Something horrible recently happened in Michigan. According to a news report:
The bodies of Monica Cannady, 35, Kyle Milton, 9, and Malik Milton, 3, were found Jan. 15 in Pontiac after Cannady’s 10-year-old daughter went to a home near the field and told someone that her “family was dead in a field,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said earlier this month…
Cannady had been experiencing mental health issues and family members were trying to get her psychiatric care.
She “believed someone was trying to kill her and that everybody was in on it” before she and her children died, Sheriff Michael Bouchard told reporters Jan. 16.
Investigators said the family could have been outside in the cold for at least three days, despite having a home about a mile from where they were found.
The police were unable to locate this family in time, and a deputy resigned due to this failure.
This event was obviously a tragedy. However, I don’t think my advocacy on behalf of pediatric COVID vaccination is connected to their sad fate in any way. Dr. Vinay Prasad felt differently. He recently accused vaccine-advocates of forgetting her death and other “real lives that can be saved.”
Let’s dissect this Tweet. I fully agree the death of this family meant something broke down. This poor woman and her two children slipped through the cracks with devastating consequences. Though people are trying to address these problems, which cannot be solved with a simple vaccine, society failed this family.
However, the connection between this tragedy and “idiots on Twitter” isn’t clear. Is Dr. Prasad actually suggesting that if only doctors had not advocated for pediatric vaccination on Twitter, this family might still be alive? Such tragedies happened before the pandemic, and I’ve been treating patients like Ms. Cannady for 20 years. Not once has anyone said, “This patient would have been just fine, were it not for the Twitter posts of vaccine-advocates“.
Large numbers of Dr. Prasad’s Twitter audience won’t know this however. They mindlessly clicked in agreement as Dr. Prasad absurdly linked Ms. Cannady’s death to the social media habits of vaccine-advocates. When they encounter a vaccine-advocate in the future, they’ll then see a cruel soul, someone who is indifferent to the deaths of a mentally ill woman and her children. That’s what Dr. Prasad is hoping for, and it’s no surprise vaccine-advocates often deal with abuse online. Esteemed doctors at esteemed universities told them we were “idiots” after all.
These juvenile epithets are quite the reversal for Dr. Prasad. At the start of the pandemic he wrote an impassioned essay titled “Scientists Who Express Different Views on Covid-19 Should be Heard, Not Demonized” that extolled the value of civil debate. Dr. Prasad wrote:
We think it is important to hear, consider, and debate these views without ad hominem attacks or animus…Society faces a risk even more toxic and deadly than Covid-19: that the conduct of science becomes indistinguishable from politics….
Calling someone an idiot is “chilling and silencing and dangerous.”
Today, Dr. Prasad gleefully demonizes anyone who lacks his enthusiasm for the repeated mass infection of unvaccinated children with a brand new virus than has already killed 2,000 of them and hospitalized over a hundred thousand. Not only are they “idiots”, he’s also said they are “STUPID“, a “bunch of fools” and “total morons“. Other times, he’s used psychiatric labels to denigrate and pathologize those with different views. He’s said such people are “delusional” and that “any strong advocate for kid covid vaccination is off their rocker.”
Some doctors felt so passionately that unvaccinated children should be repeatedly be exposed to SARS-CoV-2, that they greeted differing views with ad hominem attacks and animus.
Dr. Prasad’s embrace of immature insults, which he once deemed “even more toxic and deadly than Covid-19”, was not his most egregious medical reversal, however. Though today he argues against pediatric vaccination because most children already had COVID, in 2021 he felt unvaccinated children should remain vulnerable to COVID for the exact opposite reason. In an essay from February 2021, called “Kids Don’t Need Covid-19 Vaccines to Return to School”, Dr. Prasad wrote:
Kids are less likely to acquire SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, than adults”.
Dr. Prasad continued to use this logic to argue against pediatric vaccination at that time. In June 2021, after the vaccine had been authorized for adolescents and just before the Delta variant arrived, Dr. Prasad said that cases were “FALLING PRECIPITOUSLY” as a reason not to vaccinate children. He continued:
The raw number of adolescent cases is the point THAT IS FALLING…The actual numbers show both COVID and MIS-C is plummeting with adult vaccination….Perhaps, <18 can should pause all mRNA vaccination, and we reassess if rise in cases in fall.
One thing that seemed to have no effect on Dr. Prasad’s opinion was a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study of the COVID vaccine in adolescents that was published in the NEJM. All 16 COVID cases occurred in placebo recipients. Many doctors embraced the overwhelming results from this RCT. Others ignored the results entirely.
And thus it becomes clear: Dr. Prasad was always going to be against vaccinating children no matter the course of the pandemic or the results of any feasible RCT. He was against the vaccine when he thought the pandemic was “abating“, and he was against the vaccine after COVID “already reached 96%” in children. Exactly one year after writing “Kids are less likely to acquire SARS-CoV-2”, Dr. Prasad reversed himself by writing a pro-virus article titled “Should We Let Children Catch Omicron?”. Many things changed during that time, but Dr. Prasad’s desire to have unvaccinated children contract SARS-CoV-2 remained constant and unshakable.
So much for following the evidence.
Indeed, nowhere in between writing “cases are FALLING PRECIPITOUSLY” and “most kids already had COVID-19” did Dr. Prasad pause and wonder if he was wrong to oppose pediatric vaccination. As the Delta and Omicron waves ripped through the pediatric population, especially in unvaccinated children, Dr. Prasad only continued to spread misinformation, saying it was “natural and healthy” when children got sick with COVID, for example. Instead of dropping everything to support parents with mental illness, as he demanded of vaccine-advocates, Dr. Prasad devoted countless hours making monetized content about a rare vaccine side-effect, which has a better prognosis than, say, death from COVID. How did these videos help Ms. Cannady and her family?
Videos that did nothing to help parents with mental illness
Dr. Prasad is not wrong that nearly all American children have contracted COVID by now. However, this does not mean that vaccine-advocates wasted their time. Many millions of children were able to be vaccinated before they were infected, and this made a huge difference to some of them. Over 20 studies from around the world have shown the vaccine has shown to be effective in preventing rare, but grave harms in children. Though efforts to slow the spread of the virus saved some children a great deal of suffering, we’ll never know who they were. The benefits of the vaccine are invisible in a crucial way, but this does not mean the children it saved are not “real lives”.
Additionally, nearly 3.7 million babies are born annually in the US. Though infants have the highest risk of dying of all children, they don’t arrive with “natural immunity”. Tragically, nearly 700 children under age 4 years have died of COVID already, and most doctors don’t want this number to grow larger. Moreover, we don’t know the consequences of repeat COVID infections in developing children. We can all hope for the best, but anyone who takes a conservative approach to medicine knows that hope is not a plan. There are already some concerning signs that COVID may not be as “healthy” for children as Dr. Prasad claimed.
I may be missing something. So hopefully, Dr. Prasad will write a rebuttal to my essay explaining why the Cannady family tragedy means we should accept unvaccinated babies dying of COVID, year after year, forevermore. However, I think our disagreements are even more fundamental than this. I may be an idiot, but I disagree with Prasad’s notion that the thousands of young, unvaccinated people who needlessly suffered or died of COVID were not “real lives” or that we should accept their deaths as “a matter of course.” Rather than face the real-world consequences of their anti-vaccine advocacy, it’s easier for certain doctors to fantasize that COVID’s youngest victims were mere figments of our imagination.
But, of course, they weren’t.
Dr. Prasad was right that some doctors forgot the very “real lives that can be saved” this pandemic. It wasn’t vaccine-advocates who forgot though.