Florida doctors will be able to directly order COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 from the federal government, the White House said Friday, after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would not order and distribute the shots in the state.
The state was the only jurisdiction in the nation to decline to place advance orders for the pediatric shots, which received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Final authorization from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected in the coming days, clearing the way for the last remaining unvaccinated age group to obtain shots.
The White House has been sharply critical of DeSantis' position but in a statement Friday it welcomed the news that he was permitting individual doctors to order vaccines for their patients.
“We are encouraged that after repeated failures by Governor DeSantis to order COVID-19 vaccines even after every other state had ordered, the State of Florida is now permitting health care providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “We believe it is critical to allow parents everywhere to have the choice to get their kids vaccinated and have a conversation with their pediatrician or health care provider.”
Florida officials said Thursday the jabs would be available at pharmacies and community health centers, which can preorder them directly from the federal government, and that children’s hospitals and other clinics would be able to order them from the federal government via a state portal and receive them quickly.
"The state of Florida has had the recommendation from 5 and up for a while, we were the first state to do that, and now from the 6 month to five the state's recommendation holds, it's a recommendation against doing it. That's different than saying you can't, you are free to choose, that's not an issue," DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday. "There's a surplus of this, doctors can get it, hospitals can get it, but there's not gonna be any state programs that are gonna be trying to get Covid jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns, that's not something that we think is appropriate and so that's not where we're gonna be utilizing our resources in that regard."
Federal officials believe most parents of young children plan to get their kids vaccinated at their pediatrician's office, rather than pharmacies or hospitals, and criticized DeSantis for slowing access to the shots.
“Even though Governor DeSantis reversed course and is now ordering vaccines, we will pull every lever to get pediatricians across Florida vaccines as quickly as possible," Jean-Pierre said. ”This is an encouraging first step, and we urge the state to order vaccines for its state and local health departments, so that all Florida parents have the opportunity to get their children vaccinated."
But DeSantis spokesperson Cristina Pushaw said the White House's notion that DeSantis had reversed course was "disinformation."
"What they have couched as a reversal is actually the Governor’s steadfast position that the State of Florida does not recommend nor distribute shots for babies. Any healthcare provider that wants the vaccines can obtain them and any parent who wants it for their child can get it," Pushaw tweeted.
Florida health department spokesman Jeremy Redfern said the Florida online portal for ordering vaccines from the federal government, Florida SHOTS, has always been available to hospitals, clinics and small doctor’s offices.
However, under CDC rules, providers can order vaccines only once an Emergency Use Authorization has been issued, Redfern said.
State health departments, on the other hand, have been able to pre-order vaccines in anticipation of an EUA, and this is what Florida has declined to do. That means the state won’t have an already existing stockpile of the vaccines to push out to children’s hospitals for use on Day 1 of authorization. However, any provider can order shots and get them with days or a week, according the state health department.
“Florida SHOTS will allow individual providers to order shots the way they always have,” Redfern said. “The Florida health department is not going to be the federal government’s storage unit for their giant pile of vaccines."
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