DeSantis: White House, Media Lying About Florida's Policy on COVID Vaccines for Young Children

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Posted: Jun 22, 2022 1:05 PM
DeSantis: White House, Media Lying About Florida's Policy on COVID Vaccines for Young Children

In response to a question from a reporter this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the Biden administration of spreading misinformation regarding the state's position on early childhood COVID vaccines -- and ripped some media outlets for amplifying what he said was a false characterization.  The White House claimed that the DeSantis administration "reversed course" on the issue, caving to pressure and allowing medical providers to order doses of the COVID vaccines for young children (aged six months to five years).  That framing, repeated in much of the press, prompted a blistering statement from the governor's deputy press secretary:

"It is patently false that Florida has 'reversed course' or changed its position in any way with regards to the COVID vaccine for children under 5. We have never held the position that the state would prohibit healthcare providers from ordering the vaccine. We have always maintained the position that the State of Florida has chosen not to be involved in the pre-ordering or distribution of the vaccine for children under 5. The State of Florida does not recommend the vaccine be administered to healthy children. Once again, many media outlets assume that government is the only means by which something happens in today’s society, and have convoluted a lack of state action or support with a ban or prohibition."

This is an ongoing problem of our modern political discourse, in which something that a given entity does not provide or pay for is somehow mischaracterized as being 'banned' (see birth control "bans," for instance)  Asked directly about this flare-up, DeSantis offered a lengthy answer, explaining that his administration stands fully behind its data-driven decision to recommend against injecting healthy young children with the COVID vaccine -- and reiterating that their policy never banned doctors, hospitals, or healthcare providers from ordering or distributing doses to Florida children whose parents wanted to make that choice:


Despite tripping over the (mouthful) 'mRNA' acronym a few times, DeSantis made a strong case for why Florida decided to adopt a similar approach to some Scandinavian nations on this overall public health question.  Here's a Reuters report from earlier this year quoting Swedish officials on why they opted against recommending COVID shots for kids between the ages of five and 11 (Florida followed a similar path within this age group, too) in that country:

Sweden has decided against recommending COVID vaccines for kids aged 5-11, the Health Agency said on Thursday, arguing that the benefits did not outweigh the risks. "With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don't see any clear benefit with vaccinating them," Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm told a news conference.  She added that the decision could be revisited if the research changed or if a new variant changed the pandemic. Kids in high-risk groups can already get the vaccine.

The Finns did the same last December: Children in Finland aged five and over should be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they or someone in their household are at high risk of severe infection, the Finnish Health Institute recommended on Thursday, opting against shots for all children. The government is expected to accept the recommendation...[a health official] added children rarely become severely ill and would only slightly benefit from the vaccine."  In his response, DeSantis said that the clinical data on COVID vaccines for children is strikingly thin, echoing a number of points Johns Hopkins surgeon and professor Dr. Marty Makary has been making publicly, including on my radio program this week:


Estimates suggest that at least three in four American kids have contracted and recovered from COVID, a microscopic fraction of these were hospitalized, and even fewer died.  More kids pass away from drowning in an average year.  Those children all have some degree of 'natural immunity,' yet the data upon which FDA and CDC based their recommendations did not include any kids with natural immunity (even though that group represents the vast majority of American children by now).  Other prominent doctors have made similar points, as well:


DeSantis said Florida was not going to recommend or order child vaccine doses for COVID, but that doesn't mean that they wouldn't be allowed.  "What they're saying is because practitioners and hospitals can order [the vaccines for children], somehow we've 'reversed.'  I said from the beginning that they'd be able to do that.  We don't have the authority to prevent it," he explained.  "I'd just caution [families] to look at the actual data," he added, calling said data "very, very scant."  Later in his response, the governor put a finer point on this distinction: "Our recommendation is against it. That's different than prohibiting its use in Florida, which we don't have the authority to do, and quite frankly, we're confident people can make their own judgments," he said, again urging parents to look at the clinical data and consult with their doctors.  There was no "reversal" or change of course, in other words -- a mistake echoed in a lengthy (and unsurprisingly negatively-slanted) profile of DeSantis published in The New Yorker this week.  The governor's press secretary called out the magazine on this:


Relatedly, here is the start of my own Twitter thread, in which I responded point-by-point to a long and hostile recap of the New Yorker story, bashing DeSantis every step of the way:


Click through for my fact-checks and crucial added context to some of the attack lines attempted in the piece.  I'll leave you with my general conclusion: