Since COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Publix has played a major role in tackling the public health emergency in Florida by offering vaccines to adults and, later, children as young as 5.
But the Lakeland grocery company says it will not offer the vaccine approved for children ages 4 and under “at this time.”
Spokesperson Hannah Herring said Tuesday that Publix will not release a statement explaining its decision. The company’s website indicates that it is still accepting COVID-19 vaccine appointments for children ages 5 and up.
The company still offers other child vaccinations, including the flu shot for babies as young as 6 months.
The vaccine rollout for the nation’s youngest children has been complicated in Florida, where state leaders have questioned the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, going against the recommendations of the nation’s top health regulators and medical associations.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo recommended against giving vaccines to healthy children, contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Florida was the only state in the nation not to preorder doses of the under 5 vaccine, which the White House said could delay delivery to medical providers in the state. Parents of children under 18 months must rely on pediatricians, medical clinics and children’s hospitals to get their kids vaccinated.
Publix is not affected because it is enrolled in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which means it orders vaccine doses directly from the federal government.
The governor tapped Publix to become a key part of Florida’s vaccine rollout in early 2021. By that April, the grocery chain was the single largest vaccine supplier in Florida and was getting nearly a quarter of the state’s doses.
The company is Florida’s largest private employer and a regular donor to political campaigns of both major political parties, though its donations skew Republican. It donated $100,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s political committee in early 2021.
Publix’s decision not to vaccinate young children puts it at odds with Walmart, one of its main competitors in the Southeast. Walmart plans to provide vaccines to kids ages 3 and older.
“While we expect the majority of these vaccines to be distributed to pediatric providers, we plan to administer authorized vaccines for ages 3-5 as supply and distribution allows,” said Walmart spokesperson Tyler Thomason in an email.
South Tampa mother of two Samantha Thompson was able to book a vaccination appointment for her 3-year-old son at her local Publix on Tuesday. Then she received a phone call informing her that her chosen location was not authorized to vaccinate children under 5.
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Now she’ll have to cross the bay next week to vaccinate her son at a Walgreens in Seminole, which she said was the closest appointment she could find.
“It’s frustrating, because there is so much confusion,” Thompson said. “Throughout this whole process, it feels like our interests are not being looked out for.”
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How to get tested
Florida: The Department of Health has a list of test sites.
The nation: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can help you find a testing site.
• • •
How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine is being administered at clinics, doctors’ offices, public health offices and retail pharmacies. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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SYMPTOMS: Think you might have COVID-19? Here’s a guide to symptoms and treatments.
CHILDREN: Babies and toddlers can now get vaccinated. Here are the answers to your questions.
WARNING: How the CDC’s COVID-19 warning system fails Tampa Bay and Florida.
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