Last week, Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida promised to begin preparations to downgrade COVID-19 to the same disease level as the seasonal flu. In the UK, those under 50 who are healthy and without preexisting conditions like cancer will no longer be offered the COVID booster. Last year, the Danish government stopped offering the vaccine to healthy individuals under 50, as stated on the government’s website. All of these measures are responses to moving to the phase of endemicity, where the virus is recognized to cause mild illness in the vast majority of people, like flu or the common cold.
Unfortunately, some individuals have made fear of the virus into an integral part of their political identity over the past few years. They have not adapted to changing conditions across the world as less harmful variants of the virus have taken hold. One example of this inability to adapt came from CNN last week, in their article entitled “Covid-19 is a leading cause of death for children in the US, despite relatively low mortality rate.” Throughout the pandemic, there have been deliberate efforts to exaggerate the risk of COVID among children, when in fact, as the CNN article itself admits in the second paragraph, “Children are significantly less likely to die from Covid-19 than any other age group.”
The article uses data from a study that examined causes of mortality among individuals 0-19, an age range which is personally not what comes to mind when I hear the phrase “children,” but let us put that aside. According to the study data, COVID-19 was the 8th leading cause of death among children. But let us examine that in context based on the data from the study. Here were the top 10 causes of death among individuals 0-19 years based on the pre-Omicron period of August 2021-July 2022 These death rates are given as deaths/100,000 people:
Conditions surrounding the perinatal period (period from childbirth to around 5 months): 12.7/100,000
All accidents: 9.1/100,000
Congenital malformations: 6.5/100,000
Malignant neoplasms (tumors): 2.1/100,000
Diseases of the heart: 1.1/100,000
Influenza and Pneumonia: 0.6/100,000
Cerebrovascular diseases: 0.4/100,000
Based on the data from this study, which was taken largely before the mild omicron variant was even in circulation, children are more than three times more likely to die by homicide or suicide than by COVID. They are nine times more likely to die in an accident such as a car crash than from the virus. Putting in a headline the phrase “Covid-19 is a leading cause of death for children in the US” completely obscures these facts. And since most people only read snippets from headlines, the average person would glance at the title and leave with the impression that COVID is killing children rampantly.
Based on the CDC’s data, over 90% of children in the US have had COVID at least once. There is a reason why many European countries requiring vaccine passports allowed prior infection to be a form of vaccination: immunology 101 tells us that when an individual contracts a virus, they will form antibodies against this invader, generating natural immunity. Yet in the US, various media figures still stress the importance of vaccinating children against COVID-19 from the time they are 6 months old, despite the very low risk of children from the virus. Meanwhile, the fact that men under 40 (and in particular adolescent males) are more likely to get myocarditis from the vaccine than COVID is never mentioned by these fear-mongering articles. There is other available data that would caution us against blindly vaccinating healthy children, such as a recent study focusing on cardiovascular effects from the vaccine among Thai children aged 13-18 that found cardiovascular effects in both adolescent males and females.
For many mainstream pundits in the US, the risk benefit analysis from vaccination has not changed with the variants. Now that omicron is the main variant circulating, the infection-fatality rate (IFR) of COVID is less than the flu. Even in 2020, COVID was no more dangerous to children than the flu was, based on an analysis from the Journal of the American Medical Association published at the time. We knew this in 2020. Yet calmer heads did not prevail when communicating the actual risk to children from the virus.
Dissenting voices are starting to be let into the mainstream. Last week, Newsweek published an editorial where a medical student describes how tribalism within the medical community resulted in tragic mistakes that harmed vulnerable groups the most. The title of the piece is very apt: “It’s Time for the Scientific Community to Admit We Were Wrong About COVID and It Cost Lives.” I am glad that these perspectives are finally being allowed to be heard on legacy media. Even if it is too little too late that Americans who are usually only exposed to fearmongering attempts like this latest CNN article are made aware of factual data and evidence. Only then can we hope to avoid making the same mistakes next time around.