Tennessee GOP leaders urge toddler COVID-19 injections to be delayed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Top leaders of the Tennessee Republican House on Wednesday urged Governor Bill Lee to delay the state health department from distributing and promoting the COVID-19 vaccines to infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

In a letter to the Republican governor, House leaders said they were too concerned about the vaccine for children under the age of 5.

“We request that you direct the Tennessee Department of Health to discontinue the distribution, promotion or recommendation of COVID-19 vaccines for our latest Tennessee vaccines,” the letter read. It was signed by leading Republicans, including House Speaker Cameron Sexton and House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

The lawmakers added that the “COVID-19 emergency is long over in Tennessee,” although that statement is disputed by public health experts.

The letter came just a few days later Florida raised eyebrows because it is the only state in the country that has not pre-ordered the vaccine for its toddlers. Republican administration Ron DeSantis said he would not facilitate its distribution, but the photos are available to those who want them.

Tennessee Republican lawmakers have long been skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine since it became available in late 2020, even as U.S. regulators have maintained the injection is safe for adults and children. Nevertheless, the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed legislation largely banning vaccine requirements, and some members threatened to dissolve the state health agency after it encouraged children to get the vaccine.

Shots for the country’s youngest children became available this week, making the country’s vaccination campaign for children from 6 months.

The shots offer young children protection from hospitalization, death and potential long-term complications that are still unclear, according to an advisory panel from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 30,000 U.S. children under the age of 5 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and nearly 500 deaths from the coronavirus have been reported in that age group, said Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General.

Lee’s spokesman Casey Black said in an email that the governor’s office was reviewing the letter. She did not immediately respond to questions about whether the state would delay or change the distribution of the vaccine.

The Tennessee Department of Health did not respond to an email with similar questions.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, the moving average number of new cases has remained pretty much constant at around 1,800 per day for the past two weeks. Tennessee has seen 26,620 COVID-19-related deaths so far. That death toll is the 12th highest in the country overall and the fifth highest per capita.

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