Updated: Jun 28
Despite CDC recommendation — and assurances of safety —area hospitals, doctors' offices and pharmacies aren't providing Covid-19 vaccines to kids under 5.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended June 18 that all children ages 6 months and older should get a Covid-19 vaccine, but West Orange County parents who go searching for a way to do that are likely to come up empty-handed.
That's in large part because of the Florida Department of Health’s move not to pre-order doses for its youngest eligible residents from the federal government. Helmed by outspoken vaccine skeptic Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, Florida has the only state health department in the country that avoided ordering. Ladapo was hired by Gov. Ron DeSantis who indicated at a June 16 press conference that the state would not vaccinate children 6 months to 5 years old, despite ongoing research that indicates the vaccine is safe and effective for all ages. (The Florida Phoenix recently reported friction between the DeSantis administration and White House about whether it actually ordered the vaccines).
Florida’s decision to skip the vaccine for its youngest eligible children means hospitals, doctors and pharmacies must get it on their own. However, several area medical centers, providers and pharmacies are opting out, a VoxPopuli investigation has learned. Of the 10 pediatric offices and medical centers we contacted, none have plans to offer the vaccine to children younger than 4. Many aren’t offering the vaccine to children of any age.
Part of the issue is storage.
“As a small medical practice, we don’t have the funds to invest in the proper freezer unit needed to store the vaccine,” said Dr. Hernando Cardona, of Pediatrics of Greater Orlando. He lamented the politicization of the vaccine. “I think it’s OK for parents to vaccinate their infants and toddlers against Covid-19 if that’s what they want to do. I think vaccination is most important for children who have health conditions, like asthma or a heart condition that increase their risk of serious Covid-19 complications.”
Cardona also recommended vaccinating a young child who spends a lot of time with a high-risk adult, such as a parent, grandparent or caregiver who is obese or has diabetes, heart disease or an autoimmune disease.
Orlando parent Alycia Graham plans to get her 3-year-old daughter Imani and 16-month-old son Kingston vaccinated as soon as they can find it and, “after we have discussed with the pediatrician what she knows about the vaccine and what she is advising and why.” Graham said she got the Covid-19 vaccination while pregnant with her second child. “With all things medical, there is a risk, and we have to weigh the risks over the ‘rewards’ at times,” she said. “I don’t judge other parents for their choices, but my husband and I choose what is best for our [children] based off of our beliefs.”
When Graham and her husband are ready to vaccinate their children, they’re likely to have a challenging time finding it.
Two of the area’s hospitals are currently not offering the vaccine for young children. “Nemours Children’s Health is pleased that the Covid-19 vaccine is now approved for young children,” Margot Winick, a spokesperson at Nemours Children’s Health, said in an email to VoxPopuli. “We are currently exploring options at our sites for distributing vaccines. While local pharmacies will provide vaccines in our communities, we are suggesting families contact your pediatrician with any questions.”
Nemours is hosting a free webinar called “What parents need to know about the Covid-19 vaccine for children under 5 years old” on Tuesday, June 28, at 6 p.m. You can register here.
Orlando Health, one of the region’s largest medical providers, offered the following statement: “Orlando Health is a broad healthcare organization that includes hospitals, physician offices for adults and pediatrics, and a multitude of other care-based facilities. We currently offer Covid-19 vaccinations at more than a dozen physician offices for patients over the age of 4 and are currently evaluating the demand for infant and toddler vaccinations.”
A spokesperson at the private medical practice Premier Pediatrics in Ocoee said their pediatricians would not be dispensing the vaccine, though did not provide a reason. They suggested that parents who want the vaccine for their young children contact their local pharmacies. But even that may be difficult. Publix, a leading provider of the vaccine for adults when it was first released, has said it won’t be vaccinating children younger than 5. The grocery store chain didn’t give a reason.
Walgreens’ website indicated that it is providing the vaccine for children ages 3 and older “at select locations.” But there’s no information about which “select locations” have the vaccine or any mention about vaccinating children in the 6-to-36-month age bracket. And CVS Minute Clinics are vaccinating children 18 months and older, according to the pharmacy giant’s website. The corporate media relations departments at Walgreens and CVS did not respond to our requests for comment. The Winter Garden Pharmacy on Dillard Street is not vaccinating anyone under 18 years of age.
For now, parents seeking the Covid-19 vaccine for their young children can contact their local pharmacies, search the state health department’s vaccine locator function or call the Covid-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121.