Dr. Anthony Fauci gave a lecture at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on September 10, 2021. The lecture took place shortly after the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided not to recommend vaccinating all children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old for COVID-19 after a risk-benefit analysis. Fauci’s lecture was delivered shortly before the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee declined to recommend booster shots for all eligible Americans, citing similar concerns.
During the lecture, Fauci discussed why he felt it was important to vaccinate children. Given what we know, it is some pretty astounding stuff, especially regarding the rates at which they transmit the disease and the risk of severe COVID-19 and death in children.
Fauci referred to children as “vehicles of spread.” There is no data to indicate that children transmit COVID-19 to adults at greater rates than they did early in the pandemic. An early genetic study in Iceland found that transmission almost always went from adults to children. We should study whether Delta changes that pattern. We should not assume (in order to justify vaccinating children) that because Delta is more transmissible, it has changed the pattern
We know that cases fell in schools in the UK during the Delta surge. Rates of transmission were lower in schools than in the surrounding community despite there being no masking requirements. No one knows why this was the case. It could be due to the twice-a-week testing requirement, the overall seroprevalence due to asymptomatic infections in children earlier in the pandemic, or the lower transmission rates for children. We should probably find out.
Fauci discussed hospitalizations among children in the Southeast during the Delta surge. He said, “We are almost overrun. We have a lot of children in hospitals now. So even though, relatively speaking, compared to an adult they don’t get as seriously ill. We have lost more children from SARS-CoV-2 than we ever lose for influenza — and we vaccinate children against influenza.”
It is hard to decide where to begin. First, the Southeast was experiencing a surge in the Delta variant while it had an offseason spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). According to the CDC, 58,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized for RSV annually and the symptoms are very similar to COVID-19.
The CDC’s Associated Hospital Surveillance Network (COVID-NET) collects age-specific hospitalization data for COVID-19. Through September 11, 2021, the week with the highest number of hospitalizations for children under 18 during the Delta wave, 117 children in its network were hospitalized with COVID-19. The network includes Georgia, which Fauci cited specifically in his lecture. If pediatric beds were full, they were not filled with COVID-19-positive children even, if all 117 were in Georgia.
COVID-NET, which covers about 10% of the population, reported 3,984 hospitalizations of children under 18 with confirmed COVID-19. If that number is relatively consistent nationwide, it’s likely that fewer children under 18 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 through the entire pandemic than are hospitalized every year with RSV in the 0-5 age group. We also know that compulsory testing of inpatients will pick up incidental cases where a child tests positive when admitted for something else. One study in California found this happened 40% of the time.
According to the CDC, 448 children under 18 have died with COVID-19. Because of compulsory hospital testing, there is no way to tell if COVID-19 caused a child’s death. One assessment done by Dr. Marty Makary and his research team found that no children without severe pre-existing conditions like leukemia died with COVID-19 between April and August 2020. Even if you assume every death recorded by the CDC is solely due to COVID, Kyle Lamb, a data researcher for Florida Governor DeSantis’s office, provided this analysis:
Despite counting every pediatric death as one *with* COVID-19, not necessarily *from*, the weekly mortality rate for COVID per million for ages 0-17 is 46% lower than the average 10 previous estimated flu season disease burdens *from* flu and 79% lower than H1N1. pic.twitter.com/nZonTyo6qJ
— Kyle Lamb (@kylamb8) September 18, 2021
As far as vaccinating children for the flu, the highest CDC estimate for vaccination is for those aged 0-4, who are often in the doctor’s office receiving other inoculations. The lowest rate is for teens, who have less frequent well-child visits. Rates also vary widely between states. Fewer than 50% of Americans over age 18 received a flu vaccine last year.
How much longer is Dr. Fauci going to be allowed to make proclamations that contain confounding variables, data-free assumptions, and outright falsehoods with no pushback? Parents should be able to rely on verifiable and rigorous data before deciding to give their children a vaccine against an illness they rarely become seriously ill with and rarely die from. Right now, we know how many white-tailed deer in the Northeast have COVID-19 antibodies, but we have no idea how many children under 18 do.
Pfizer believes its vaccine is safe for children. It also thought it had the data to support the third shot for all eligible Americans. Fauci agreed. The FDA advisory committee disagreed. We are at the moment in the movie Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum’s character said, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”