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Florida doctors urge families to get their kids vaccinated against COVID-19

Congresswoman Kathy Castor and health professionals with Tampa Family Health Centers and the University of South Florida stress the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and encouraged families to get their kids shots.
Stephanie Colombini
Congresswoman Kathy Castor and health professionals in Tampa stress the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and encourage Florida families to get their kids shots.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joined health professionals in Tampa on Thursday to urge more families to get their children COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the upcoming school year.

Only 0.4% of kids six months to 4-years-old have received a COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, since shots became available for little ones a few weeks ago, according to the Florida Department of Health's latest bi-weekly report of coronavirus data. Fewer than 25% of kids five to 11 have gotten vaccinated, even though they've had access for months.

Castor joined doctors with the University of South Florida and Tampa Family Health Centers, at the federally-qualified health center’s facility in Lutz. They stressed the safety of the vaccines and that they are effective at preventing severe illness.

Castor suggested families schedule health check-ups for their kids this summer and get their COVID shots at the same time.

“This is a rigorously-tested vaccine that will help protect the entire community because COVID-19 is still spreading,” she said.

While vaccines for older children are widely available, it may be more challenging for parents of infants and toddlers to access the shots, as most retail pharmacies don’t vaccinate babies and the state is not making the ultra-low doses for the under-five age group available at county health departments.

Tampa Family Health Centers is inviting parents to bring their kids six months and older to any of their 16 locations in Hillsborough County to get the shots, according to Dr. Ashley McPhie, the chief medical officer.

She acknowledged some parents may be hesitant and said it’s important doctors have conversations with families to address their concerns.

“Because when it comes down to it, sometimes it’s just a needle poke. Sometimes it’s something they've [parents] read on Facebook or social media that they weren't sure whether they should believe or not. Coming from a trusted individual, once you establish that relationship to say, ‘Let me talk about your very valid concerns,’ more often than not, we can get that child vaccinated,” McPhie said.

Florida’s surgeon general Joseph Ladapo advises against most children getting the vaccine, arguing only kids with underlying health conditions may benefit. But federal health officials with the Centers for Disease Control disagree, as did the doctors at the press event. They say even kids who seem healthy have gotten really sick from COVID.

“We can’t predict what child is going to have problems, so please consider this vaccine, discuss it with your pediatrician and your provider and get the rest of your back-to-school and your primary vaccines in a timely fashion,” said Dr. Patricia Emmanuel, chair of pediatrics with USF’s Morsani College of Medicine.

Doctors noted childhood vaccination rates overall have been lower than usual since the pandemic began, as have pediatric wellness visits. They suspect concern about coronavirus spread discouraged families from bringing their kids into medical facilities.

McPhie said numbers are improving at Tampa Family Health Centers, but they would like to see more turnout.

“We have a long way to go for catch-up, because there are interval spacings between vaccines, so it’s going to take a little time to undo what has been done by the pandemic, but we’re in it for the long haul and we’re digging in to get it done for our community,” she said.

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Stephanie Colombini
Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters,WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.