In a previous article, I described how COVID has warped our sense of what is acceptable when it comes to children suffering from a vaccine-preventable disease. Previously, doctors agreed it was unacceptable to have a single child die from such a disease. Today, influential doctors with large platforms feel differently. They relentlessly minimize the virus and over-hype every vaccine side effect, suggesting the vaccine will kill as many healthy children as the virus. This is standard anti-vaccine blather and should be called out as such.
I also wrote about how some doctors discourage anyone from acknowledging any individual child who dies from the virus. One doctor said doing so was “crass & undignified,” while another said sharing such information was “fear-based messaging“, a sign of communication “gone awry”. Some doctors have written many volumes on pediatric COVID, neglecting to mention the simple fact that over 1,000 children have died.
I noted how this erasure of pediatric tragedies was unique to COVID, with one major exception, guns. Indeed, there seems to be many similarities to how pediatric deaths from COVID and guns are treated. Various forces want us to sweep these tragedies under the rug. They are just the cost of allowing adults to do whatever they want. In the same way that some doctors disparage those who wish to acknowledge the existence of children who died of COVID, after a mass shooting, certain politicians predictably say that “this is not a time” to discuss how to keep more children alive – as if there is ever an inappropriate time for such a topic.
In extreme cases, we are encouraged to doubt that children are dying at all. Wretched conspiracy theorist Alex Jones famously called the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax, leading to abuse of grieving parents. I’m thrilled he has finally faced real consequences for this. With COVID, there are those who suggest that large numbers of children are dying with COVID, not of COVID. We are falsely told that only children with leukemia, with limited life expectancies, die of COVID – though of course normal people are saddened any time a child’s life is cut short.
Today, guns are a leading cause of fatalities in children and young adults, even more than car crashes. According to recent commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine:
For more than 60 years, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of injury-related death among young people. Beginning in 2017, however, firearm-related injuries took their place to become the most common cause of death from injury.
Thousands of young lives are now lost due to guns every year – a horrific tragedy. The authors of the NEJM commentary had it exactly right when they said:
This change occurred because of both the rising number of firearm-related deaths in this age group and the nearly continuous reduction in deaths from motor vehicle crashes. The crossing of these trend lines demonstrates how a concerted approach to injury prevention can reduce injuries and deaths — and, conversely, how a public health problem can be exacerbated in the absence of such attention.
When we care and focus on a problem, we can make real improvements and save lives. Conversely, when we ignore a problem, it can fester and worsen. It’s shameful to drive drunk, but Congressmen and their families proudly pose with powerful weapons on their Christmas cards. The National Rifle Association, which acted as a “foreign asset” in providing Russian officials access to American political organizations in 2016, admonished doctors who advocated policies they would keep children from dying, saying they were “self-important” and they should “stay in their lane”. Amazingly, for 25 years, the CDC was refused funding to even study gun violence in America. Talk about sticking your head in the sand. Imagine how little progress would have been made if the automobile industry managed to enact a similar research ban on traffic fatalities.
People more knowledgeable than I have proposed solutions to gun violence in America. I wish there were a vaccine against bullets, though some doctors would invariably advise against it, arguing that only a small percentage of children die from guns and adults are killed more often. However, I hope you’ll notice how normalized preventable pediatric deaths have become. The next time you read about children being shot at school or church, you may be horrified, but you won’t be surprised. A headline that reads “5-year-old boy murdered execution style in Detroit home, family says, mom and her boyfriend also killed” isn’t astonishing. These headlines appear every day. Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics added 28 children to its grim tally of pediatric COVID deaths this week alone with little outcry.
There is yet another similarity between these two killers. In both instances, most of the victims are non-White, and I suspect that their deaths would receive more attention otherwise. Henrika McCoy, a social worker in Chicago and associate professor of social work said about Black shooting victims, “We don’t, as a group, harken a lot of sympathy. So more often than not, people think that if something happened to us, we deserved it.” She’s right.
Pediatric fatalities from both guns and COVID could be greatly reduced if more people simply cared. Instead, we’ve lost our capacity to be shocked. It’s just normal for all of us that large numbers of children will die preventable deaths. It’s normal that influential voices, including doctors, will encourage us to erase these children, to not acknowledge their existence and the manner of their deaths.
How sad is that?