The quip “often wrong, never in doubt” fits Gov. Ron DeSantis like a glove. He takes it to extremes by doubling down, at the expense of our children, on his cultivated political appeal to the anti-vaxxer element of right-wing America.
It’s an absolute disgrace for Florida to be the only one of 50 states that did not preorder Pfizer and Moderna mRNA coronavirus vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years, once it became apparent that federal regulators would approve and recommend them.
The preorder deadline passed a week ago, June 14. Florida delayed the availability of shots to children whose parents want them. President Joe Biden, to his credit, moved swiftly to circumvent that obstacle.
This was not an oversight. It was intentional, based on state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo’s earlier refusal to recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for healthy children. He said the risks “may” outweigh the benefits, a judgment contrary to the medical profession’s overwhelming consensus.
To hear DeSantis tell it, he’s right and 49 other states are wrong. Never in doubt, he doubled down again Monday. “We are not going to have any programs where we’re trying to jab 6-month-old babies,” he said at a barbecue restaurant in Callahan, near Jacksonville, adding that the vaccines will not be available at any county health departments.
Parents will still have the option, but Florida’s refusal to preorder may delay availability of the vaccines through pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies. Parents can go to vaccines.gov, a federal government website, to find nearby locations offering child vaccines.
Hospitals have depended on the state’s supply network to vaccinate older children. It remains unclear how they will be supplied. The big pharmacy chains have minimum age restrictions — 18 months at CVS, 3 years at Walgreens.
Responding to Florida’s intransigence, Biden immediately ordered the federal government to make the vaccines available outside the state’s channels, and a White House spokeswoman said the governor “reversed course” – a characterization amplified in many news accounts that DeSantis and his press shop denied. Spokeswoman Christina Pushaw accused The New Yorker of “a blatant lie” on Twitter.
Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, said Friday it had already begun shipping vaccines “to children’s hospitals and pediatricians in every state in the country except Florida.” He called Florida’s delay “unconscionable.”
We call it cruel, barbaric — and totally political.
While the great majority of COVID deaths were of older people, children under 5 haven’t been spared. COVID-19 has killed some 400, according to federal data, and sickened many more. And the federal stats are among the low estimates. A Harvard study reported by Bloomberg News concluded that in 2021 alone, more than 600 teens and younger children died of COVID-19, nearly six times as many as have died in any year from seasonal flu.
Yet DeSantis insisted, falsely, last Thursday that young children “have zero risk of getting anything.”
Only some 30 percent of children 5 to 11 have been vaccinated since Pfizer’s vaccine was made available to them last November. The negativity of naysayers like Ladapo and DeSantis doesn’t help.
Politics is an ugly business, but there used to be tacit agreement that children would not be exploited for short-term gain. That vanished when the Trump administration separated families at the borders and put children in cages.
Florida’s indifference to protecting children from COVID-19 is cut from the same cynical cloth.