A tremendous number of government and private policies affecting kids are based on one number: 335. That is how many children under 18 have died with a Covid diagnosis code in their record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet the CDC, which has 21,000 employees, hasn’t researched each death to find out whether Covid caused it or if it involved a pre-existing medical condition.
Without these data, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decided in May that the benefits of two-dose vaccination outweigh the risks for all kids 12 to 15. I’ve written hundreds of peer-reviewed medical studies, and I can think of no journal editor who would accept the claim that 335 deaths resulted from a virus without data to indicate if the virus was incidental or causal, and without an analysis of relevant risk factors such as obesity.
My research team at Johns Hopkins worked with the nonprofit FAIR Health to analyze approximately 48,000 children under 18 diagnosed with Covid in health-insurance data from April to August 2020. Our report found a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia. If that trend holds, it has significant implications for healthy kids and whether they need two vaccine doses. The National Education Association has been debating whether to urge schools to require vaccination before returning to school in person. How can they or anyone debate the issue without the right data?
Meanwhile, we’ve already seen inflated Covid death numbers in the U.S. revised downward. Last month Alameda County, Calif., reduced its Covid death toll by 25% after state public-health officials insisted that deaths be attributed to Covid only if the virus was a direct or contributing factor.
Opinion: Morning Editorial Report
All the day’s Opinion headlines.
Organizations and politicians who are eager to get every living American vaccinated are following the CDC without understanding the limitations of the methodology. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky claimed that vaccinating a million adolescent kids would prevent 200 hospitalizations and one death over four months. But the agency’s Covid adolescent hospitalization report, like its death count, doesn’t distinguish on the website whether a child is hospitalized for Covid or with Covid. The subsequent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of that analysis revealed that 45.7% “were hospitalized for reasons that might not have been primarily related” to Covid-19.
Hospitals routinely test patients being admitted for other complaints even if there’s no reason to suspect they have Covid. An asymptomatic child who tests positive after being injured in a bicycle accident would be counted as a “Covid hospitalization.”
The CDC may also be undercapturing data on vaccine complications. The CDC’s risk-benefit analysis for vaccinating all children used rates of complications extrapolated from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System database, known as Vaers, which contains raw, self-reported data that is unverified and likely underreports adverse events. The CDC or the Food and Drug Administration should expeditiously assign doctors to research each of the thousands of vaccine complications reported to Vaers.
Authorities should also consider whether a single-vaccine dose is a safer option for healthy kids. Researchers at Tel Aviv University reported that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine was 100% effective against infection in kids 12 to 15. Not only has the CDC refused to examine the possibility of a one-dose regimen for minors; Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff told me he was kicked off the advisory committee working group on Covid-vaccine safety after he expressed a dissenting opinion.
The CDC’s poor performance isn’t limited to kids or vaccine safety. Early in the pandemic the CDC left us all flying blind by not reporting the medical conditions of those who died of Covid. Collecting this information early would have made it easier to protect nursing-home residents and patients with renal failure or diabetes. It took until March 2021 for the CDC to report that 78% of Covid hospitalizations were among overweight or obese patients.
Most striking, the CDC has never systematically collected and reported the No. 1 leading indicator of the pandemic—daily new hospitalizations for Covid sickness. Instead, the CDC offers the lagging indicator of hospitalization for anyone who tests positive for Covid.
The CDC data on natural-immunity rates is similarly disappointing. The CDC reports this measure in fragments on their website, but it’s outdated and some states are listed as having “no data available.” The low priority given to this indicator is consistent with how public-health officials have played down and ignored natural immunity in their drive to get everyone vaccinated.
Given the tremendous resources of the CDC and FDA, which together employ 39,000, these agencies ought to be able to report the statistics needed to make informed policy decisions. If the data are incomplete or flawed, so too will be the decisions derived from them. The vaccine’s benefits may outweigh its risks for healthy kids, but the government shouldn’t try to push that conclusion based on faulty data.
Dr. Makary is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health and Carey Business School. He is author of “The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care—and How to Fix It.”