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Shots for tots: COVID vaccinations start for younger children

Virus Outbreak-Vaccines-Kids
Sean Rayford
Pharmacist Kaitlin Harring, left, administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination to three year-old Fletcher Pack, while he sits on the lap of his mother, McKenzie Pack, at Walgreens pharmacy Monday, June 20, 2022, in Lexington, S.C. Today marked the first day COVID-19 vaccinations were made available to children under 5 in the United States.

As the DeSantis and Biden administrations feud over a reported change in state policy on ordering and distribution, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines begin going into tinier arms this week.

The nation’s youngest children, ages 6 months to 5 years, are getting their chance at vaccines for COVID-19. Shots began Monday at a few locations, though they were expected to ramp up after the Juneteenth federal holiday.

That includes in Florida, although the state is not ordering the doses through the federal government and handling distribution like the rest of the country. Instead, pharmacies, doctors, hospitals and community health centers are ordering them directly.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer last week, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final signoff over the weekend.

Roughly 18 million youngsters under 5 are eligible.

The vaccine made by Moderna for 6-month-olds to 5-year-olds is a two-dose series, given four weeks apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 6-month-olds to 4-year-olds is a three-dose series. The first two shots are given three weeks apart, and the third one eight weeks after the second shot.

The Biden administration has been gearing up for the start of the shots early this month. Millions of doses were preordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics.

Florida was the only state not to preorder the tot shots in anticipation of their final approval. The state Department of Health doesn’t recommend the vaccine for the youngest age group, a policy that differs from the CDC’s.

Florida physicians and hospitals begin ordering the shots Friday after the FDA’s emergency approval.

By then, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Biden administration were at odds over whether this was a change in state policy.

DeSantis said Thursday that the state won’t facilitate distribution, though he said the doses would be available to those who want them. The health department said the shots could be ordered directly from the federal government via a state portal and would be received quickly.

However, according to the Miami Herald, the White House said allowing pediatricians and other providers to order the vaccines was a reversal from earlier in week.

The health department refuted the report, saying "contrary to disinformation circulating, the vaccine ordering process has not changed in Florida."

The Herald report said DeSantis’ previous position would have limited vaccines to a select number of community health centers and facilities participating in a federal retail pharmacy program.

In Florida, 11 retail pharmacies are in the federal program. Among them, Walgreens, Walmart and Southeastern (Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Mas, Harveys) plan to administer the vaccine to children as young as 3 at select stores, with CVS expected to do so with children 18 months and older. Kroger, Publix and Costco are also in the program.

According to White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, availability of the shots in Florida could be delayed in children's hospitals and other facilities that have relied on state distribution.

According to the CDC, as of May 28, more than 400 children 0-4 years have died with COVID.

Data from a survey conducted in February showed that around half of parents of this age group "said they would definitely or probably vaccinate their child once they become eligible," said the CDC's Dr. Sarah Oliver, speaking at Saturday's meeting that resulted in final approval.

A third of parents said they "definitely or probably would not vaccinate their child," she added. And a fifth of respondents said they would within three months of vaccines becoming available.

Information from the Associated Press, NPR and news partner the Miami Herald was used in this report.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.