I have previously criticized doctors for glossing over the pediatric death toll from COVID. In their relentless quest to minimize the virus’s impact on children, the subjects of my criticism refuse to simply enumerate the number of children who’ve died of COVID. They instead distract their readers with irrelevant factoids, like saying only that COVID has killed many more elderly people than children. While this is true, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, 1,538 children have died of COVID. That’s a large number to me, and it’s not a surprise that COVID minimizers don’t want their audience to know it. Other times, these doctors spread misinformation, saying that the flu, which has killed fewer than 10 children since the start of the pandemic, is as dangerous as COVID.

Beyond steadfastly refusing to share or bungling basic facts, it’s notable that I’ve not seen any of them actually acknowledge any individual child who died, the grieving family they’ve left behind, and the regret their parents often have about not having vaccinated them. They’ve devoted many podcasts and articles to vaccine side effects, but it’s inconceivable they’d ever have a podcast or article titled “Children Lost to COVID”. This is a curious omission in their copious canon on pediatric COVID, especially considering they insist they value “nuance” and that they are “pro-vaccine“.

Some of these doctors are refreshingly forthcoming about their refusal to acknowledge deceased children. For example, after Dr. Julia Raifman shared information about an infant who died of COVID, a concierge internist who declared the pandemic over a year ago, responded by saying Dr. Raifman was engaging in “fear-based messaging” and that this was a sign of communication “gone awry”. “Clinicians have a duty to rise above fear and shame-based messaging,” she said to Dr. Raifman.

It sure sounds to me like this doctor is trying to shame Dr. Raifman. And for what reason? Dr. Raifman merely acknowledged a baby had died of COVID and expressed a hope that fewer babies would die in the future. It’s astonishing this is controversial amongst doctors.

Like Dr. Raifman, I don’t feel that sharing factual information is fear or shame-based, nor do I feel that fear is an entirely misplaced emotion for a virus that has killed over 1,500 children. Tens of thousands more children have been hospitalized from the virus, some very sick, needing intubation in the ICU. There have been at least 7,459 cases of MIS-C, and 61 children have died from this. It’s rarely serious when a child gets COVID, but the results can be very consequential to a very small percentage of them. A small percentage of a big number, can be a big number.

It is not “fear-based messaging” to recognize that children killed by COVID were real children, with real futures, robbed of their entire life by a virus that can now be prevented with a vaccine for children 5-years and older. It’s important to remember that these are flesh and blood children, not just statistics on a CDC website. Though I’ve consistently stated that the risk to any individual child is extremely low, I’ve occasionally shared stories of children who died of COVID. In a previous essay I wrote,

Kali Cook, who liked to play with worms, will never go to kindergarten. She was one of 200 American children who died before they turned 5. Ryland Daic, who loved to fish, will never graduate high school. Gigi Morse will never go to a prom. Kimora Lynum, who liked shopping for clothes, will never celebrate her college graduation. Week Day will never have her first kiss. Wyatt Gibson will never get married. Dykota Morgan, a basketball player, will never hold her own child. Ethan Govan will never get the satisfaction of earning his first paycheck. Skylar Herbert, who wanted to be a pediatric dentist, will never work at all. Maybe Fabiana Zoppelli was destined to be a brilliant scientist. Teresa Sperry loved to sing. Maybe she would have been a star. It’s possible that Landon Woodson or Azorean Tatum would have made it to the NFL.

The pediatric death tally has doubled since I wrote about these children just a few months ago. It’s a sad commentary on our times that in their urgency to return to “normal,” sheltered doctors who will never care for a sick child would prefer that these children’s names not be mentioned, their faces not be shown, their existence not be acknowledged.

Notably, this absurd code of silence is uniquely applied to COVID. Would any doctor suggest it’s inappropriate to share the names and faces of children who die from violence or cancer? Not that I’ve seen. It’s only with COVID that we are encouraged to erase the identities of deceased children. It’s only with COVID that we are encouraged to maintain a charade so denialists can continue with their illusion that children are invulnerable to the virus. It’s only with COVID that sharing accurate information in the hope of keeping children alive is deemed shameful, something to “rise above”. To me, that’s shameful. As Loretta Torrago said in an excellent Twitter thread on all of this,

Imagine the parents reading that their baby should be kept out of sight so that others might not be afraid.

Additionally, I’ve written about some of these children’s parents saying,

It’s worth it to read about some of the deceased children and the regret their parents feel about not vaccinating them. Landon Woodson’s mother implored parents to “Please Please Get Vaccinated“, after her son, a healthy football player, died of COVID-19. Similarly, Hector Ramirez, whose unvaccinated 15-year-old-daughter Victoria died this summer, said:

“I don’t want any other parent to go through what I did — seeing my daughter perfectly healthy one day, then following a week and a half, she’s gone.”

According to news reports, “He didn’t get the shot for his daughter, and he regrets it”.

Teresa Sperry’s parents became vaccine advocates after their daughter, who was not yet eligible to be vaccinated, died of COVID-19. “The only way this makes sense to me is if it saves people”, Jeff Sperry said. “We’re trying to help others so they don’t have to go through this”.

I am far from alone in sharing this sort of information, of course. Countless other doctors share do so from time to time. I’ve noticed these doctors are generally those who haven’t tried to monetize their COVID musings. Dr. Raifman, for example, doesn’t have a Substack side gig, for example. Her speaking fee isn’t $20,000-25,000.

Most notably, Dr. Cleavon Gilman, a non-concierge emergency medicine physician who has actually treated thousands of COVID-19 patients, routinely shares information about children lost to or severely harmed by COVID. It’s really sad, but very important work. His hope is that “By telling their stories we’ll ensure that their memories live on”. I’m glad he’s ignored those who would tell him he has a “duty to rise above fear and shame-based messaging”.

I realize that this isn’t scientific information, though of course I’ve shared raw statistics on how COVID has impacted children, as well as the multiple studies that show vaccines can keep children safe and out of the hospital. However, all this information is true. These children existed. They died of COVID. Their parents often regret not vaccinating them.

Such tragedies need to be shared in a thoughtful manner, of course. They shouldn’t be exploited in any way. It would not be appropriate for Pfizer to use them in a commercial. Nor should they be used to inflate the risk of COVID. The vast majority of children who get COVID will be just fine, thankfully. These stories should be shared with the intentions and empathy of Dr. Raifman.

Additionally, as Mr. Sperry realized and some evidence shows, they may have the power to convince parents to vaccinate their children. Pediatric vaccination rates are way too low. Emotionally salient stories that humanize the statistics are often more compelling than numbers alone, and all they require you to do is to tell the truth.

Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, it’s clear some doctors hope deceased children will just “go away”. However, their overt denialism doesn’t change the fact that over 1,500 children have died of COVID and that the virus has been killing 20 children per week the past few months.

Perhaps fewer children will die moving forward if their parents know a bit more about what the virus can do and how the vaccine can help keep them safe. Every pro-vaccine doctor should be willing to share accurate information that will diminish the likelihood of another child dying from a vaccine-preventable virus. Reality is reality, not “fear-based messaging.” This shouldn’t be controversial.

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.