Florida contradicts CDC, says healthy children should not get COVID vaccine

WASHINGTON — Florida’s top health official said Monday that he would recommend healthy children not receive the coronavirus vaccine, contradicting both medical expertise and the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the state’s controversial surgeon general, made the surprise announcement at the end of a roundtable discussion, which he co-hosted with Gov. Ron DeSantis, to discuss what the governor’s office described as “Failure of Lockdowns and Mandates.”

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

Neither Ladapo nor DeSantis provided details. Nor were specifics available from the Florida Department of Health, which Ladapo has led since September.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo with Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Chris O’Meara/AP)

Although Ladapo did not say how he was defining “healthy children,” he was presumably referring to kids between the ages of 5 and 12, millions of whom have been vaccinated since the federal government made that cohort eligible for immunization late last fall. The vaccine could put some adolescent boys at risk of a heart condition known as myocarditis, but on the whole, the benefits of protecting against COVID-19 are seen as far outweighing any risk.

“This completely goes against the advice of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical and public health experts,” Dr. Leana Wen, public health professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, told Yahoo News in a text message about Florida’s decision. “Healthy children can and have become very ill. Vaccines are safe and reduce the risk of severe illness.”

The CDC recommends vaccination for everyone over the age of 5, as a necessary means of preventing COVID-19 illness — which can strike children, though they are generally less susceptible than adults — and curb the virus’s spread to more vulnerable populations.

“While kids are generally less at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19,” Washington, D.C., physician Lucy McBride told Yahoo News when children first became eligible for vaccination last year, “there have been kids who have gotten very sick, there have tragically been kids who have died from COVID, and getting the vaccine is a lot safer than getting COVID-19.”

The Biden administration responded sharply to the development. “It’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccinations when it is our best tool against the virus,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday afternoon briefing.

Ian Sams, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, noted on Twitter that unvaccinated teenagers are much more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID-19 than are vaccinated ones. “It is really dangerous for political figures — especially a state health official — to be pushing anti-vaxxer conspiracies that put kids at risk,” Sams said.

More than 71,000 people have died in Florida, and DeSantis long downplayed vaccines and other effective mitigation measures like masks. Last week, he was seen on camera scolding local students for wearing masks at an event during which they were to stand behind him. Since then, DeSantis has sent several fundraising emails related to the confrontation, which depict him as the victim.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24. (John Raoux/AP)

It is unclear why Ladapo chose this moment to strike out against the CDC recommendation for vaccinating children, though political considerations could have something to do with it. The Republican base has been steadfastly against vaccine mandates, and DeSantis is thought to be seriously considering a 2024 presidential campaign.

DeSantis has also refused to say whether he received a booster shot, leading to high-profile criticism from former President Donald Trump, a potential rival in the 2024 GOP primary. At his recent confirmation hearing, Ladapo refused to say whether the coronavirus vaccines work, despite a plethora of evidence that they prevent severe and critical disease.


How are vaccination rates affecting the latest COVID surge? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

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