The Florida Department of Health released new guidance Tuesday that says healthy children between the ages of 5 to 17 do not need to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Based on currently available data, healthy children aged 5 to 17 may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine. The Department recommends that children with underlying conditions are the best candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine,” it says. “Parents are encouraged to discuss the risks and benefits with their children’s health care practitioner when evaluating whether their child should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, particularly for children with underlying health conditions or comorbidities.”
Florida is the first state to break from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that everyone age 5 and older receive the vaccine.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Lapado announced the measure on Monday during a roundtable discussion hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Explaining the decision, DeSantis said Ladapo was concerned that the vaccine was “being pushed on people.”
“We are not just going to follow the CDC in the state of Florida,” he said. “We’re going to do our own stuff.”
The guidance released Tuesday says that the risks of the vaccine outweigh its benefits in children who don’t have underlying health conditions. It cites reports of increased incidence of myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle – in 16- and 17-year-olds who got the Covid-19 vaccine.
The study that the guidance uses to support this concern also found that the risk of myocarditis is rare, identifying 105.9 cases per 1 million doses of the mRNA vaccine given in 16- to 17-year-olds.
The guidance also cites data from a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found no cases of severe Covid-19 in a group of children ages 5 to 11, whether they received the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine or a placebo. However, that study found that the vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing Covid-19 infection.
The department also based the guidance off a New York-based study that found vaccine effectiveness for children ages 5 to 17 dropped significantly during the Omicron surge. But that research concluded that the vaccine continued to be effective against severe disease in children. That study is a preprint and has not been published in a peer-reviewed professional journal, so a note in bold at the top of the study advises that it should not be used to guide clinical practice.
Health experts have been very critical of the department’s recommendations.
In a statement Tuesday, Dr. Daniel P. McQuillen, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said his group “strongly opposes the state of Florida’s decision to put politics over the health and safety of children. The Florida Surgeon General’s decision to recommend against COVID-19 vaccination for healthy children flies in the face of the best medical guidance and only serves to further sow distrust in vaccines that have proven to be the safest, most effective defense against severe COVID-19 disease, hospitalization and death.”
The head of the University of Florida’s health system sent an email Tuesday to staff that distanced the medical network from Ladapo in light of Monday’s announcement.
Dr. David Nelson, the senior vice president for health affairs at the university and president of UF Health, told staff that Ladapo does not speak for the school and acknowledged that his opinions clash with those of other medical experts. Ladapo is a professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine through an agreement with the state.
Nelson also assured staff that the university’s position was that vaccines are “safe and effective, with a very low risk of adverse outcomes.”
“We recognize there is sometimes significant disagreement among knowledgeable individuals on policy issues surrounding the COVID pandemic. Nothing is more fundamental to our existence as an institution of higher learning than supporting the two bedrock principles of free speech and academic freedom,” the email said. “As an academic health center, we also stand for the principle of scientifically sound, evidence-based medical decisions.”