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CDC claims COVID-19 kills 'healthy young children' as doctors push back on vaccinating kids

Authorities should worry about worsening vaccine hesitancy by pushing low-risk kids to get jabbed, med school professors warn.

Published: June 11, 2021 6:27pm

Updated: June 13, 2021 11:11am

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now claims that "healthy young children" can die from COVID-19. Marty Makary wants to see the evidence.

"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," the Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine and public health said Thursday.

Archived versions of the CDC's web page comparing COVID-19 and seasonal influenza show that it revised the "differences" in the section "People at High-Risk for Severe Illness" sometime between May 31 and June 8.

"The risk of complications for healthy children is higher for flu compared to COVID-19," the earlier version says. "However, infants and children with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for both flu and COVID-19."

The new version flips the emphasis as well as adding a new claim. "Overall, COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people," it begins. 

"For young children, especially children younger than 5 years old, the risk of serious complications is higher for flu compared with COVID-19. However, serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization and death can occur even in healthy young children."

Makary's article in MedPage Today, a clinical news publisher where he serves as editor in chief,  pushes back on calls to vaccinate kids ages 0 to 12 without comorbidities. He also recommends parents avoid vaccinating children who have recovered from COVID-19 infections, continuing his argument that natural immunity is just as good if not better than vaccine immunity.

"The case to vaccinate kids is there, but it's not compelling right now," Makary wrote.

He's part of a movement of doctors at medical institutions around the world calling for far more cost-benefit analysis of COVID-19 vaccines for low-risk populations such as children.

Professors from UCLA's schools of medicine and public health, the University of Maryland's pharmacy school, Harvard Medical School, Texas A&M Medicine and Oregon Health & Sciences University signed an international letter to the Food and Drug Administration June 1, listing steps it should take before approving any vaccine beyond emergency use authorization (EUA).

Among them: "at least 2 years of follow-up" with participants from the original clinical trials and "substantial evidence of clinical effectiveness that outweighs harms in special populations" including infants, children, adolescents and recovered people.

The CDC did not respond to a request to provide the source of its new claim about healthy young children.

Even as the agency scheduled a meeting for June 18 to discuss higher-than-expected reports of heart inflammation in recipients of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, particularly men ages 16-24, a CDC doctor emphasized the reports were just preliminary.

Worsened vaccine hesitancy possible

Makary's Thursday article seems partly spurred by the CDC's claim about healthy young children, though he doesn't mention the agency's revised comparison page.

His Johns Hopkins research team partnered with healthcare data provider FAIR Health, which has about half of U.S. health insurance data, to study pediatric COVID-19 deaths. "We found that 100% of pediatric COVID-19 deaths were in children with a pre-existing condition," which strengthens the case for vaccinating kids with comorbidities.

The CDC also warned that unvaccinated children were at risk for multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), with a higher risk for teens and adolescents. 

Makary's article said the CDC's own data show that MIS-C overwhelmingly targets black and Latino children, "likely due to the disproportionate rates of childhood obesity and chronic conditions in these populations." While three dozen have died, the weekly rate of COVID-associated MIS-C is now at zero.

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Makary didn't respond to a request from Just the News to respond to the overall guidance coming from the CDC on children and COVID and media narratives that promote vaccination for children regardless of their risk level.

The international letter to the FDA emphasized longstanding efficacy and safety differences in how younger and older people respond to medicines. "The ongoing phase 3 trials of COVID-19 vaccines ... largely (or wholly) excluded" infants, children and adolescents, among other critical groups.

Other doctors have warned about unique considerations of mass vaccination for children. 

Makary's Johns Hopkins colleague Stefan Baral argued against EUAs for COVID vaccines targeted to children in a short essay with the University of California San Francisco's Vinay Prasad and Carnegie Mellon University's Wesley Pegden.

Though trials are underway for children as young as six months old, "the rarity of severe covid-19 outcomes for children means that trials cannot demonstrate that the balance of the benefits of vaccination against the potential adverse effects are favorable to the children themselves," they wrote in the British Medical Journal last month.

Prasad in particular has highlighted vaccine hesitancy by socioeconomic status and race, and the trio emphasized that hesitancy could intensify because of "accelerated mass child vaccination" driven by school mandates and vaccine passports.

"The possibility that rare adverse events could emerge as the more durable public health legacy of an emergency use authorization for child covid-19 vaccines is much greater," they wrote.

Emory University's Jennie Lavine and Rustom Antia and Pennsylvania State University's Ottar Bjornstad warned that "vaccinating children would likely lead to lower infection rates but higher case fatality rates." 

Writing in the BMJ shortly after Baral, Prasad and Pegden, the trio cited evidence that children are less susceptible to infection and transmission compared to adults. Vaccinating them provides a "marginal benefit in reducing the risk to others" and may actually be worse for children in the long run. 

"Once most adults are vaccinated, circulation of SARS-CoV-2 may in fact be desirable, as it is likely to lead to primary infection early in life when disease is mild, followed by booster re-exposures throughout adulthood as transmission blocking immunity wanes but disease blocking immunity remains high," they wrote. "This would keep reinfections mild and immunity up to date."

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