[Editor’s note: Steve Novella is on vacation this week. (He actually takes vacations sometimes! Who knew?) In his absence, Jonathan Howard has stepped in. Also, to answer questions about SBM yesterday, Harriet Hall couldn’t provide her usual post due to a last-minute personal issue. She will return as usual next week.]
I previously discussed doctors who disparage the utility of pediatric vaccination since many children already have “natural immunity“. Among the many flaws in their reasoning, they forget that 10,000 babies are born every day in the US. These babies arrive without immunity and have the highest risk of dying of all children. As vaccines have been successively approved for younger children, these doctors have used their considerable influence to spread fear and doubt at every step of this process, ensuring unvaccinated children contract the virus. However, in their copious comments on pediatric COVID, these doctors have collectively avoided a very important and very obvious question.
At what age do they feel people should get vaccinated?
Since they trash the vaccine for babies and toddlers, perhaps they think vaccination should start at age 5. I’ve not heard them say this, and they’ve written misleading articles about vaccinating children this age. Moreover, starting vaccination at age 5 makes no sense, as these children have the lowest risk of severe outcomes of any children.
Perhaps then they think that vaccination should start in adolescence. I’ve not heard them say this, and they’ve written misleading articles about vaccinating children this age as well. Moreover, starting vaccination in adolescence makes no sense, as these children are most vulnerable to vaccine-myocarditis, which they’ve treated as a fate worse than death from COVID. Since the vaccine-myocarditis risk drops after 25, maybe this is the age when contrarian doctors feel vaccination should finally start.
No one knows what these doctors think, and I doubt they do either. They’ve seemingly given no consideration to how old they feel a child should be before they deserve protection against COVID.
In contrast, pediatricians who actually care for sick children were thrilled when they could finally vaccinate their youngest patients. These doctors realize the question of what age to vaccinate children is intimately linked with another very important and very obvious question. How long can the average newborn expect to avoid COVID? I don’t know for sure, but my gut tells me “not that long“. I expect only the most isolated children will enter kindergarten never having encountered the virus. None will remain uninfected once they’ve been in school awhile, and most likely, they’ll be exposed to the virus throughout their lives.
Doctors have an obligation to be very clear when writing about children, COVID, and vaccines. The alternative to vaccinating children isn’t just “not vaccinating” them. It’s putting them on an inevitable collision course with the virus. The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it has consistently been shown to lower the risk of severe outcomes, even the Omicron variant. In essence, doctors who oppose vaccinating children actively support millions of them getting COVID every year without any protection from the vaccine.
And thus we come to the final very important and very obvious question. What will be the consequences of this? Fortunately, severe outcomes remain exceedingly rare in children. However rare events multiplied millions of times add up. Over 500 children younger than 5-years have died in the USA and thousands more have been hospitalized. Some of these children are very sick, needing mechanical ventilation in the ICU.
Those will be the consequences of failing to protect millions of babies and toddlers from the virus, and contrarian doctors, sheltered from the consequences of their words, don’t seem to have given this a moment’s thought.