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Florida's political pandemic continues, with availability of COVID shots for young kids at issue

A factory in Belgium manufactures Pfizer vaccine.
via AP
This photo provided by Pfizer shows the production of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 on May 2022 in Puurs, Belgium. U.S. regulators on Friday, June 17, authorized the first COVID-19 shots for infants and preschoolers, paving the way for vaccinations to begin next week.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for kids from 6 months to 5 years old expected as early as next week, Florida is in the national spotlight. It was the only state not to request the vaccine from the federal government.

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his decision, saying "Doctors can get it, hospitals can get it. But there's not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to, you know, get COVID jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns. That's not something that we think is appropriate."

Private pediatricians and other health providers said they could not get the vaccine outside of the state system. The Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to reconsider, saying the decision "puts thousands of infants, toddlers, and young children in Florida at risk."

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On Friday, McClatchy reported the state had reversed course and allowed pediatricians to orderthe vaccine — but the delay has put Florida at the end of the line. The FDA has already authorized the vaccines for kids aged 5 and under; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to review authorization over the weekend.

On The Florida Roundup this week, Dr. Bernard Ashby said the state's latest move is part of DeSantis' pattern of politicizing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Ashby is a cardiologist in Miami and Florida lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care.

"This is yet another salvo in his ongoing campaign against any mitigation measures related to the virus," he said. "For [DeSantis] to simply turn down a program that's offered by the federal government is just indicating that he's more concerned about making a political statement than actually discussing the science."

Dr. Chad Neilsen, director of Accreditation & Infection Prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, recommended getting information from trusted individuals or agencies — not social media.

"For parents, we typically here at our hospital system recommend that they follow up and they look at guidance and information from the American Academy of Pediatrics," he said. "And AAP has typically followed the recommendations from the CDC and others about vaccinating kids."

Florida is currently experiencing a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

"Now that the majority of the state and including most of the major cities are in that high risk category, that includes the recommendation to mask in certain scenarios, to mask if you're immunosuppressed or especially if you're not vaccinated, because the likelihood of transmission is extremely high in most of Florida," Neilsen said.

And for everyone wondering about the reliability of home tests, Neilsen had this advice:

"Right now I think a really effective strategy for most people, if they think they have COVID-19, is really to first and foremost, don't go out in public, right? Self-isolate, treat yourself as if you have it," he said.

PCR tests are the "gold standard" and may be needed if you have to prove you have COVID to miss work, or for insurance purposes, he said.

But most importantly, he said, "if you're vaccinated and boosted and you still are getting sick anyways, just isolate, stay at home and remove yourself from the population. So we're not transmitting COVID-19 anymore."

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Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.