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Wen Will She Stop Her Fear-Mongering?

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:


Leana Wen warns that “The pandemic isn’t over – especially for our children” (May 26). Yet as in previous columns, she here again stokes fears of Covid-19 only by presenting data utterly out of context.

After her pro forma acknowledgment that “children are unlikely to become severely ill from covid-19,” Wen slips into her familiar fear-mongering mode by noting that “some children have become seriously ill, with more than 16,000 hospitalizations reported from a database of 24 states and New York City. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents more than 3,700 instances of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.”

The implication is that, nationwide, Covid caused about 32,000 children to be hospitalized, and that even for children Covid’s side effects are serious and significant.

Sounds frightening – until context is provided. According to the CDC, in 2019 alone 6.7 percent of all Americans under the age of 18 had at least two visits to hospital emergency rooms. That is, the number of American children who in 2019 at least twice suffered injuries or illnesses serious enough to warrant visits to emergency rooms was about 4.1 million.* Even if a mere one percent of these children required overnight hospitalization on just one of their visits, the resulting number of these non-Covid hospitalizations – 41,000 – was 28 percent higher than is the number of children hospitalized for Covid.

Also note, for comparison, that the number of children who’ve so far died from Covid – according to Wen, “just more than 300” – is a mere one tenth of the number of Americans ages 19 and younger (3,219) who died in 2019 as a result of motor-vehicle crashes.

As for the more than 3,700 instances of (typically quite treatable) multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, the number of Americans ages 0-19 who in 2017 were diagnosed with cancer was three times higher. The number of American children who in 2018 suffered from asthma was about 1,200 times higher, and the number of American children who in 2018 suffered from respiratory allergies was about 1,600 times higher.

For someone boasting a medical degree and a regular column in prestigious newspaper, Leana Wen is frighteningly incompetent at interpreting statistics.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* 4.1 million is roughly 6.7 percent of the 61,175,933 Americans under the age of 18.


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