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A column by Florida's former surgeon general contradicts the state’s vaccine guidance for minors

Photo: Scott Rivkees
Photo: Scott Rivkees

Florida’s former surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, has issued a rebuke to the vaccine guidance for youth recommended by his replacement, Dr. Joseph Ladapo.

In a column written for the March issue of Time, “Setting the Record Straight about COVID-19 Vaccines for Children,” Rivkees contradicts much of the evidence the Florida Department of Health offered in issuing its guidance. In Florida, the surgeon general leads the department.

Following a March announcement from Ladapo, the department released guidance that says the risks of providing COVID-19 vaccines to healthy children may outweigh the benefits.

In his column, Rivkees presents data and research.

Though children are more resilient than adults when it comes to getting sick, he says COVID-19 is the sixth leading cause of death among the nation’s youth.

“Having fewer cases of COVID-19 in children means that there will be less spread of the virus to classmates, teachers and family members, some with medical conditions that put them at greater risk for severe disease,” Rivkees writes.

More than 30,000 children were hospitalized during the winter surge of the omicron variant, and Rivkees says an overwhelming majority of them were not vaccinated.

“Some people suggest that severe COVID-19, which mean cases needing hospitalization or resulting in death, only affects children who have underlying medical conditions,” Rivkees writes. “This is wrong. Nearly 40% of children with severe COVID-19 do not have underlying medical conditions.”

He also addressed concerns raised by Florida’s health department about side effects from vaccines, including myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart.

He points out that the highest risk group for myocarditis is teenage boys and the rate after vaccination is five per 100,000 vaccine doses with no deaths in people under 30.

“In comparison, if somebody younger than 16 years old gets COVID-19, the risk of myocarditis is 130 per 100,000,” he writes. “The myocarditis risk for children is thus 25-times higher if you get COVID-19 compared to the vaccine.”

To conclude his article, Rivkees urged the importance of accurate information for COVID-19 control and prevention.

“It is important that parents, children, and health care providers have facts that are accurate,” he writes.

The column offers a glimpse into Rivkees' views on the pandemic, which were seldom heard during his tenure as surgeon general un Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In response to Rivkees’ column, a spokeswoman for DeSantis’ office said the state stands behind its interpretation of the research.

“Gov. DeSantis agrees with the guidance issued by the Florida Department of Health on child COVID vaccination …, because that guidance is supported by the best available evidence,” Christina Pushaw said. “Dr. Rivkees, like any other citizen, is entitled to his own opinions and free to express them. I believe the guidance already published by DOH, and the research cited in that guidance, speaks for itself.”

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Katrine Bruner