By Steve Contorno and Carma Hassan, CNN
The Florida Department of Health will recommend against Covid-19 vaccinations for healthy children, the state’s top public health official said Monday, putting the state at odds with the guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommended that children get vaccinated in November, when the shot became available to most kids. Since then, about 22 million children have become fully vaccinated, including 1.1 million Florida kids.
But Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said the state is going to issue separate guidance urging parents not to vaccinate their kids. Ladapo did not say when that guidance would become official and provided few additional details.
Florida would become the first state to break from the CDC on vaccines for children.
The announcement from Ladapo came at the end of a 90-minute discussion between some of the medical community’s most vocal skeptics of pandemic mitigation measures. The event, hosted by Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, was harshly critical of the CDC and governments that took steps to slow the spread of the virus through mask mandates and shutdown measures.
Several of the doctors and scientists on DeSantis’ panel shared unproven concerns about the safety of the vaccine for kids.
Children vaccinated against Covid-19 are less likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 infections than children who are unvaccinated, recent data has shown.
Vaccinated grade-schoolers are nearly half as likely to have a Covid-19 case that resulted in care at an urgent care clinic or emergency room compared with children who were unvaccinated, according to a large study funded by the CDC.
Almost 4.5 million children have had Covid just since the beginning of January.
Children infected by Covid-19 can develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome weeks later. This rare disease can lead to dangerous complications, causing parts of the body to become inflamed. MIS-C can affect major organs including the kidneys, brain, lungs and heart.
The vaccine is not authorized for children under the age of 5. About 25% of Florida’s eligible child population is vaccinated, compared with 30% nationally.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN he is “disappointed and actually concerned” by the Florida surgeon general’s announcement.
“I think [vaccination] continues to be the best recommendation,” he said. “I would continue to make it to all parents of children 5 and older. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and they provide us a firmer foundation for the control of Covid going forward.”
Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said Ladapo’s statement Is “wholly irresponsible and completely unsupported.”
“Although it is true that children are less likely to be infected and it is true that children are less likely to be severely infected, they can still be infected, and they can still be severely infected,” he told CNN. “And if you have a vaccine which is safe, which this is, and is effective, which this is, then you give it. What the Florida surgeon general didn’t do was in any sense explain himself. What possible reason could he have for not giving this vaccine to children and putting them in a position where they have to suffer this disease?”
The Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics was also critical of the decision.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is our best hope for ending the pandemic,” chapter President Dr. Lisa Gwynn said in a statement. “The Surgeon General’s comments today misrepresent the benefits of the vaccine, which has been proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and long-term symptoms from COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including those who are otherwise healthy.
“The evidence is clear that when people are vaccinated, they are significantly less likely to get very sick and need hospital care. There is widespread consensus among medical and public health experts about the life-saving benefits of this vaccine.”
Ladapo has become a lightning rod for criticism since his appointment to lead the Florida Health Department last year. Ladapo gained attention during the pandemic after penning a series of op-eds that challenged the consensus scientific opinion on vaccines, masks and mitigation strategies. He has also pushed unproven Covid-19 therapies, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
The Florida Senate confirmed Ladapo to become the state’s surgeon general last month. During his confirmation hearings, he declined to say whether he was vaccinated and wouldn’t answer questions from lawmakers about the effectiveness of vaccines.
Ladapo recently issued new guidance that discouraged private businesses from requiring their employees wear masks.
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CNN’s Deidre McPhillips and Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.