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White House: Florida doctors can order under-5 COVID shots

Clash over vaccines for children
Clash over vaccines for children 03:07

MIAMI - Florida doctors will be able to directly order COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 from the federal government, the White House said Friday, after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would not order and distribute the shots in the state.

The state was the only jurisdiction in the nation to decline to place advance orders for the pediatric shots, which received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Final authorization from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected in the coming days, clearing the way for the last remaining unvaccinated age group to obtain shots.

The White House has been sharply critical of DeSantis' position but in a statement Friday it welcomed the news that he was permitting individual doctors to order vaccines for their patients. While doctors in Florida won't be able to access a statewide stockpile immediately after final authorization comes through, the state health department says doctors could get the shots within several days or a week.

"We are encouraged that after repeated failures by Governor DeSantis to order COVID-19 vaccines even after every other state had ordered, the State of Florida is now permitting health care providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. "We believe it is critical to allow parents everywhere to have the choice to get their kids vaccinated and have a conversation with their pediatrician or health care provider."

White House Coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said "This is a momentous step in the fight against the pandemic, Twenty one experts reviewed the data and voted unanimously. The state of Florida had intentionally missed multiple deadlines for orders for vaccines to protect children. I am pleased to see after intensive pressure on the Governor that parents are allowed to make their own decisions" and receive the vaccines through their pediatricians and other healthcare providers.

He said it was unfortunate that the Florida Health Department would not be allowed to offer the vaccines to those children. "This will specifically leave the most vulnerable children behind."

Florida officials said Thursday the jabs would be available at pharmacies and community health centers, which can preorder them directly from the federal government, and that children's hospitals and other clinics would be able to order them from the federal government via a state portal and receive them quickly.

"Doctors can get it. Hospitals can get it. But there's not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to get COVID jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns," DeSantis said at a news conference. "That's not where we're gonna be utilizing our resources."

Federal officials believe most parents of young children plan to get their kids vaccinated at their pediatrician's office, rather than pharmacies or hospitals, and criticized DeSantis for slowing access to the shots.

"Even though Governor DeSantis reversed course and is now ordering vaccines, we will pull every lever to get pediatricians across Florida vaccines as quickly as possible," Jean-Pierre said. "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."

Officials said that DeSantis' decision not to pre-order shots means there's no stockpile ready to go to be pushed out to the state's children's hospitals or doctors on Day 1 of availability.

Florida health department spokesman Jeremy Redfern said the Florida online portal for ordering vaccines from the federal government, Florida SHOTS, has always been available to hospitals, clinics and small doctor's offices.

However, under CDC rules, providers can order vaccines only once an Emergency Use Authorization has been issued, Redfern said.

State health departments, on the other hand, have been able to pre-order vaccines in anticipation of an EUA, and this is what Florida has declined to do. That means the state won't have an already existing stockpile of the vaccines to push out to children's hospitals for use on Day 1 of authorization. However, any provider can order shots and get them with days or a week, according the state health department.

"Florida SHOTS will allow individual providers to order shots the way they always have," Redfern said. "The Florida health department is not going to be the federal government's storage unit for their giant pile of vaccines."

A spokeswoman for Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital said they are not sure when the vaccines will be delivered and what the demand will be. 

A spokesman for the Holtz Children's Hospital and Jackson Memorial Hospital told CBS4's Peter D'Oench that they are still assessing what will happen. 

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