TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Monday that the state will formally recommend against COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children.
Ladapo made the announcement at a roundtable event organized by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that featured a group of doctors who criticized coronavirus lockdowns and mandate policies. It was not immediately clear when the state would release its health guidance.
“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Ladapo said at the end of the roundtable discussion.
“We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids, in terms of actually being able to quantify with any accuracy and any confidence the even potential of benefit,” he added.
The move was Florida’s latest break from White House coronavirus policy, as U.S. health officials approved of and encouraged the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as 5.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the shots based on a study showing the child-size doses were 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the vaccines gives children 5 and older strong protection against hospitalization and death.
“I’m really concerned that this is going to make parents question what they are hearing from every other source — pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a University of Florida professor, pediatrician and a former infectious disease specialist at the CDC.
Although children generally are less likely than adults to become severely ill with COVID-19, those with underlying health conditions including obesity, diabetes and asthma face higher than usual risks for severe complications and hospitalization. Rasmussen noted that nearly 1,000 U.S. children have died from COVID-19 and not all had an underlying illness.
Asked about Florida’s upcoming guidance, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was “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.”
DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has risen to prominence in the GOP through his resistance to vaccine mandates and other public health guidance pushed by the federal government.
Late last month, Ladapo and DeSantis announced new policy recommendations that discouraged mask-wearing and directed physicians to exercise their own judgment when treating virus patients, including the use of emerging treatments and off-label medications.
The Florida state Senate confirmed Ladapo as surgeon general this year despite criticism that his virus health policy is too aligned with the politics of DeSantis.
Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press. AP writer Lindsey Tanner contributed from Three Oaks, Michigan