Updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came down in a Friday news dump before the weekend. Honestly, there isn’t much of an update, except to say that they still expect our children to wear masks for in-person instruction in the fall. Per the updated guidelines, “Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated.”
That essentially means millions of school-aged children across the country can expect more months of hiding their faces behind masks at school. It’s not shocking, but it’s still disappointing.
Where does vaccination of young children stand at this point? Clinical trials are still ongoing to assess vaccine safety and efficacy in children aged 6 months through 11 years. It’s a safe bet to say that vaccines eventually will be recommended for all children 6 months and older. The CDC is laying the groundwork with their latest recommendations to eventually say, “Until you vaccinate your child, he or she should wear a mask at school.” They are building the foundation to hold parents hostage in this way. As their name implies, the CDC definitely has a firm grasp on the concept of control.
What the CDC doesn’t have a firm grasp on, unfortunately, is the basic epidemiology pertaining to this pandemic as it relates to children. Vaccines are medications. There is no good reason to take a medication if the risk-benefit ratio is greater than 1. In other words, if a person is certain that the benefit from taking a medication outweighs the risk, only then should that person consider taking it. For elderly adults and for people with chronic health conditions, getting a COVID vaccine makes a lot of sense. It’s even a good idea for younger, healthy adults to get the vaccine too, I would argue. It helps the population reach herd immunity, and it also protects them from exceedingly rare (but not impossible) bad outcomes from COVID-19.
I’m finding it hard to see how it’s ever truly indicated for young children to take a COVID vaccine.
But for children, it’s certainly not apparent that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Common sense makes a strong case for that contention. More importantly, so does the scientific literature. One large meta-analysis published late last year in the European Journal of Epidemiology concluded that “The estimated age-specific IFR [infection fatality rate] is very low for children and younger adults (e.g., 0.002% at age 10 and 0.01% at age 25).” A study in March of this year reported in the Lancet puts it another way. From March 1, 2020, through Feb. 1, 2021, there were 4,990 all-cause deaths in the U.S. for children ages 5 to 14. Of those deaths, only 67 (or 1.34 percent) were from COVID-19. These are just a couple examples; many other papers with similar findings exist. The bottom line: your young child’s odds of dying from COVID are almost nonexistent. That fact has been the best news of this pandemic.
On the other side of the coin, it’s certainly not apparent that vaccinating young children carries overwhelming risk, either. Some attention has been given over the past month or so to reports of myocarditis occurring post-vaccination. The United Nations (stop rolling your eyes, please) even acknowledges this complication. They mentioned in their Friday news dump that “According to the data in the US Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, approximately 40.6 cases of myocarditis per million second doses among males, and 4.2 cases per million among females, have been reported as of 11 June 2021 in those 12-29 years of age who received the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.” That’s a small but not insignificant number. Myocarditis simply means “inflammation of heart muscle.” It can develop into a serious problem in many patients if left untreated.
Aside from general concern about the issues affecting humanity, why do I care about this? Well, I care because I have an 8-year-old son. I genuinely wonder: what’s his risk of getting myocarditis (or some other side effect) from a COVID mRNA vaccine? I don’t know yet. That’s what the clinical trials are studying as we speak. I presume that it is quite low, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for the results of those clinical trials as they become available. Aside from that, I do know one thing for sure: his risk of death from COVID approaches my odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning today. His risk-benefit analysis might end up being about even, meaning he has a negligible risk of serious vaccine side effects and also a negligible risk of serious COVID infection. If that turns out to be the case (and I think that once clinical trials are finished, that is the most likely scenario), then my ultimate question is: why give him this vaccine? What’s the point? Why take a medication if it isn’t necessary or indicated?
Now, if Karen over at the CDC read that, she would almost assuredly have a stroke and scream that “It’s not just about your son’s risk, it’s about everyone else in society’s risk! He might be an asymptomatic carrier and spread the disease to an older person and kill them! Stop being so damned selfish!”
How about no? And importantly, please keep in mind that data hasn’t borne out Karen’s fears, either. In fact, time and time again, studies have indicated that kids are particularly bad at spreading SARS-CoV-2 to adults. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at Israeli children’s return to school last year and concluded that for kids 9 and under, it can “be assumed that they did not have a substantial role in COVID-19 spread.” That’s just one example; many other papers with similar conclusions exist. For all the ruckus and fear-mongering that education unions have caused about having teachers return to work, it turns out that those in elementary education are probably safer sitting at their desks, surrounded by little COVID-buffers (i.e., children) than most other working professionals are. The irony of that should truly be noted for the ages.
I’m a strong proponent of better living through chemistry. What I mean by that statement is that I’m a believer in taking medicine. I’m certainly a proponent of vaccines in general. They have alleviated more suffering in the past few hundred years than any other medical intervention.
But I don’t believe in giving out these medications willy-nilly. It shouldn’t be done if it’s not indicated, and I’m finding it hard to see how it’s ever truly indicated for young children to take a COVID vaccine. Perhaps instead of vaccinating our 10-year-olds, we should ship the vaccines to third-world countries so that the elderly there can get them instead. If the goal is truly to save the most lives, then put your money where your mouth is, Karen. Make a donation to send a box of Moderna vials over to Mozambique.
In this country, a parent shouldn’t feel forced to vaccinate his or her child in a hostage-style encounter with the CDC, and yet that is coming soon in school districts that won’t buck these latest recommendations. Parents should be able to decide whether or not their children will receive a COVID vaccine when it’s available to them. The CDC is positioning itself to eventually recommend that all children receive a COVID shot if they want a normal educational experience again. It’s unfair, and it’s unfounded.
Vaccines shouldn’t be used as a ransom to ditch masks. America’s children simply don’t need either for a safe classroom environment. In places where these guidelines are not appropriately ignored, millions of kids will be forced to don the masks again this fall. In those areas, concerned parents, physicians, educators, and anyone else who cares enough about reality as it pertains to this issue should fight back.
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