The final decision about whether youths should get vaccinated against the coronavirus is up to them and their parents. We think they should receive the shots; scientific evidence shows that vaccines protect young people from serious illness and death. Unfortunately, though, the message about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines has failed to reach many families. That is why the Florida surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, was irresponsible to announce on Monday that the state health department plans to formally recommend against vaccination for healthy children.
Dr. Ladapo did not make any details of his plan public, and his announcement came at a roundtable of vocal skeptics of Covid-19 mitigation measures. The recommendation flies in the face of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is authorized for children from 5 to 11 years old; no vaccine has yet been approved for those under 5. Real-world evidence released March 1 by the CDC and separate findings from the New York State Health Department show that efficacy of the Pfizer shot for kids has waned over time, but it continued to protect against the most serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death, even as the omicron variant surged.
What’s irresponsible about Dr. Ladapo’s announcement is the message: It might add to doubts among parents about vaccination. Already, of all those in the United States eligible for vaccination, children from 5 to 11 have the lowest uptake. Only 26.4 percent of this age cohort nationwide has two shots, and 33.4 percent have at least one dose. By contrast, vaccine uptake has been far more widespread among those older: 57.9 percent for 12-to-17-year-olds getting two doses, and still higher for older age groups. About 373,000 Florida children ages 5 to 11 have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, or 22 percent of the state’s 5-to-11 population, according to the Miami Herald.
While mortality among children due to Covid is rare, children do get infected, can become seriously ill and can transmit it to adults. The omicron variant caused a surge of child cases, as it did with adults.
Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has long pushed back against Covid mitigation measures, and Dr. Ladapo’s remark came after a 90-minute discussion among 10 doctors and researchers who spoke out against vaccine mandates, mask requirements, and business and school closures, saying they caused harm. Later in the day, Mr. DeSantis told a news conference, “I think what Florida’s guidance reflects is the latest research.” He argued that healthy kids are at low risk for the virus and that he’s seen studies showing there’s “very little benefit” for them.
Two years into this nightmare, with more than 961,000 Americans dead, it is still mind-boggling to hear a governor of one of America’s most populous states express doubt about a proven lifesaving medicine. Earlier generations died in huge numbers from pandemics without the benefit of lifesaving vaccines, while we have shots that are remarkably effective, including for children. No one should be deterred from getting vaccinated by the crass politics of the Florida governor and his surgeon general.