Florida recommendation against vaccinating healthy children draws scathing media response

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Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s announcement that the state would recommend healthy children not get the coronavirus vaccine generated a strong media reaction on Monday.

Ladapo made the remarks at the end of a COVID-19 policy roundtable with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R., whose coronavirus policies against mask and vaccine mandates have won him national admirers, as well as strong detractors.

Ladapo said Florida is “going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children.” Coronavirus vaccines are currently available for anyone ages 5 and up, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone in that age range get vaccinated.

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In a press release on Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health recommended that “children with underlying conditions are the best candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine.” It said, for healthy minors, the high prevalence of existing natural immunity, the low chance already of severe outcomes from coronavirus, and the risk of heart inflammation (myocarditis), particularly among adolescent males, were all factors to take into consideration before getting vaccinated. 

Other experts have noted that heart inflammation is worse for those who actually contract the virus than those who have adverse reactions from the vaccine. The CDC did recommend last month, however, that younger males wait eight weeks between doses of the two-shot mRNA vaccine schedule to reduce the risk.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
(Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“In general, healthy children with no significant underlying health conditions under 16 years old are at little to no risk of severe illness complications from COVID-19. For adolescents 16 to 17 years of age, the risk of myocarditis due to the COVID-19 vaccines may outweigh the benefits,” Florida’s guidance read. It also quoted advisors to the Food and Drug Administration who recommended the vaccine for children with medical conditions.

The state’s guidance has prompted extensive coverage.

“To date, 49 states have accepted the CDC’s recommendations — though Florida’s defiance may very well encourage officials in red states to do the same,” MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote, outlining controversies from Ladapo’s prior tenure at UCLA. “Many Florida families will see Ladapo’s title and assume the state’s official surgeon general must know what he’s talking about, or he wouldn’t be the state’s official surgeon general. Traditionally, that might’ve been a safe assumption. In Florida in 2022, skepticism of Ladapo’s advice is probably the safer course.”

Former New Yorker writer James Surowiecki said Ladapo’s remarks played into his “track record of crankery,” and HuffPost wrote his decision “ignores overwhelming evidence about the safety and efficacy of the shots.”

“This puts Florida at odds with most other states and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it certainly doesn’t put Ladapo at odds with DeSantis,” the Washington Post wryly noted.

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“Several studies have shown that even though vaccine efficacy against infection wanes over time, the immune response remains highly protective against hospitalization and death, even against the highly contagious Omicron variant,” the New York Times noted in its report.

The Guardian (“Florida vaccine plan for children denounced as ‘irresponsible and reckless’”), ABC News, (“DeSantis aide bucks medical consensus that healthy children should get COVID vaccine”), and MarketWatch (“Experts dismayed at Florida’s contrarian stance against vaccinating healthy children”) also knocked Florida for the move.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Newsroom)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, asked by a reporter Monday if it was “good policy,” responded, “Absolutely not.”

“Let me just note that we know the science, we know the data and what works and what is the most — what the most effective steps are in protecting people of a range of ages from hospitalization and even death,” she said, adding, “It’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccinations when it is our best tool against the virus and the best tool to prevent even teenagers from being hospitalized.”

Fox News contributor Dr. Nichole Saphier said there was no room for absolutism on either side of the issue, whether people were completely against the vaccination of any children or wanted them all vaccinated, regardless of whether they had natural immunity or underlying medical conditions. 

“We’re trying to maximize benefit and minimize adverse events of the vaccine,” she said. “You have to take into account whether someone has already had COVID-19 because they may already be protected, and while the data is clear for vaccinating high-risk children … it is less clear vaccinating otherwise healthy children, whether there is any benefit, and there is no data showing that.”

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According to the Tampa Bay Times, more than 804,000 Florida children under 16 have contracted COVID-19, and 42 of those children died, for a death rate of 0.005 percent. The rate is likely lower, as countless cases go unreported.

“My honest opinion, otherwise healthy young kids who have recovered from COVID are unlikely to demonstrate significant benefit from the vaccine,” Saphier told Fox News Digital.

The vaccines have been highly effective throughout the pandemic in reducing severe outcomes like hospitalization and death, but they do not prevent getting or transmitting the virus. Children have been at a far lower risk of severe outcomes than older people from coronavirus throughout the pandemic, although their hospitalization rate hit record highs during the omicron variant surge in December and January.

A person is injected with her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a Dallas County Health and Human Services vaccination site in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Federal health regulators on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 delayed next week’s public meeting to review Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, saying they want to see more data. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) 

A person is injected with her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a Dallas County Health and Human Services vaccination site in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Federal health regulators on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 delayed next week’s public meeting to review Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, saying they want to see more data. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) 

Vanderbilt University professor of critical care Dr. Wes Ely, after Fox News Digital shared an article with him on Florida’s decision, tweeted out his response.

“Infected children become a source of [COVID] for vulnerable people around them,” Ely wrote. “The way out of the pandemic is via a huge wall of protection by charitable vaccinated kids.”

Jeffrey Goldhagen, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine and the Chief of Pediatrics at UF Health Jacksonville, said Florida’s recommendation was “criminal.”

“This is really a grievous assault on children,” he told Fox News Digital. “It’s a profound disregard for their health and wellbeing, it’s politically motivated, and demonstrates the degree to which individuals will go to advance their political careers even at the expense of the health and wellbeing of children.” 

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On the effectiveness of vaccines, he said, there’s no debate.

“Any individual who would enter into that debate is going into a rabbit hole,” he said.

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