Science Fiction at the Wall Street Journal

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Allysia Finley titled “Healthy Children Don’t Need Covid Vaccines” argued that children should not be vaccinated against COVID since “for kids under 12, the risks are trivial.” This article contained the predictable, vacuous COVID minimization tropes I’ve discussed many times previously. Naturally, it argued that children should remain vulnerable to COVID since more die of suicide (discussed here) and because old people are more endangered (discussed here).

These are poor arguments. After all, more children have died of COVID so far this year than will die from bike accidents in the entire year. Is that a good reason to argue against bike helmets? Of course not.

The factoids Ms. Finely used have zero relevance as to whether or not the COVID vaccine can protect some children from rare, but catastrophic outcomes. It can. These factoids are not without their use, however. Anti-vaccine writers can use them a rhetorical trick to prevent their readers from knowing that COVID has really harmed a non-trivial number of children, including healthy ones. Over 1,300 children have died.

Moreover, what’s true for COVID is true for many vaccine-preventable diseases. Most children would survive into adulthood if all vaccines vanished. Only dedicated anti-vaxxers want this to be a reality, but their arguments are identical to those who argue against the COVID vaccine for healthy children. The idea that “it’s just the sick kids who die” is standard anti-vaccine balderdash. In fact, with COVID, about 20% of pediatric deaths occur in healthy children. Ms. Finley doesn’t mention this. She doesn’t feel her readers can be trusted to know this fact.

Beyond this specific reasoning, Ms. Finely’s article was full of science fiction, a universal feature of such anti-vaccine articles. Ms. Finely informed her readers that the vaccine “doesn’t amount to much,” and to bolster this point she referenced a study that concluded “vaccination of children 5-11 years was protective against severe disease and is recommended.” As is typical for authors who aim to persuade their readers rather than inform them, other studies showing the effectiveness of the vaccine, even with the Omicron variant, go unmentioned.

Additionally, Ms. Finely claimed that “The risk of hospitalization from the flu for children 5 to 11 is 50% higher than from Covid and the related multisystem inflammatory syndrome combined.” This is completely backwards. During the same time when the flu hospitalized 9 children ages 5-11, COVID hospitalized 8,300 children this age. Either Ms. Finley was ignorant of the basic numbers regarding the subject of her editorial de ella, she thought 9 is larger than 8,300, or she wanted to deceive her readers de ella.

Moreover, there have been 7,500 cases of MIS-C, and most children with this condition go to the ICU. Over 60 children have died from MIS-C. These numbers would have been much higher without COVID mitigations. The vaccine has been shown to be highly protective against this severe outcome. This is why the paper Ms. Finely referenced to argue against vaccinating children concluded that “Although rarer than influenza infection, the extreme severity of MIS-C made the total economic and health burden of COVID-19 infection combined with MIS-C just as high as that of past influenza outbreaks.”

Overall, about 100 times more children have died from COVID than the flu since the pandemic started. Of course, anyone with basic critical thinking skills knows it doesn’t matter whether the flu or COVID harms more children. Normal people don’t want any child to get sick or die from any vaccine-preventable disease.

Sadly, such science fiction is the norm for editorials in the Wall Street Journal on pediatric COVID, reflecting the fact that their authors will never care for a sick child. I previously discussed an article by Drs. Nicole Saphier and Marty Makary titled “Should You Vaccinate Your 5-Year-Old?” This article claimed that only 562 children ages 5-11 years had been hospitalized with COVID-19. This was false and was easily recognizable as such by anyone familiar with this topic. Drs. Saphier and Makary misread a CDC slide to arrive at this incorrect number and haven’t bothered to correct their error.

This article also discussed a report that supposedly found “a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia.” In fact, this “report” covered less than 1% of the pediatric deaths at the time. Healthy children have absolutely died of COVID, and the most common underlying conditions in decreased children are obesity and asthma. Almost all children who die of COVID are robbed of many decades of life.

Readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page won’t know any of this, of course. They’ll only know COVID is worse for grandma.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” It’s my opinion that no child should die for lack of a vaccine. The editors of the Wall Street Journal disagree with this. Unfortunately, to make their case, they feel entitled to their own facts. Repeated errors of basic facts are unacceptable in a prestigious newspaper under any circumstances, but especially so when the topic is a virus that has killed over 1,000 children and a vaccine that can help prevent these rare tragedies.

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

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