Parents of immunocompromised children react to Florida's new COVID vaccine guidance for kids

Posted at 6:21 PM, Mar 08, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health issued new guidance on the COVID vaccine that says certain kids may not benefit from getting it. The recommendation is creating concerns among some doctors and parents, particularly parents of immunocompromised children.

Living through the pandemic looks different for five-year-old Emersyn. She’s fighting stage four brain cancer and is immunocompromised.


“Her life has changed a lot because of the pandemic, so for her, getting the vaccine was an incredible gift because she knew she was going to be protected and that she was going to be protecting other people,” said Gabriela Southwick, Emersyn’s mom.

Southwick said her daughter got the COVID vaccine but explained she’s still highly vulnerable.

“Everybody is fighting something. Everyone is dealing with their own thing. Whatever that looks like, and a lot of people, it is an immune system that can’t handle COVID,” said Southwick. “Everybody knows somebody that this could really endanger, whether it is a grandparent or a five-year-old fighting brain cancer.”

The COVID vaccine debate has raged across the country. The Florida Department of Health shared it is the first state in the nation to issue guidance stating healthy children from 5 to 17 may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine, recommending that children with underlying conditions are the best candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine.

It follows the Florida Surgeon General’s announcement Monday.

“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” said Dr. Joseph Ladapo during a roundtable on Monday.

ABC Action News spoke Dr. David Berger, a Board Certified Pediatrician and owner of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care, about his thoughts on that announcement.

“From my perspective, that means that they must have some kind of data that indicates that the risks are worse than the benefits, and I haven’t seen that type of data, and if it exists, we deserve to see it,” said Berger.

The CDC recommends everyone five and up get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19, saying kids are as likely to be infected with COVID as adults and can spread it to others.

ABC Action News asked Dr. Berger what he wants parents to know about the COVID vaccine for children.

“I want them to know that it’s an option for them, and for people who do not have immunity against the spike protein, which again happens whether it’s a wild disease or from the vaccine, then having antibodies will have a level of protection that a person who does not have antibodies will have,” said Berger.

“You could be sitting next to a student that has asthma and doing a project together and not realize that you’re sick and make that child very sick, very, very sick, hospitalized sick,” said Southwick.

As the vaccine debate continues, Southwick shared a message from parent to parent.

“I think it’s just really important to think of those that you love outside of just your child. Think of the children that your child loves,” said Southwick. “Those kids are trying to live a beautiful life too. They’re trying to live a healthy life, a normal life in the midst of something that’s really not normal, so making the choice to get your child vaccinated, I think is obviously a personal choice, but it’s a very, very important choice that you should not take lightly.”