo told the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, according to a statement provided by the committee to the Miami Herald and the Washington bureau of McClatchy. Ladapo repeated his claim that adolescents are at “low risk” from the coronavirus, and he said there is “little data” on whether children benefit from the COVID-19 vaccines, the subcommittee said.
Ladapo, who did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, spoke to the subcommittee after its chair, Rep. James E. Clyburn, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 17 requesting a briefing by the state by the end of the month. Clyburn told DeSantis he wanted an explanation as to why Florida was the only state that did not preorder coronavirus vaccines for children under 5 after they had been authorized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to to the committee, Ladapo confirmed that because the state has barred county health departments in Florida from ordering or administering coronavirus vaccines to young children, approximately 33,000 children under age 5 who receive their primary care at county health departments not be able to obtain the vaccine. Ladapo told the committee that he discussed that decision with DeSantis.
“We don’t believe it should be offered at all and we’ve communicated that to Floridians,” Ladapo was quoted as saying. However, he added that the state has done “some research” into how to connect parents who are interested in vaccinating their children with federally qualified health centers and other providers that are offering vaccinations.
In his statement Wednesday, Clyburn called the vaccines “extremely safe and highly effective at reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.” He rebuked the governor and urged him to reverse his approach to dismissing the value of the vaccine for young children.
“The steps Governor DeSantis has taken to impede access to lifesaving coronavirus vaccines for Florida’s young children have made it harder for parents across the state to get their children vaccinated, and his promotion of anti-vaccine misinformation is making it harder for parents to make fully informed decisions on how best to protect children’s health,’’ Clyburn said.
According to the committee, Ladapo also confirmed that the Florida Department of Health decided not to preorder vaccines for young children by the federal government deadline because, he said, the state found the pre-ordering system to be “inefficient” and “unnecessary” after having concluded that there was “very little demand.”
When asked whether DeSantis was apprised of the state’s decision not to preorder vaccines, Ladapo told the committee that they had made the decision “together.”
The subcommittee also said Ladapo confirmed that Florida did not allow pediatricians and other health care providers to place orders for vaccines for young children through Florida SHOTS, the state’s vaccine ordering system, until after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization on June 17, 2022, because a providers’ ability to order vaccines was always “contingent on some form of authorization” from the FDA.
Ladapo also told the committee that press reports that Florida reversed its decision and only allowed providers to order vaccines following a pubilc outcry were incorrect, the subcommittee statement said.
When asked whether it was his assessment that the risks to children from the coronavirus are lower than risks to children from coronavirus vaccines, the committee statement said Ladapo replied that it was “a perverse question.” He said that he believes that the proper question is to compare risk of vaccination to the risk of not vaccinating.
Clyburn and others who support the Biden administration’s position on the vaccines, however, said that Ladapo’s position is “contrary to consensus scientific views confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA, and top scientists and public health experts throughout the country” and implies that risks of infection should not be considered when evaluating the risk of vaccines.
“Now that they have been authorized for young children, all parents must be given accurate information on the vaccines’ benefits and must have the freedom to vaccinate their children without needless barriers put in place by politicians like Governor DeSantis,’’ Clyburn said. “I urge the governor to abandon this dangerous, anti-scientific approach, and I strongly encourage all parents of young children to provide them with the lifesaving protection of coronavirus vaccines as soon as possible.”
(McClatchyDC reporter Michael Wilner contributed to this report.)
———©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.