When deciding whether to vaccinate a child, we must also consider known and potential adverse reactions. From the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink we know that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can cause myocarditis among adolescents and young adults. Current risk estimates are in the range of one myocarditis for every 3,000 or 8,000 vaccinated adolescents and young men. Women have lower risk. There may also be additional still unknown adverse reactions.
The Covid vaccine has been widely used for children without solid information about its efficacy on hospitalizations and deaths, and without the ability to conduct a proper benefit-risk evaluation.
For all the headlines about New York City mayor Eric Adams removing the school mask mandate, reading the fine print reveals that preschoolers will be left out. This is an approach that has been consistent in many blue areas, where officials argue — contrary to new CDC guidance — that this age group must mask up because they are not yet eligible for vaccination.
The most puzzling aspect of insisting on masking toddlers and preschoolers is that this is the group least likely to benefit from masking and the one that has the most to lose.
Even those who believe that mask mandates work for the general population would be forced to acknowledge that toddlers are the least likely to be able to wear masks properly for eight hours a day. Also, according to CDC data, out of 914,259 Covid deaths in the U.S. for the entire pandemic, just 56 of them were in the two-to-four age group — or less than one-hundredth of 1 percent. And those numbers do not control for children who had other health issues and then happened to test positive once in the hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the only public health agency in the world to recommend masking toddlers in the first place. They are at almost no risk of serious illness from Covid, and not a single study has found that masks help stop viral spread in this age group.
How could they? I’ve seen children chew on masks and wipe their noses with them. My 6-year old once took off his mask to gulp some hot chocolate, then used it as a napkin to wipe his upper lip.
And masks probably do real harm to young children. When a politician removes his mask to address an audience, he is acknowledging that masking makes communication more difficult. Little kids are hard to understand even when you can see their faces.
These are the foundational years, when children learn so much by reading faces, watching mouths and mimicking sounds. We used to understand the importance of early childhood but, like so much else, we’ve discarded that knowledge to poorly combat the Covid-19 virus.
But what do I mean, “we”? Many of us wanted sanity for a long time. I left New York for Florida last year to find it. Children under 5 should never have been masked. To keep this up in March 2022 is doubling down on failure—and cruelty.
I live on the Upper West Side. I am a former Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner, run a not-for-profit public-health policy institute and am a visiting professor at the University of Paris Medical School. Despite my bona fides, I can’t get my neighbors or dog-park acquaintances to relax and unmask themselves.
Welcome to my world, where wearing a surgical mask has replaced wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt as a social-justice signal in post-pandemic America.
My ZIP code is deep blue. “Science is back!” we rejoiced when President Biden was elected. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be true when the science doesn’t match what many of my friends and neighbors want to believe.
Despite very clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams, many of my neighbors want to keep their masks on (which is certainly their privilege), but they don’t want me to take mine off either. And they’re aggressive about it. Withering stares and cutting comments. The lack of respect and embrace of — what else can I call it? — “fake news” is disheartening.
Just when you thought the abyss between red-state and blue-state sensibilities could not grow wider comes post-pandemic America to reveal further cleavage. Residents of my 34-story Manhattan apartment building are still wearing masks in the elevators, halls, and lobby, even though the building’s internally imposed mask mandate has been lifted. At least half of my neighbors in Yorkville wear masks outdoors, even though New York governor Kathy Hochul suspended the indoor mask mandate for New York City weeks ago. It has always been the case, no matter the rate of indoor transmission, that inhaling a large enough viral dose outdoors to become infected is almost impossible. One might have imagined that even progressives would be ready to say: “Enough of this! We’ll take our chances. Let’s get back to normal life!” But it turns out that many people have a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for fear and risk aversion, especially when linked to control.
Covid metrics are, from a blue-state perspective, depressingly low when even the New York Times has given up on frontpage crisis-mongering. For weeks, the Times has buried its Covid stories deep in the paper, if it prints them at all, because there is only good news to report. There are 25 people per day hospitalized with or from Covid in New York City, out of a pre-pandemic population of 8.5 million. That is essentially zero risk. Deaths with or from Covid are too negligible to mention.
Healthy young Manhattanites are choosing fear over facts. A group of masked mothers and their masked children recently gathered on the steps of the city’s Department of Education to sing, to the tune of “Frère Jacques”: “Just because we’re tired doesn’t mean it’s over. Mandate masks, that’s our ask.” When will it be over? In blue-state enclaves, a significant constituency would say, “never.”
As I wrote in the February issue of Reason, broad and ill-defined emergency powers laws exist in most states but until the COVID-19 pandemic, they were mostly used for acute emergencies like severe storms, earthquakes, bridge collapses, terrorist attacks, and the like. Those are emergencies in the true sense of the term: limited events for which it makes sense to short-circuit the usual governing process so an immediate response can be directed by the chief executive.
A two-year-long pandemic is not really an emergency, even if it remains a vitally important policy issue. This sort of open-ended crisis that leaves the legislature out of the equation breaks the feedback loop that representative democracy relies upon. It also ignores the role that individual decision-making plays in mitigating the effects of a deadly disease, presuming that people would be utterly helpless without the government to protect them. No matter what Inslee might think, he was not solely responsible for the outcome of the pandemic in his state—nor would he want to be held singularly responsible for the more than 12,000 COVID deaths that occurred there, I’m sure.
For those with a general and sober intelligence and experience, it was clear that indiscriminate lockdowns were likely to lead to devastating and long-lasting outcomes. Those needed to be considered before we threw ourselves off a cliff to avoid a car crashing into us. This brazenly obvious consideration was overlooked with reckless disregard by people who really ought to have known better.
What was so difficult to understand two years ago was why that seemed to escape certain scientists who were supposed to have the knowledge and expertise to understand this in far more sophisticated detail. It also escaped the politicians who blundered into this mess, aided and abetted by the most irresponsible and craven public service journalism in decades.
Professor Mark Woolhouse OBE, Professor of Infectious Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, has, according to his new book’s blurb “been heavily involved with the UK’s response to COVID-19”. His The Year The World Went Mad is an excoriating attack on how governments around the world fixated on lockdown as the only solution and spurned the idea of quarantining the sick and vulnerable in favour of locking everyone in their houses.
There is far too much in the book for me to summarise conveniently here, so I will move on to his comments about Imperial College’s COVID-19 Response Team Report 9, published in March 2020. This was the notorious paper that predicted half a million deaths (among other outcomes) if we didn’t lockdown and the effects of interventions of different severity over two years. As Woolhouse says, “It was perfectly obvious that no-one could predict the course of this epidemic over such a long timescale, so what was the point in publishing these outputs?” It was a scenario that “wasn’t remotely realistic”.
The effect was to ignore other solutions and deem lockdown to be a necessity from the outset. All the caveats and assumptions in the Report were ignored, and the headline half a million deaths became the only focus, led of course heroically by the BBC in its mission to terrorise the public into gibbering wrecks. Woolhouse’s preference would have been for less severe measures to have been imposed far earlier and which could have been lifted much more quickly.
Later on, Woolhouse tackles the way the government’s advisors knew that “the actual risk to more than half the population was extremely low” and therefore advised the deliberate ratcheting up of the perception of personal risk to improve the acceptance of lockdown. “The BBC News backed this misperception up by regularly reporting rare tragedies as if they were the norm.”
His next target is the “damaging and disruptive” closing of schools. The evidence showed that teachers, despite their supposed exposure to walking virus factories in the form of schoolchildren, were not at “elevated risk”. “None” of the concerns surrounding schools “were surrounded by the epidemiological data” for COVID-19, which was in direct contrast to that for flu where there is evidence that children infect others.
It’s at this point Woolhouse found himself up against people, including parents and teachers, who actively wanted to believe otherwise, even to the extent of sending off a fusillade of hate mail, insisting that he was misinterpreting the data or that it was wrong. This was one aspect of a wider phenomenon which bewilders Woolhouse because he came across it among scientist colleagues. My belief is that while we might live in what purports to be a more rational and scientific, evidence-based world, the ancient/medieval mindset is not only still alive and well but is also much closer to the instinctive nature of human beings.
The covid narrative is falling apart not because of conspiracy theories or intractable and recalcitrant fringe elements who refuse to comply. It is falling apart because it is plainly false.