Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo take aim at the new COVID-19 booster, which health experts say will save lives

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COVID-19 pandemic vaccine
Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine vial. By Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, 17 Dec 2020.

By Jim Saunders ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Continuing a long-running clash with federal health officials, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration on Wednesday recommended that people under age 65 not receive newly approved COVID-19 booster shots.

State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued guidance that was dramatically different from a recommendation Tuesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said people 6 months old and older should receive updated COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC recommendation came a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of vaccines that it said are “formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants.”

The Florida Department of Health guidance, however, said “the most recent booster approval was granted in the absence of any meaningful booster-specific clinical trial data performed in humans.” It also contended that the “federal government has failed to provide sufficient data to support the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

“Based on the high rate of global immunity and currently available data, the State Surgeon General recommends against the COVID-19 booster for individuals under 65,” the guidance said. “Individuals 65 and older should discuss this information with their health care provider, including potential concerns outlined in this guidance.”

Ladapo, who appeared Wednesday with DeSantis to discuss the issue and heads the Department of Health, has become a nationally prominent skeptic of COVID-19 vaccines and federal policies dealing with the pandemic. DeSantis also has made opposition to such measures as mask requirements and lockdowns a signature political issue as he runs for president.

But federal officials are touting the updated vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that are expected to become available this week.

“The FDA is confident in the safety and effectiveness of these updated vaccines, and the agency’s benefit-risk assessment demonstrates that the benefits of these vaccines for individuals 6 months of age and older outweigh the risks,” the FDA said Monday in information posted on its website.

The CDC said Tuesday that vaccination is the best way to prevent against COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths and to help people reduce chances of suffering from what is known as “long COVID.”

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is always changing, and protection from COVID-19 vaccines declines over time,” the CDC said on its website. “Receiving an updated COVID-19 vaccine can restore protection and provide enhanced protection against the variants currently responsible for most infections and hospitalizations in the United States.”

As of Aug. 31, the most recent data available, a reported 90,232 Florida residents had died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started in 2020, according to the state Department of Health. Nearly 78 percent of those deaths involved people age 65 or older.

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