FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida-based Publix grocery store chain is not offering the COVID-19 vaccine to children younger than 5 but has not explained its decision.
The supermarket chain with 1,288 stores in seven Southern states was instrumental in distributing the vaccine when it was initially released. Its website indicates it is currently offering the vaccine to adults and children 5 and older.
The company told the Tampa Bay Times that Publix stores won't offer the vaccine to young children “at this time." It did not explain the decision or return multiple messages or phone calls to The Associated Press on Thursday.
The company's website shows it offers other vaccinations for babies as young as 6 months.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has recommended against vaccinating healthy children, despite U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend the vaccines for everyone 6 months and older.
Florida considers children with underlying conditions that predispose them to severe cases of COVID-19 as candidates for the jabs. Federal policies make no distinction between healthy individuals and those with underlying conditions. The CDC says the vaccines prevent hospitalizations and deaths, and the benefits outweigh any risks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said last week that the state was not preordering doses of the under-5 vaccine, making Florida the only state in the nation not to do so. Though medical providers and pediatricians can order vaccines directly from the federal government via a state online portal, the White House has said Florida's failure to pre-order could delay delivery to medical providers in the state.
Republican lawmakers elsewhere also have questioned the release of the vaccine for young children.
Parents in Florida must rely on pediatricians, medical clinics, children's hospitals and pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart to get the vaccine. Walmart, CVS and Walgreens are only offering the vaccine to children ages 3 and up.
When the vaccines became available in early 2021, DeSantis made Publix, the state's largest private employer, a major player in the rollout, first for senior citizens and then to the general population.
Publix made six $25,000 donations to DeSantis’ political committee totaling $150,000 between November 2019 and December 2020. But it hasn’t donated since a “60 Minutes” report in April 2021 that suggested DeSantis showed favoritism to the supermarket chain because of its political support.
It remains to be seen what level of demand there will be in Florida for vaccinations for the under-5 age group. The uptake in vaccines has been highest for those 65 and over, at 94%, according the state figures, and it declines with each younger age group tracked by the state. For 12-19, the vaccination rate is 56%, and for 5-11, it is 24%.
Natalie Roseander, an Orlando mother of four whose youngest, Lorelei, is almost 2 years old, says her pediatrician’s office hasn’t received doses for the youngest age group, according to a Florida Democratic Party statement released Thursday.
Roseander said she's tried going through pharmacies, but stores such as Walgreens currently only offer the vaccine to children ages 3 and up.
“It’s just so frustrating to not be able to get it when you know it’s at your fingertips.”