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U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins doctors to urge more families to get their kids COVID-19 vaccines

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor stands behind a podium and is surrounded by female doctors and nurses. A banner for Tampa Family Health Centers is in the background.
Stephanie Colombini
Rep. Kathy Castor and health professionals with Tampa Family Health Centers and the University of South Florida stressed the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and encouraged families get their kids shots.

COVID-19 vaccination rates among children remain low in Florida and nationally. Doctors hope parents take advantage of the summer break to get their kids protected before school starts again in August.

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 6 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 5 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 checkups 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 6 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 and Prevention 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.

Where to find vaccines

Tampa Family Health Centers are hosting a series of events around the county this summer where families can go and get their kids physicals and vaccinations. Parents or guardians can make appointments by calling 813-397-5300.

Health News Florida created a guide for finding COVID-19 vaccines for young children in the Tampa Bay region. Families can also visit vaccines.gov or call the helpline 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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