The announcement came at the conclusion of a 90-minute forum that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hosted in West Palm Beach. “The Curtain Close on COVID Theater” was live-streamed from a studio with hundreds of participants appearing on a towering screen behind the panelists.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo prefaced the change by deriding the school closures and mask and vaccine mandates issued by many states since the start of the pandemic as “terrible, harmful policies.”
“Florida is going to be the first state to recommend officially against the covid-19 vaccination for healthy children,” Ladapo said.
National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly 1,600 youths ages 0 to 17 have died of covid-19. More than 40 of those deaths were in Florida.
The CDC recommends coronavirus vaccination for children 5 and older, saying the shots are safe and effective against serious covid-19 disease. More than 25 million children in the United States have received at least one dose.
Infectious-disease experts quickly denounced the shift as “reckless” and “dangerous.”
“It’s terrible,” said Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading expert on the virus. “To be at such distinct variance from the hundreds of physicians and scientists at the CDC and the FDA is reckless at best and dangerous at worst.”
The governor, who is running for reelection and likely weighing a bid for the 2024 GOP nomination for president, said there is a lack of trust in those agencies. He repeated his frequent criticism of Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. There is “a gap between the Faucian pronouncement of what needed to be done and the actual data that supported or did not support those policies,” DeSantis said.
We had a great discussion with renowned scientists that debunked many false narratives about COVID.
Watch it before YouTube takes it down: https://t.co/QriBrJ9hrA
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 7, 2022
One of the panelists was Joseph Fraiman, a New Orleans emergency-room doctor who claims that no healthy children have died of covid-19 — a false assertion.
“The majority of studies haven’t been able to find a single healthy child who died from covid,” he repeated Monday. “If you have a healthy child, the chances of that child dying are incredibly low, essentially close to zero, if not zero.”
Yet Hotez said studies supporting the efficacy of vaccines for children are readily available. “You don’t have to look very hard to get the actual data,” he said in an interview from Houston. “But you do have to work hard to cherry-pick it in order to give misleading information.”
“I would say that the question is a scientific one, and it’s one that is answered with data,” Ladapo said. “The question is informed by data on specific outcomes and specific treatments. So that’s the scientific question.”
DeSantis has repeatedly faulted the Biden administration’s efforts to end the pandemic, with mask requirements among his top targets. On Wednesday, he scolded a group of high school students for wearing masks at an event at the University of South Florida. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off,” he told the teens.
Though more than 70,000 people in Florida have died of covid-19, DeSantis said Monday that the state has handled things correctly by avoiding mask and vaccine mandates. “We always sided with the data and rejected the narrative,” he said. “And our state is kind of like the center of the world. Everyone wants to come here.”
The governor sponsored the roundtable as lawmakers in Tallahassee are grappling with some of the most contentious issues in the session, which is scheduled to end Friday. In recent weeks, DeSantis has been holding daily news conferences, traveling the state and presenting checks to local communities.
Though some doctors on Monday’s panel cited studies showing vaccine immunity wanes in children as it does in adults, Hotez countered that the shots still “give high levels of protection against hospitalization” that will be increased when boosters are approved for children.
“The omicron wave is dying down, but it’s unlikely to be our last one,” Hotez said. “And we’ve seen terrible epidemics across the Southern states, including Florida and Texas, in the summer of 2020 and the summer of 2021, and we have to anticipate that’s going to be true of this summer as well. So now is the time you want to vaccinate.”