Publix not saying why it won't offer COVID vaccinations to children ages 4 and younger

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Publix remains quiet on why it has not started administering COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 4 and younger, according to news reports.

In Southwest Florida, other retailers and health providers are preparing to give shots to younger children.

A spokesperson for the Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. told the Tampa Bay Times, “it will not offer the vaccine approved for children ages 4 and under ’at this time.’”

The Ledger has reached out to Hannah Herring, Publix's spokesperson for North and Central Florida, but she did not immediately respond. She told the Times Tuesday that “Publix will not release a statement explaining its decision.”

The grocer is still accepting COVID-19 vaccine appointments for children ages 5 and older, its website said.

Also: As FDA authorizes COVID vaccines for young kids, Florida is only state not to pre-order supply

Read more: Florida doctors begin ordering COVID shots for young kids as DeSantis and White House feud

More Publix news: Publix bringing tech campus to downtown Lakeland; will demolish old Citrus Mutual building

The company still offers other child vaccinations, including the flu shot for children as young as 6 months old.

The Naples Daily News also could not reach Publix officials Thursday for further comment on its decision, a move that is in marked contrast to Publix serving as a dominant source for the vaccines when approved for adults last year.

Controversy in Florida over COVID-19 vaccines for young children

Federal regulators last week authorized the shots to children under 5 after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the benefits outweigh risks for this age group.

Before the federal approval for children six months old to 5, Florida last week was in the national spotlight as the only state not to pre-order supply from the federal government in anticipation of the shots’ approval for this age group.

Gov. Ron DeSantis feuded with the Biden administration over Florida’s decision not to pre-order and the federal government late last week gave the green light for pediatricians and hospitals in Florida to order directly from the federal government.

Shoppers make grocery runs at a Publix in Bonita Springs in April 2020. The Naples Daily News could not reach Publix officials Thursday for comment on why it has not started administering COVID-19 vaccinations for children 4 and younger.
Shoppers make grocery runs at a Publix in Bonita Springs in April 2020. The Naples Daily News could not reach Publix officials Thursday for comment on why it has not started administering COVID-19 vaccinations for children 4 and younger.

The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which last week blasted the state for not pre-ordering, said Thursday that pediatricians were able to order supply starting last Friday from Florida SHOTS, the program where they normally order vaccines.

“Whether or not there will be delays in delivery to providers remains to be seen,” the pediatrics group said in a statement. “We have heard that some practices are starting to receive their shipments from the vaccines for children program.”

Where can you get COVID shots for small children in SWFL?

In Southwest Florida, the publicly-operated Lee Health system, which runs Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, is prepping to give the shots to this age group.

“We have ordered the vaccine and will have it available for parents who choose to vaccinate their 6-month to 5-year-old children for COVID-19,” Lee Health spokeswoman Meaghan Smith said in an email.

“The vaccine will be available at our (Lee Physician Group) pediatrics locations and the (HealthPark Medical Center) pediatric infectious diseases office once we receive it,” Smith said.

The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County has not ordered COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5 based on its experience of low demand when it had vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, NCH spokesman Shawn McConnell said.

The system will monitor to see if there is demand for the vaccine for younger children, he said.

CVS pharmacies are providing the shots to children in Florida, spokesman Matt Blanchette said in an email.

“We are administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for eligible children 18 months through four years of age at our 1,100 MinuteClinic locations,” he said. “Appointments are being made available at MinuteClinic.com on a rolling basis as locations receive supply.”

He said the MinuteClinic clinicians, which are board-certified family nurse practitioners, physician associates, and nurses “have significant experience providing vaccinations to a younger population as well as private exam rooms, which make the process easier for kids, parents and guardians.”

Walmart plans on distributing the vaccine to young children based on supply, said spokesman Tyler Thomason.

"As we have since the beginning of the pandemic, Walmart and Sam’s Club administers and dispenses all authorized vaccines and treatments related to COVID-19," he said. "While we expect the majority of these vaccines to be distributed to pediatric providers, we plan to administer authorized vaccines for ages 3 – 5 as supply and distribution allows.

We are dependent on allocation from the federal government, so we will have limited supply available.  Visit our digital scheduler at http://www.walmart.com/CovidVaccine to make an appointment and find a location near you with the pediatric vaccine."

Winn-Dixie stores preordered the vaccine for this age group, Meredith Hurley, spokeswoman for Southeastern Grocers Inc., said in an email on behalf of Winn-Dixie.

“As a preferred retail partner in the fight against COVID-19 and through our continued partnership with the CDC and HHS, we pre-ordered our supply to begin administration of the vaccine for children ages 3 and up in select Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket in-store pharmacies starting at the end of this week.”

Appointments are offered online at www.winndixie.com/pharmacy/covid-vaccine.

Walgreens stores are offering the COVID-19 vaccine for children 3 and older at select locations nationwide; Florida families are advised to go to the company’s website at https://www.walgreens.com  to see if there is a location near them.

“Parents can seek a Federally Qualified Health Center in their area to inquire about vaccine availability for children under 5,” said Thresia Gambon, vice president of the Florida chapter of the pediatrics group.

“Parents may also wish to check local pharmacies to see what’s available. Some pharmacists can vaccinate children who are 3 years of age or older, and some pharmacies with clinics may vaccinate children as young as 18 months.”

“The vaccine is safe, effective, and the best tool available to prevent serious illness,” the group said.

On March 8, Florida became the only state in the nation to issue official guidance discouraging the vaccination of “healthy” children against COVID-19. Now, Florida is the only state in the nation not to pre-order vaccines for children younger than 5 years old.

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution system is state-based and not designed to allow individual doctors or institutions to order directly from the manufacturer, the FCAAP said.

“Florida’s decision to delay making the vaccine available to children in Florida once authorized conflicts with scientific evidence and clinical experience,” the FCAAP said.

Publix's role in public health and politics

Publix played a key role in Florida’s original vaccine rollout for adults in early 2021. The grocery chain stood alone as the largest vaccine supplier in Florida and was getting nearly a quarter of the state’s doses, according to a Times report.

The company is Florida’s largest private employer and a regular donor to political campaigns of both major political parties, with a majority going to Republicans.

It donated $100,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s political committee in early 2021.

Publix's website says it is the largest employee-owned company in the United States. The grocer has more than 230,000 associates and operates 1,297 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Publix COVID vaccine: Grocer opts not to vaccinate youngest children