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Image: Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 24, 2022.Tristan Wheelock / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

On vaccines for kids, Florida's DeSantis makes a bizarre call

Many Republican governors ordered Covid vaccines so families will have the option of protecting young kids. At least at first, Ron DeSantis didn't bother.


UPDATE (June 17, 2022 1:24 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to reflect Florida's partial reversal on ordering Covid vaccine doses for children.

A few months into the pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis thought it’d be a good idea to order a million doses of hydroxychloroquine. The Republican governor either didn’t know or didn’t care that the medication was ineffective against Covid-19, and medical professionals throughout the state had no interest in the drug that was irrelevant to the public health crisis.

More than a year later, the Biden administration dropped two antibody Covid treatments when the drugmakers themselves conceded they were ineffective against the omicron variant. DeSantis expressed outrage, saying the White House should continue to make the treatments available anyway because ... well, the Floridian never fully explained why he wanted the public to have access to medications that don’t work. (The White House described the governor’s position as “crazy,” which seemed fair.)

Now, as young children finally become eligible for Covid vaccines, 49 states have ordered doses for the public. NBC News reported on the only state that, at least at first, chose not to.

Florida parents with kids under 5 years old may find themselves waiting longer than the rest of the country to get their youngest children vaccinated against Covid since state officials have decided not to order any doses for that age group. Florida is the only state that hasn’t submitted a request with the federal government for doses of the Covid vaccine specifically tailored for children ages six months to five years in anticipation of U.S. regulators giving clearance for that age bracket as early as this weekend, said a person familiar with the matter.

To be sure, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized Covid vaccines for young children, though the policy will still need approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before shots are administered. CDC approval is expected to happen as early as this weekend.

But DeSantis — the one who ordered a million unused doses of hydroxychloroquine and demanded delivery of antibody treatments that don’t work — said yesterday that his administration would not to order the vaccine for Florida’s children.

White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain noted this morning, “Florida is the only of the 50 states not working with the administration to give parents the choice of taking their child to their pediatrician to get their youngest kids vaccinated.”

It’s an important point: DeSantis wasn’t just making a recommendation that’s at odds with federal public health officials, he also appeared to make a decision about his state’s vaccine supply. If parents in Florida disagreed with their far-right governor, and wanted to protect their young children from a dangerous contagion, those parents would've found it vastly more difficult than families in literally every other state.

As recently as yesterday, DeSantis publicly defended the move, which made it all the more surprising when his administration, facing significant political pushback, apparently decided to change course. The Miami Herald reported this afternoon:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now allowing healthcare providers, including pediatricians and children’s hospitals, to order COVID-19 vaccines from a federal program for children between six months and 5 years old, a reversal from earlier this week, White House officials told McClatchy. The decision will expand access to pediatric coronavirus vaccines for parents across the state, which, under DeSantis’ previous position, would have been limited to seeking vaccines at a select number of community health centers and facilities participating in a federal retail pharmacy program.

If the reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, is accurate, it suggests this is a partial reversal: The state of Florida isn't ordering vaccines to help protect young kids, but it's allowing providers in the state to do so.

“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 healthcare providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told McClatchy.

She added, “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. 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.”

The odd shift in direction was not the first time DeSantis' pandemic-era decisions raised eyebrows. As regular readers may recall, this is the same Republican governor who has needlessly questioned the safety of vaccines. And made Trump-like complaints about testing. And treated his booster status as a state secret. And allowed his administration to punish a Florida Health Department official who has been integral in leading central Florida through the pandemic because the doctor had the audacity to encourage people in his office to get vaccinated.

And let’s also not forget that the governor tapped a fringe figure with ridiculous ideas to serve as the state's surgeon general.

As for the near future, the Herald's report added, "Because Florida missed Tuesday’s deadline for preorders, officials said that the orders coming in from Florida on Friday are not likely to be delivered until the end of the month. One U.S. official said the administration is working to shorten this timeframe."