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Florida's health department touts its own COVID booster recommendation

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control gave one recommendation for the new COVID-19 booster shot. The state of Florida is giving another.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is running for president, partly on his record opposing COVID regulations, and his state government is making an issue of the booster shot. The federal advice is that anyone over six months old could use this booster. Florida's surgeon general says far fewer people should get the shot and that healthy people under age 65 should avoid it.

MARTÍNEZ: John Davis joins us now from our member station WGCU in Fort Myers, Fla. John, so how did Florida officials justify their own recommendations over those from the CDC?

JOHN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, they claim there isn't enough data to show the vaccine is safe and effective. But, of course, there's overwhelming evidence that it is safe and effective. Governor DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo have criticized both the CDC vaccine booster recommendation and the FDA's approval of it on a Zoom call. At another recent press event, Ladapo mentioned studies that he didn't cite, claiming they show apparent evidence that vaccines actually increase a person's chances of contracting COVID. Of course, health experts say these kinds of unproven claims are - they just add to the misinformation that's already out there. And Desantis's GOP presidential campaign has been quick to start fundraising around these Florida-specific response, promising to fight what they characterize as government overreach when it comes to pandemic precautions. But we should point out that there is no mandate with these boosters. This is all just about recommendations.

MARTÍNEZ: So what do health providers say?

DAVIS: Well, I contacted Lee Health, which is the biggest health system in this area. They were clear that they're going to continue following CDC guidance on vaccines, which recommend most people six months of age or older get the shot, but especially those 65 and older as they're at higher risk of severe symptoms should they contract the virus. Here's what infectious disease expert Dr. Mary Beth Saunders had to say.

MARY BETH SAUNDERS: People do need to get vaccinated. If they're unsure, talk to their health care provider so they can be guided as to what's best for them. And even though there is a lot of information on social media, that may not be the best guidance, right? We need to make our decisions based on the scientific facts and what is best for our own health.

MARTÍNEZ: And then, John, all this comes as COVID hospitalizations in Florida - the rates are not very good. Is that something to worry about?

DAVIS: Certainly. According to CDC data, we have some of the highest rates in the country of COVID-related hospital admissions. Even Doctor Saunders says they experienced an increase in hospitalizations a few weeks ago. Fortunately, that has since declined somewhat. But of course, these hospitalization levels are nowhere near where they were at the height of the pandemic. And there's also a little worry that the vaccine booster may get here a little late because of ongoing impacts from Hurricane Idalia on infrastructure. But Lee Health expects to have boosters ready sometime in October.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's John Davis with WGCU in Fort Myers. John, thanks a lot for your reporting.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
John Davis