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Tennessee GOP leaders are pushing for a delay in toddler COVID-19 shots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Top leaders in the Tennessee Republican House on Wednesday called on Gov. Bill Lee to delay the state’s health department in distributing and promoting the COVID-19 vaccines to infants, young children and preschoolers.

In a letter to the Republican governor, House leaders said they had too many concerns about the vaccine for those under the age of 5.

“We are asking that you direct the Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services to stop distributing, promoting, or recommending COVID-19 vaccines to our youngest Tennesseans,” the letter said. It was signed by leading Republicans, including House Speaker Cameron Sexton and House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

Lawmakers added that Tennessee’s “COVID-19 emergency is long over,” though that statement is disputed by public health experts.

The letter came just days after Florida raised eyebrows for being the only state in the country not to pre-order the vaccine for its infants. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would not facilitate their distribution, but the shots are available to those who want them.

Tennessee Republican lawmakers have long been skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine since it became available in late 2020, even as U.S. regulators have claimed the vaccine is safe for adults and children. Still, the GOP-controlled General Assembly has enacted legislation that largely bans vaccination requirements, and some members have threatened to disband the state health agency after encouraging children to get the vaccine.

Vaccinations for the country’s youngest children became available this week, expanding the country’s immunization campaign to include children as young as 6 months.

According to an advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the shots offer young children protection from hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are not yet fully understood.

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

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

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

Over the past two weeks, the moving average number of daily new cases has remained broadly constant at about 1,800 per day, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Tennessee has so far recorded 26,620 deaths related to COVID-19. That number of deaths is the 12th highest in the country and the 5th highest per capita.

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