In previous articles (here and here), I discussed the asinine notion that doctors who promoted pediatric COVID-19 vaccination did so at the expense of routine vaccination. This myth was promulgated by contrarian doctors who had never previously expressed the slightest interest in vaccines or the anti-vaccine movement. However, during the pandemic, these non-pediatricians absurdly anointed themselves Chief Defenders of the Routine Vaccination Schedule. In this self-assigned role, they did nothing to promote confidence in routine vaccines. Instead, they were very worried that providing parents with accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccine against it would negatively impact other vaccines.
Contrarian doctors’ arguments against the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine took two forms. The first was that pediatricians could only do one thing at a time. In an essay that favored letting unvaccinated, healthy children contract COVID-19, Dr. Vinay Prasad wrote:
Doctors’ time is limited. Routine childhood vaccine rates are slipping. Contrary to COVID-19 shots, the measles vaccine is sterilizing and high rates are needed to halt spread. Doctors must realize that pro-vax does not mean zealotry, but evidence first…To the proposition: Should doctors encourage healthy kids (11 and under) to be vaccinated against COVID-19? I say, “No, Save your breath for routine vaccination”.
Of course, pediatricians who vaccinate their patients against COVID-19 are not “zealots,” and they are putting evidence first. Doctors are obligated to inform their patients about all vaccines that will keep them safe and out of the hospital, and obviously this includes the COVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, pediatricians have been vaccinating children against multiple pathogens their entire careers, and Dr. Prasad presented no evidence that administration of the COVID-19 vaccine would be such a time burden that they would be unable to simultaneously vaccinate children against measles. He just had a hunch.
Notably, Dr. Prasad, who said it was “healthy and natural” for children to get sick with COVID-19, also spoke of the benefits of other vaccine-preventable diseases, undermining his performative concern about routine vaccination. In his pro-virus essay “Should We Let Children Catch Omicron?” he advocated using sick children as human shields not just for COVID-19, but also for chickenpox. He wrote:
Shielding kids from exposure only increases their future risk. This is partly why the UK does not vaccinate against chickenpox. Serious complications from the disease are rare among children, and the circulating virus allows adults to be naturally boosted against reactivation-driven shingles. By rebuilding population immunity among the least at-risk, moreover, we help buffer risk for those most vulnerable.
In reality, there’s no evidence that the US chickenpox vaccination program increased the rate of shingles in adults. Moreover, the CDC estimates that in its first 25 years, the chickenpox vaccine prevented 91 million cases, 238,000 hospitalizations, and 2,000 deaths, and children vaccinated against chickenpox have substantially less risk of shingles. That’s a big deal. Children have the right to be protected against diseases that can harm them. Of course, an effective vaccine is also available for shingles. Grandparents don’t need their sick grandkids to theoretically lower their shingles risk, generation after generation, forevermore.
Similarly, in another pro-virus article titled “I Am Going to Mask Because I Want to Get Fewer Colds & Other Flawed Ideas“, Dr. Prasad spoke of the potential benefits of the flu, which normally kills hundreds of children each year, most of them unvaccinated. He wrote:
There is the arrogance that avoiding colds and flu is good for us. Of course it is the case that getting sick is unpleasant, but our knowledge of immunology and the body is so primitive we should not conclude that avoiding it is ‘good for us.’ We have no idea if that is true in the long run. It is natural to be infected repeatedly with respiratory viruses— if we got fewer infections what would that mean for auto-immunity for cancer?
Of course, anti-vaxxers say the exact same thing. To pick one example amongst many, an article titled “The Unreported Health Benefits of Measles” claimed, “The truth is that measles and other childhood infections may actually protect against life-threatening conditions like cancer and heart disease”. How would Dr. Prasad argue against this, assuming he would argue against it? He’s spoken of the health benefits of three vaccine-preventable diseases: COVID-19, chickenpox, and the flu. What’s so different about measles, pertussis, and HPV?
Contrarian doctors’ second argument against the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine was that if parents were encouraged to use it, they would magically lose trust in other vaccines. In an article full of misinformation titled “The CDC Is Breaking Trust in Childhood Vaccination“, Drs. Leslie Bienen and Tracy Høeg wrote that:
With its unscientific push to vaccinate all infants and toddlers against COVID, the agency will harm vaccine uptake for more significant diseases…The general trust deficit is more troubling than skepticism toward this particular vaccine, because it could conceivably drive down uptake of other childhood vaccines that we know are more important to children’s health, such as those against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib).
According to Drs. Bienen and Høeg the measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccines are in a competition with the COVID-19 vaccine, and there can be only one winner. Dr. Bienen and Høeg presented no evidence that vaccinating children against COVID-19 would harm vaccine uptake for “more significant diseases”, especially considering COVID-19 killed more American children nearly every month of the pandemic than measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) have killed my entire life (thanks to vaccines, of course). Over 650 infants and toddlers have died of COVID-19, though Drs. Bienen and Høeg refused to share that sad fact.
Fortunately, the real world has given us a perfect opportunity to judge the validity of these doctor’s claims. If they were right, Florida should be a shining star in routine vaccination. Under the guidance of sheltered anti-vaccine doctors such as Dr. Hoeg, Florida is officially anti-vaccine for children when it comes to COVID-19. Misinformation superspreader, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, said “From what I have seen, there is just insufficient data to inform benefits and risk in children. I think that’s very unequivocal.” Similarly, Gov. Ron DeSantis said “I would say we are affirmatively against the COVID vaccine for young kids. These are the people who have zero risk of getting anything.” Florida would eventually be the only state not to order vaccines for children younger than 5 years.
So what about Florida’s routine vaccination rates?
It turns out the Chief Defenders of the Routine Vaccination Schedule were wrong. An article titled “Florida School Immunization Rates Lowest in Over 10 Years” was published last month, and it should shock and anger anyone who actually cares about the routine vaccination schedule. It said:
Last year marked a more than 10-year low for Florida’s kindergarten and seventh-grade students completed all doses of required immunizations, according to a recent report form the state Department of Health.
The sad truth is that routine vaccination rates are dropping everywhere. Nationally, around 93% of children entering kindergarten received routine vaccines in the 2021-22 school year, above Florida’s rate of 91.7%, but several points below pre-pandemic levels.
As anyone with basic knowledge of the anti-vaccine movement could have predicted, spreading unwarranted fear and doubt about COVID-19 vaccines isn’t the best way to instill confidence in routine vaccines. Lydia Greene, a formerly anti-vaccine mother turned vaccine-advocate explained why:
Covid centrists like Zdogg, Høeg , and Prasad like to blame pro-vaccine pediatricians for vaccine hesitancy. As a highly hesitant parent who was once very fearful of vaccination, I was constantly on the lookout for these centrist points of view, like Dr. Bob Sears and Dr. Paul Thomas. If these medical professionals can find something to be cautious about, then surely my reasons for not vaccinating are in plain sight and being ignored by the people I should trust the most.
I have also noticed that the reasons the covid centrists caution against vaccinating children for covid, can be extrapolated to any vaccine on the schedule. I know those tropes well, and they are being recycled. If you do get a chance to look at the discussions taking place in their comment sections, you will see many vaccine myths being shared and not a single correction by the centrist doctor.
These aren’t just covid vaccine myths, they are myths about the entire childhood schedule. They offer zero correction because they know who butters their bread. Vaccine centrists breed hesitancy and validate parental fears on vaccination. As a formerly vaccine-hesitant parent who now does consultation for healthcare workers to decrease hesitancy, that is my professional opinion.
She’s right, and for once I find myself in agreement with leading anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who correctly grasped that anyone who purposefully undermines confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, undermines confidence in all vaccines.