A core theme of my prior articles has been that there are real-world consequences to misinformation spread by contrarian doctors who will never care for a child who becomes seriously ill with COVID. A particularly noxious example is the claim that no healthy children have died of COVID. This myth irks me, not just because it’s widespread and dangerous, but also because it’s lazy and trivially easy to refute. I have no idea why someone would claim such a thing.

I first encountered this myth from the pen of Dr. Marty Makary, a creator of many such myths (here and here). In his article “Think Twice Before Giving the COVID Vax to Healthy Kids”, Dr. Makary said the following:

In reviewing the medical literature and news reports, and in talking to pediatricians across the country, I am not aware of a single healthy child in the U.S. who has died of COVID-19 to date.

As evidence for this extraordinary claim, Dr. Makary referenced his own paper and claimed it was a study of “pediatric COVID-19 deaths”. It turns out that in this study,  three children died, and Dr. Makary used these three children to extrapolate to the hundreds of children who had died by that time. Dr. Makary would later speculate that “maybe the rate of death from the vaccine parallels the rate of death from COVID in a healthy child”. It’s no surprise Dr. Makary has been favorably profiled on RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine website.

He was wrong about all this, of course. A simple Google search revealed multiple news stories of healthy children who had died of COVID, and a CDC report on 121 deaths of people younger than 21 years, half of whom were younger than 18 years, found that, “Among the 121 decedents, 30 (25%) were previously healthy (no reported underlying medical condition).” Overall, approximately 20% of pediatric deaths occur in healthy children.

Dr. Makary’s myth proved the adage that “a lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots”. Dr. Makary was on ZDoggMD’s large podcast where he claimed there’s “never been a documented case of an entirely healthy kid dying of COVID”. Misinformed politicians repeated this false claim as if it were established fact during congressional hearings. Anti-vaxx propagandist Tucker Carlson repeated Dr. Makary’s claim verbatim on his program, saying

Researchers at Johns Hopkins led by Dr. Marty Makary looked closely at those numbers and what they actually meant and here’s what they found, quote: “A mortality rate of zero among children without a preexisting medical condition such as leukemia.”

Even this is wrong. The most common underlying conditions in children who die of COVID are obesity and asthma, not leukemia. These children were robbed of decades of life. Even leukemia is no longer a death sentence. It’s sad when any child dies of COVID.

This brings us to the horrible decision by Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the surgeon general from Florida, who recently recommended against vaccinating healthy children based on bad advice from doctors who don’t treat sick children. Doctors who do care for sick children vigorously opposed Florida’s position- which shouldn’t just be called anti-vaccine, but also pro-virus, a phenomenon I’ve discussed before.

Part of the basis for Florida’s decision was the myth that healthy children do not die of COVID. The Florida Department of Health quoted a Dr. Joseph Fraiman as saying, “If you have a healthy child, the chances of that child dying are incredibly low, essentially close to zero if not actually zero.”

I agree that the chances of a healthy child dying of COVID are “incredibly low.” However, there’s a world of difference between “essentially close to zero” and “actually zero” when millions of children contract the virus. A rare event multiplied millions of times adds up. Overall, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, 1,139 children have died of COVID.* Thousands more children were sick enough to be hospitalized, sometimes in the ICU. All of this is happening nearly a year after Dr. Makary said “that Covid-19 will be mostly gone” and from a virus he referred to as “Nature’s Vaccine.

All arguments against vaccinating healthy children really boil down to, “the vaccine won’t save the lives of that many children, so there’s really no point.” I don’t think that’s a very good argument. Do you? If so, maybe you should read about some of the healthy children who died of COVID, some after the vaccine was available to them.

You can read an article titled “Parents Say 5-Year-Old Daughter Who Died From COVID-19 was ‘Perfectly Healthy’” and another titled “4-Year-Old CNY Boy Who Died of Covid Complications Had Been Healthy: ‘I Lost My Miracle Baby.’” You can read about a child from Minnesota in an article titled “Child Under 10 With No Underlying Conditions Dies From COVID.” A 9-month-old who “did not have an underlying health condition” also died in Minnesota. You can read about a child “with no underlying conditions” who died in Tennessee and a 7-year-old from Georgia who “had no underlying health conditions.” Kimora Lynum, a 9-year-old with “no underlying conditions” died in my hometown, Gainesville, Florida. Skylar Herbert, a 5 year-old from Detroit also had “no underlying health conditions” when she died of COVID-19. You can read about Dykota Morgan, a 15-year-old girl from Illinois, “whose parents said she had no underlying medical conditions.” She was a basketball player who died just two days after contracting the virus. These children would almost certainly be alive today if they had been vaccinated.

Unfortunately, the idea that healthy children don’t die of COVID is now this pandemic’s version of “we only use 10% of our brain.”  However, healthy children have absolutely died of COVID. There is no reason more children should die in the future given that an effective vaccine exists for those older than 5. Sadly, thanks to myths spread by doctors, many children remain at risk. Medical myths have real-world consequences.

*Correction:  A previous version of this article misstated the total number of children who had died of COVID and that one-third of these deaths came during the recent Omicron surge.  This information was due to miscoded information reported by the CDC COVID Data Tracker, which erroneously added several hundred deaths to the pediatric tally.

Author

  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist based in New York City who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19.

Posted by Jonathan Howard

Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist based in New York City who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19.