Florida doctors are wasting potentially life-saving COVID shots for young children, throwing away vials that have been opened but not fully used because there’s not enough demand for the vaccine.
That should be criminal. The world is still in the grips of a pandemic. More than 75,000 people in Florida have died of COVID. The world can’t afford to waste vaccines.
But don’t blame doctors. No, this debacle should be laid directly at the feet of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his handpicked surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo. They’ve cast doubt and sowed suspicion about the shots. They’ve inserted the state into a discussion that should be between parents and their children’s doctors. They’ve decreed that Florida is opposed to COVID vaccines for young children, dismissing the risk to children as minimal.
Deaths reach 422
Easy to say when it’s not your kids, not your risk. But what about kids who get it more than once? Or develop long COVID? Or even die from the virus? There have been 442 deaths of children under 4, nationally, as of last month. That’s a small number unless your child is one of those 442. Then, the callousness of Florida’s Republican leaders must be devastating.
Doctors, as reported in the Miami Herald, are stuck in the middle, between the ever-more-intrusive state and their responsibilities to their patients. Florida won’t let state programs administer the vaccines for infants and toddlers (despite Food and Drug Administration emergency-use authorization), so doctors have to order the vaccines from other programs.
The problem is, each vaccine vial contains 10 doses, and once a vial is opened, it has to be used within 12 hours. For previous vaccines, a doctor could order the shots in much smaller doses from the health department.
Lack of trust
Doctors are also fighting another battle: distrust. In predominantly Black and Hispanic communities, which have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic, South Florida pediatricians told the Herald that Ladapo’s word carries more weight because he is Black. Having him come out against what most of them are advising — encouraging vaccination and following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and pediatric medical associations — makes their jobs harder and causes more confusion.
Some responsible parties have stepped up with counterprogramming. South Florida hospitals and county governments are planning public vaccination campaigns for newly eligible children. That may help. But we can see the widening effects of Florida’s anti-vaccine messaging: Publix supermarkets has said it won’t be offering the vaccine for young children “at this time.”
Having to throw away COVID vaccines is a terrible waste and should never be happening. But deliberately sowing distrust in science and medicine, the way the state of Florida has? That may prove to be the bigger crime.