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.
“They told us that because the state didn’t preorder, that put Florida at the end of the line, so we don’t know when it will come in,” Comegys said. “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.”
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.
“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.”
An estimated 33,000 children in the state get their health care from state-run county health departments, Ladapo said in a statement to the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis. State and county health personnel can’t administer the pediatric vaccine under the state policy, but they can tell parents where they might find them, said Florida Department of Health spokesman Jeremy T. Redfern.
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.
DeSantis, who is seen as a likely 2024 presidential candidate, has garnered nationwide support among Republicans for his “freedom first agenda” in dealing with the pandemic, as well as for his barbed criticisms of President Biden and his chief medical adviser, Anthony S. Fauci.
Jay Wolfson, an associate dean at the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida who has advised several governors, said DeSantis’s coronavirus vaccine policy “has not been as clear and as useful as it might have been” but noted that many consider the coronavirus to be endemic now.
“What we should be doing is trying to get everybody vaccinated,” said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by state officials. “It feels like the Department of Health is being run by a 26-year-old who watches Fox News all day long and then puts out health rules on Twitter.”
Organizations that help serve disadvantaged children say the conflicting messages from state and national leaders have confused parents and led to low demand for the pediatric shots. Many of their parents rely on county health departments for outreach, but because of the prohibition on administering the vaccines, they’re not hearing about it, said Louisa McQueeney, program director for Florida Voices for Health.
“With all of this misinformation, and the state’s decision not to distribute it through local health departments, there are some families that think it’s actually against the law to get the vaccine for their children,” said Gwynn, the state president of the pediatric society who also runs a mobile health clinic in Miami-Dade County. “I had to have a meeting with my nurses to allay their fears that they would be doing something illegal if they gave the vaccines to young children.”
“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.”
This content was originally published here.