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DeSantis Created Shortage of COVID Kid’s Vaccine in Florida


The governor told parents they were ‘free to choose.’ But many say they’re struggling to find the shots.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When coronavirus vaccines for infants and young children were authorized for the first time last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned parents against the “baby jabs,” saying regulators had done insufficient testing and trials.

Still, he said he wouldn’t stand in parents’ way if they chose to vaccinate their kids. “You are free to choose,” he assured them.

Florida parents say it hasn’t turned out that way. Many are struggling to find places to vaccinate their children, and they blame DeSantis — noting he was the only governor to refuse to preorder the vaccines, and to prohibit county health departments from distributing or administering the shots. Waitlists at pediatrician offices stretch for weeks. Doctor’s offices that have managed to get doses are fielding calls from parents hundreds of miles away. Families debate road trips to neighboring states in the hope of finding shots for their kids.

But even that timing is uncertain. After nearly a month, more retail outlets around the state began to offer the vaccines this past week, but many parents who want their child’s doctor to give the shot have long waits ahead.

“The hypocrisy is infuriating. With DeSantis, it’s all ‘your choice to wear a mask, your choice to get a vaccine.’ But now he’s making that choice for me and my children by making the vaccine so hard to get.”

Florida was the only state that declined to preorder the vaccines. “That’s not something that we think is appropriate, and so that’s not where we’re going to be utilizing our resources,” DeSantis said at a June 16 news conference.

The challenges are greatest for poor families who have traditionally relied on county health clinics now barred from administering the pediatric vaccine. That means underserved kids, especially in rural areas, are left with few options. Small pediatricians’ offices, which usually order their vaccines through county health departments, are also affected.

Meanwhile, state officials have sought to limit debate about their decisions, sidelining a prominent doctor who spoke out, even as state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo says the vaccines are not needed by healthy children — contradicting the advice of pediatricians and infectious-disease experts.

Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, was removed from the state’s Healthy Kids board of directors after she criticized the failure to preorder the vaccines or offer them to families through local health offices.

“For them, it’s not about science, it’s about politics,” Gwynn said. “But when the state decided not to preorder — and then to not distribute these vaccines to local health departments — that’s when it became a health equity issue. This was real. This was cutting off the supply to those children.”

West Palm Beach pediatrician Tommy Schechtman said his practice submitted a pediatric vaccine order through its supplier soon after the shots got a green light on June 18. He said the doses arrived within a week, and he has fielded phone requests from across the state in Tampa and Lakeland, and as far away as Jacksonville, 285 miles north — including from his niece.

“We had parents lined up for appointments as soon as we got it,” said Schechtman, a former president of the state chapter of the pediatric society. “These are parents who have been waiting for more than two years for this.”

Nationwide, more than 549,000 children younger than age 5, or 2.8 percent of the population, got their first coronavirus shot as of July 13, according to federal data. The rate was less than half that in Florida, where 14,421 children, or 1.3 percent in that age group, got a first shot. Sixteen states vaccinated a smaller percentage of children than Florida — with Mississippi and Alabama at the bottom, giving first shots to 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent of young children, respectively.

“It’s just been a waiting game, and trying to track down rumors of who has it, and how we can get an appointment,” said Stephanie Novenario, a Jacksonville mother whose two children are both younger than 5. “We’re supposed to have a choice about whether to get the child vaccines, but the choices are very slim.”