Florida decision on vaccines for children below 5 baffles Indian American parents

Ritu Jha-

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to not order Covid-19 vaccines for children below the age of five has left some Indian American parents in the Sunshine State flummoxed. There is no ban in the state, but the decision could make it harder for parents to access the vaccine.

Tampa resident and software engineer Lokeswar Reddy Kamanuru – whose daughter Ruhekhaa is four years old – told indica that he does not understand the governor’s assessment. “I oppose the governor’s call,” he said. “Kids have started going to school and mine does too, and this increases their chances of getting infected.”

In May this year, Kamanuru fell sick and thought it was seasonal flu, until a close friend tested positive. Fortunately for Kamanuru, he and his family tested negative. Kamanuru is no stranger to Covid. “Last year,” he said, “I nearly lost my life. I am alive because of the vaccine.” Kamanuru said he had spent 21 days in an intensive care unit after he tested positive for Covid.

Kamanuru says he will try and get his daughter vaccinated “one way or the other.” One of his friends got his six-year-old kid vaccinated. “There is no threat from the vaccine. I don’t understand why the governor is opposed to it.”

To be sure, if healthcare providers wish to order the vaccine for individual patients, they may do so through the state-maintained portal. Vaccines for children under five became eligible for order by individual healthcare providers on June 17, the same day that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized it for use.

Nationally, Covid-19 vaccines for children aged six months to five years became available on June 21. On June 18, advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the vaccines for children as young as six months old. The same day, CDC director Rochelle Walensky gave the final seal of approval to the plan. On June 2, White House Covid Response coordinator Ashish Jha had announced that the US government had enough COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc to begin the program for young children, if and when the vaccines are approved, and had said that the White House expects the vaccinations to begin on June 21.

Bryan Griffin, deSantis’ deputy press secretary, confirmed to indica that Florida is not ordering any vaccines. In an email response, Griffin said, “The State of Florida has chosen not to be involved in the pre-ordering or distribution of the vaccine for children under five. The State of Florida does not recommend the vaccine be administered to healthy children.”

At a press conference on June 16, DeSantis said, “There is not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to get COVID jabs to infants, toddlers and new-borns. That’s not something that we think is appropriate and so that’s not where we are going to be utilizing our resources.”

He added, “I would say we are permanently recommending against doing the vax for young kids, particularly a six-month old, two-year-old… little kids.”

In response to questions from news website Insider, the Florida Department of Health said it “has made it clear to the federal government that states do not need to be involved in the convoluted vaccine distribution process.” According to Insider, “the department also said that Florida’s decision not to participate should come as “no surprise” given that the department doesn’t recommend shots for children.”

The report quoted the department of health as saying, “Doctors can order vaccines if they are in need, and there are currently no orders in the department’s ordering system for the Covid-19 vaccine for this age group.”

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, too, is opposed to vaccines for children below five. In March this year, Ladapo had said, “Based on currently available data, the risks of administering Covid-19 vaccination among healthy children may outweigh the benefits. That is why these decisions should be made on an individual basis, and never mandated.”

DeSantis feels that the trial data on that is “abysmal.” “It should not have gotten emergency use [authorization],” he said. “But here’s the thing, these are the people that are at practically zero risk of anything. And so, to then be giving them an mRNA shot on that emergency use basis – our Department of Health has been very clear, the risks outweigh the benefits and we recommend against it. That’s not the same as banning it.”

He added, “People can access it if they want to and parents can do so. But if you look at when they were doing the [FDA] hearing, you had one physician say, parents are really, really frightened, we know that the risk is low, we’re not sure how this is going to work, but we parents are really frightened about COVID for their kids. And which I would say is why would they be frightened about it? It’s because of media hysteria. It’s because of a lot of misinformation. That’s why they’re scared.”

Dr. Monica Gandhi, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California, San Francisco, told indica, “Per a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, about 18 percent of parents of children this young in this country want to vaccinate their children.”

Gandhi said that although the Moderna vaccine was not as effective, it is likely as effective as the two-dose vaccines for Omicron for adults. “Both vaccines increase antibodies to the levels seen in adults or higher, which likely indicates that cellular immunity (T and B cells) is being generated. Therefore, the reason to get your child vaccinated would be to give them immunity for the future (when they are more at risk) although likely only one dose is needed if they were infected before, to give hybrid immunity,” she said.

She added, “The Pfizer vaccine (three doses of 3 micrograms each) was safer than the Moderna vaccine (two doses of 25 micrograms each) in terms of the side effect of fevers. Therefore, as a parent, if you are concerned about a higher rate of adverse effects, I would consider choosing the Pfizer vaccine.”