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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Contradicting federal guidance, Florida will recommend against COVID vaccines for healthy children

Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo during a confirmation hearing last month.

By Patricia Mazzei

Contradicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida will soon recommend that healthy children not get vaccinated against COVID-19, the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, announced earlier this week.

“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” said Ladapo, who has expressed skepticism about the vaccines’ effectiveness.

He made the announcement at the end of a 90-minute discussion convened by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, titled “The Curtain Close on COVID Theater.” (“Watch it before YouTube takes it down,” read the post on the governor’s Facebook page linking to video of the event, an apparent reference to the removal of coronavirus misinformation from social media platforms.)

During the discussion, Ladapo, a DeSantis appointee, and other panelists cited studies suggesting limited or rapidly waning protection against infection from the coronavirus vaccine in children, who already had lower infection rates than adults.

“We’re kind of scraping at the bottom of the barrel, particularly with healthy kids,” Ladapo said.

Several studies have shown that even though vaccine efficacy against infection wanes over time, the immune response remains highly protective against hospitalization and death, even against the highly contagious omicron variant.

The CDC has urged parents to get their children vaccinated. “COVID-19 can make children very sick and cause children to be hospitalized,” the agency’s website says. “In some situations, the complications from infection can lead to death.”

The government notes that vaccinating children can also protect family members who are not eligible for vaccination — including children younger than 5 — or who are at increased risk for serious illness if infected. More children were hospitalized during the omicron surge than at any other point in the pandemic.

Asked about Florida’s move at a White House news conference Monday afternoon, press secretary Jen Psaki said federal recommendations on vaccines were vetted so that parents could have confidence in them.

“It’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccination when it is our best tool against the virus and the best tool to prevent even teenagers from being hospitalized,” she said.

Most public health experts disagree with how quickly Florida dropped virus mitigation measures; more than 70,000 people have died in total. But DeSantis has only become more strident in his approach over time. The governor and Ladapo have appeared to step up their crusade against what they have characterized as unnecessary and harmful pandemic policies ever since the Florida Senate confirmed the surgeon general to his job last month.

The day after the confirmation vote, the two men issued new virus guidelines that they said would “buck” the CDC. Those guidelines included urging businesses to no longer require employees to wear masks.

Last week, DeSantis angrily confronted a group of high school students at an event organized by the governor’s office over the masks the students were wearing while standing behind his lectern.

“You do not have to wear those masks,” he scolded them. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”

Video capturing the moment went viral. DeSantis’ campaign seized on the opportunity to raise funds for his reelection.

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