As covid infections of the Omicron-21 variant continue to rise in Flagler County, Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration have issued conflicting statements about ordering vaccines for children under 5. Friday.
Last week, the Flagler County Health Department reported 223 confirmed infections. This week the number has risen to 317, a number that greatly underestimates the true level of infections. “Because of the home testing that is occurring, there is no requirement or system in place for these results to be reported to the Department of Health,” Flagler Health Department Director Bob Snyder said. “Our estimate is that, that 317 is really three to four times higher in terms of community prevalence.”
Outbreaks have been reported in four local assisted living or nursing homes. Four staff members and one patient were infected at Grand Oaks, a total of 35 people – 22 residents and 13 staff members – were infected at Flagler Health and Rehab, eight residents and three staff members were infected at Brookdale Assisted Living and nine residents were infected at Tuscan Jardins. Case reports date back to May 27 and 30 at Grand Oaks and Flagler Health and Rehab, and June 6 and 7 and the other two facilities.
Today, AdventHealth Palm Coast was reporting 13 patients admitted with a primary diagnosis of Covid. And after a month-and-a-half hiatus with no recorded Covid deaths at Flagler, those numbers are rising again, with a total of 363 since the start of the pandemic, up four in the past two weeks.
While at least a third of people who contract Covid are not symptomatic, the most common symptoms with the Omicron 21 variant are fever, runny nose and congestion, excessive fatigue, body aches and sore throat – but not the loss of taste as often as before the case with Delta and previous variants, Snyder said.
Omicron is less virulent but still dangerous, especially for people with underlying illnesses and for the elderly. Children are not immune. More than 30,000 children under the age of 5 have been hospitalized with Covid, and nearly 500 have died from it, according to Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy.
In Florida, 67 children have died from Covid, including 18 under the age of 5, 16 between the ages of 5 and 11 and 33 between the ages of 12 and 17, according to Health Department data.
The Food and Drug Administration today authorized the two-shot Moderna and three-shot Pfizer vaccines for the nation’s 20 million children between the ages of 6 months and under 5 years. The Centers for Disease Control is meeting again today and tomorrow before releasing its recommendation.
Pfizer says two shots of its vaccine are only 28% effective in preventing the disease and 80% effective when a third shot is given, although it bases this information on trials involving fewer than 1,700 participants, a relatively small number. And FDA evaluators have questioned the reliability of the 80% figure, according to The New York Times. Moderna places the effectiveness of its vaccine at 51% for children 6 months to 2 years old and 37% for children 2 to 5 years old. The FDA says the vaccine helps prevent more severe cases of covid, especially for children with underlying illnesses.
DeSantis said on Thursday that Florida would not devote any state resources to giving “shots” to young children, essentially preventing local health departments from doing what they have been doing since the vaccine was rolled out – provide vaccines to any person who applied and who was eligible.
“Our Department of Health has been very clear, the risks outweigh the benefits, and we advise against it. It’s not the same as banning it, I mean people can access it if they want it,” DeSantis said at a press conference. Pharmacies, for example, would have the vaccine. “But there won’t be state programs that will try, you know, to send shots of Covid to infants, toddlers and newborns This is not something that we believe is appropriate, and therefore is not where we will be using our resources in this regard.
In light of the confirmed number of hospitalizations and deaths in children under 5, DeSantis was grossly inaccurate when he claimed the risks outweighed the benefits. Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a CDC researcher who presented data at today’s review meeting, said the continued push for omicron has led to a record number of childhood hospitalizations from the category of children from 6 months to 4 years old, half of them without underlying conditions.
“Unvaccinated people aged 5 and over were 10 times more likely to die from Covid-19, compared to those who received at least two vaccine injections,” The Times said, citing figures presented by Dr. Matthew Daley, senior researcher at Kaiser. Permanente Colorado and the head of the CDC’s vaccine task force. The figures “provide concrete evidence that most deaths from Covid-19 can be prevented through vaccination”, he said.
Yet DeSantis derided why parents fear Covid for their children, blaming ‘media hysteria’ and ‘misinformation’, even as he himself forced his own views on the vaccine for children in little less than hysteria and misinformation. But it’s DeSantis’ approach that dates back to just months after the vaccine was rolled out, when he shifted from prevention to a “freedom” agenda that equates to indifference, contempt or banning of covid safety measures including things like vaccine mandates or recommendations.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo opposed vaccinating all children 17 and under and was generally skeptical of vaccines. Local health departments were forced to take a dismissive approach, sometimes against the best judgment of local health administrators.
McClatchy Newspapers reported that Florida, alone among 50 states, had failed to pre-order the vaccine for young children, a decision confirmed by DeSantis during his press conference on Thursday and a statement released by Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, the same day: “States do not need to be involved in the convoluted process of vaccine distribution, especially when the federal government has a reputation for crafting inconsistent and unsustainable COVID-19 policies,” Redfern said. . “Nor is it surprising that we chose not to participate in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when the Department does not recommend it for all children.”
Today, the Florida Health Department backtracked: “Contrary to popular misinformation, the process for ordering vaccines has not changed in Florida. Ordering COVID-19 vaccines – including for the 6 month to 5 year age group – has always been available to providers. Following the [FDA’s] Emergency Use Authorization issued today, June 17, 2022, registered providers can order COVID-19 vaccines for new authorized age groups through Florida SHOTS.
The White House welcomed the reversal.
“We are encouraged that after Governor DeSantis’ repeated failures to order COVID-19 vaccines even after all other states have ordered, the State of Florida is now allowing health care providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children”, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. said today in a statement. “We believe it is essential to allow parents around the world to have the choice to have their children vaccinated and to have a conversation with their pediatrician or health care provider.”
Jean-Pierre added, “Even though Governor DeSantis has reversed course and is now ordering vaccines, we will pull every lever to get vaccines to pediatricians in Florida as quickly as possible. This is an encouraging first step, and we urge the state to order vaccines for its state and local health departments, so that all Florida parents have the opportunity to get their children vaccinated.
But Flagler’s health department was taking no chances. Consistent with the governor and department’s stance against recommending vaccines for young children, he will not be making the vaccine available at his Bunnell facility, as he does for all ages 5 and up.