At last, the nation’s youngest children will get some protection from the coronavirus. Regulatory approval means shots could be administered as soon as this week to children under 5 years old. The mRNA vaccines that have been lifesavers for adults will come in smaller doses for children that, while not perfect, should at least prevent serious illness or death. This is welcome news everywhere but in Florida.
In an astoundingly callous move, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Department of Health has refused to put in an order with the federal government for a supply of the pediatric vaccines for children under 5, leaving pediatricians and parents to scramble on their own. The deadline for placing a preorder was Tuesday, and the 49 other states met the cutoff. The department said in a statement that it “does not recommend” the shot “for all children,” but, after protests, announced on Friday that it would begin accepting orders for shots from doctors and health-care providers. The department is led by state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, a DeSantis appointee who has been an outspoken skeptic of coronavirus vaccines.
At a Miami news conference, Mr. DeSantis left no doubt this recklessness came from the top. “I would say we are affirmatively against the covid vaccine for young kids,” he said. “These are the people who have zero risk of getting anything.”
Not exactly. While child deaths and hospitalizations are an extremely small fraction of the total, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 1,055 children nationwide have died of covid. In total, some 13.5 million children of all ages have been infected over the course of the pandemic. Florida has had 386,196 cases from ages 5 to 11 during the pandemic, and 187,307 in children under 5, according to the state. This is not “zero risk.”
Long covid is a serious and major complication from infection. The youngest children will have to live with it the longest.
But Mr. DeSantis appears to relish playing politics with public health. He is running for reelection and has his eye on a Republican presidential campaign. His decisions and comments are a craven bid for support from the anti-vaccine movement. We’ve seen this before. Mr. DeSantis also fought vaccine and mask mandates. His campaign sells “Freedom over Fauci” flip-flops that leave a message when worn on the beach: “Fauci can pound sand.”
Speaking of sand, it would appear that is where the governor has his head. Mr. DeSantis’s misguided views could discourage parents from getting vaccines for their youngest children, leaving them unvaccinated and thus vulnerable. Already, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the youngest cohort of the population previously approved for vaccines — ages 5 to 11 — had the lowest uptake, with only 29.5 percent getting two shots, compared with 59.8 percent for 12- to 17-year-olds. The low rate of vaccination is in part caused by hesitancy based on misinformation, distrust and suspicion. A vital task for public health officials and elected leaders is to assuage the doubts and anxieties of parents. Instead, Florida’s governor and his administration are adding to them.