- Children under 5 years of age are already eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
- But House National Party leaders are pushing Governor Bill Lee to block the state from spreading the shots to young children.
The Republican leadership of Tennessee House on Wednesday asked Governor Bill Lee to block the Department of Health from “distributing, promoting or recommending” the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, despite widespread support for the vaccine in the medical community.
Representative Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, authored the letter to Lee, urging him to block the spread until “more clinical evidence is available.”
Lee and the Department of Health have not yet responded to Tennessee’s request for comment.
Children under the age of 5 in the United States began receiving the vaccines on Tuesday after reviewing safety and efficacy data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those aged 5 and over are already eligible for the vaccine.
In the past, children were at lower risk than adults with COVID-19, although more than 200 children aged 1-4 died and 20,000 were hospitalized with the disease, according to USA Today.
Tennessee has reported more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic, with 187,930 children under the age of 10.
More than 26,000 Tennessee residents have died from COVID-19, including 14 children aged 10 and under. The majority of deaths in Tennessee occurred in patients 51 years of age and older.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, Majority Leader William Lambert, R-Portland, and Republican Speaker Jeremy Fason, R-Cosby, joined in the signing of the letter to Lee.
“We simply cannot recommend injecting an mRNA vaccine to children who have never been at serious risk of death or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Zachary wrote. “We do not know the short-term and long-term impact on their development and overall health.”
Rachel Mace, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, said the children were at risk of serious illness as a result of the new coronavirus. Although others may suffer from fever, body aches and a wide range of other complications, some require hospitalization, even if they do not have other underlying medical conditions.
“We had a number of young children in this group of five years and younger who needed to be hospitalized for COVID infection,” Mace said. “This includes children with severe respiratory symptoms that require oxygen maintenance, sometimes IV (intravenous) fluids and close hospital monitoring.
“It is difficult to predict which child will fall into this spectrum between asymptomatic or mild illness versus more severe symptoms.”
Zachary is one of several members of the Republican House who have strongly opposed the COVID-19 vaccine, which has been found to be safe and effective in protecting against serious illness and death from COVID-19.
Earlier this year, he helped pass legislation requiring certain employers with a mandate to vaccinate against COVID-19 to grant exemptions based on medical or religious reasons.
The Tennessee Department of Health said Monday that the state has pre-ordered COVID-19 vaccines for the “next available age group” and expects them to be available at local health departments within days.
The department recommended that everyone who qualifies for the COVID-19 vaccine do so.
“Anyone six months or older can get the vaccine,” said Health Ministry spokesman Bill Christian. “We monitor cases, hospitalizations and deaths and continue to encourage people to take precautions against COVID-19, including anyone eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to do so.”
Mace said in his experience that parents are generally “very enthusiastic” about vaccinating their children.
“When the vaccine became available for 12- to 17-year-olds, we had a strong response to requests for meetings,” Mace said. “With six-month-olds to 5-year-olds, we expect a similar experience.”
Mace said the phones in her office were ringing off the hook while her parents called to make appointments.
Vanderbilt doctors recommend that all their pediatric patients be vaccinated against COVID-19, she said. But, she said, they respect parents’ decisions not to do so.
“We respect their need for information,” Mace said. “We inform them that we are happy to discuss it with them. We just want to try to help people look at reliable and evidence-based information as they struggle to make decisions about their young children. “
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Senate Republicans would join their House counterparts.
Adam Friedman and Frank Gluck contributed to this report. Contact Melissa Brown at [email protected]
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