COVID-19 vaccines for infants and toddlers should be available in Utah next week if federal authorities grant final approval as expected Friday, a Utah Department of Health official said, questioning Florida’s decision not to offer the shots.
“For Florida to not, I don’t know why they chose that. But I feel like, at least for the state of Utah, it’s our responsibility at least to offer it and then let parents make the decision if they’d like to do it,” state immunization director Rich Lakin said Thursday.
“To not have it offered whatsoever, I think, is not a good place,” Lakin said, adding, “You can agree and disagree about the vaccine all you want but to me, it’s our responsibility” to make sure it’s available to the parents who want their children to get it. “I guess that’s the thing that bothers me about Florida. They’re not even offering it.”
Florida is the only state that didn’t pre-order the scaled-down doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 6 months old from the federal government for delivery next week in anticipation of shots getting the go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An FDA panel of advisers unanimously recommended authorizing both vaccines Wednesday, seen as a key hurdle to finally getting children younger than 5 protected against the virus. Further action is needed by the FDA as well as by the CDC, set to consider the shots Friday, before the federal government fills the orders.
Lakin said state health departments must place the orders for providers because the authorization would be for emergency use, so parents in Florida may have to travel to another state in order to vaccinate their children under 5 for the three-dose series of Pfizer shots, and under 6 for the two-dose series of Moderna shots.
The Florida Department of Health has “chosen not to participate,” spokesman Jeremy Redfern told McClatchy Thursday, because that state’s health department is not following federal public health recommendations about the deadly virus.
“The Florida Department of Health has made it clear to the federal government that states do not need to be involved in the convoluted vaccine distribution process, especially when the federal government has a track record of developing inconsistent and unsustainable COVID-19 policies,” Redfern said.
The statement from Florida’s health department, which is led by that state’s surgeon general, Joe Ladapo, an outspoken COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, said, “It is also no surprise we chose not to participate in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when the Department does not recommend it for all children.”
Redfern also said “there are currently no orders in the department’s ordering system for the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group.”
Utah’s state health department, set to merge July 1 with the state Department of Human Services, is recommending parents talk with their children’s health care providers about the vaccine, Lakin said, suggesting they may want to do that soon to be ready once the shots are available.
“The data shows that it’s safe and effective. The thing that we’ve got to remember is that COVID has killed more children younger than 5 than flu would during two normal flu seasons. So to me, that means, we have a tendency to kind of forget this does have an impact on children,” he said.
A recent analysis of CDC data by Jeremy Faust, a professor at Harvard University Medical School and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, showed more than 600 children died from COVID-19 in 2021, while seasonal childhood flu deaths have ranged from 39 to 199 since 2004, according to Bloomberg news service.
Lakin said the state will be launching a promotional campaign with TV, radio and social media advertising, planned in part because of the confusion created earlier this year when federal authorities decided more data was needed about the vaccines in young children after two doses of Pfizer proved less effective than hoped.
Utah had been ready in February to start vaccinating the final group in the United States to be approved for COVID-19 shots, with the state health department ordering some 23,000 doses. Now, Lakin said, the state has handled orders for more than 32,000 child doses of the vaccine for providers around the state.
Preparations for the final remaining age group waiting to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations come as 6,522 new cases of the virus were reported in Utah over the past week, according to the state health department, along with 13 additional deaths.
While the average daily case count has dropped about 13% since June 9, hospitalizations are up 27.5%, with a seven-day average of just over 138 patients in the hospital with the virus and almost 23 in intensive care units, more than a 35% increase.
Nearly three-quarters of the wastewater treatment plants in the state monitored for the presence of COVID-19 are showing elevated or increasing levels of the virus. At least five of Utah’s 29 counties have moved up to the CDC’s high community level of COVID-19 — Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Grand and San Juan.
Under the CDC’s guidelines, everyone is advised to wear masks indoors in public, while those considered at high risk for severe illness from the virus should “consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed.”