Considering that Governor Gavin Newsom has decreed that all children in California get vaxxed, their parents in California might wonder what comes next.
Might it be mandates to boost, boost, boost, and then keep boosting til the governor says it’s okay to stop?
The question arises with the results of a recent study of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine in children aged 5 through 11. Although the vaccine briefly lowered the risk of Covid infection by 65%, that figure fell to only 12% within 34 days.
The study compared the infection rate among children who had received the usual two doses between mid-December and early January to the rate among children who had gone unvaccinated. Note the timing: Omicron had become dominant.
Did efficacy plummet only because the virus had mutated away from a vaccine directed against an ancestral strain, not against Omicron, to say nothing of variants yet to arrive? Or did the vaccine never offer much benefit to children, at least healthy children, in the first place?
Either way, as vaccine failure in children becomes glaringly evident, what’s the governor to do now?
It was a boast when last year Newsom issued his directive. California was the “First State in Nation” to mandate vaccination for in-classroom instruction, public or private, and not just for children but for all kids up through high school.
Today he remains first among governors alright, but first and solitary. No other governor has rushed to follow his example, though Kathy Hochul will sometimes hem and haw about mandates in New York. The mandate in California will be imposed upon regulatory approval of a Covid vaccine, as distinct from the emergency authorization now in effect.
The rationale for any mandate anywhere meanwhile weakens with the expansion of acquired immunity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by late January of this year 58% of the US population up to age 17 were already carrying antibodies to the Covid virus not as a result of vaccination but of prior infection. As for any prevent-infection, stop-the-spread rationale, it was fast collapsing even before the data from New York came to light.
When would enough vaxxing be enough? The European counterpart to the Food and Drug Administration has cautioned, albeit speculatively, that boosters repeated too often might interfere with the immune response. Not only Florida but certain European countries don’t even recommend vaxxing healthy children. Newsom would command it and set the booster roulette wheel spinning.
The study of childhood infection, with or without symptoms, drew from large healthcare databases in New York state. Although the study has yet to be peer-reviewed, it rests on large numbers: the look at the 5-11 group was one of several analyses of all young people in varying age groups who had been vaccinated in New York, more than a million in total. The study authors are members of the state health department, not likely a group to give data an anti-vaxxing slant.
Indeed, they went so far as to suggest the vaccine reduced need for hospitalization. But that’s a stretch, and thankfully for the reason that the numbers were small. A couple weeks following the close of the vaccination period, the hospitalization rate was lower than one in 100,000 for the vaxxed and unvaxxed alike. How many hospitalizations, if any, involved healthy children wasn’t reported.
A final note on the infection rates: During two weeks following completion of the formal analysis those rates were higher for the vaxxed children than for the unvaxxed. Possibly this finding is a statistical artifact. Certainly it’s no good omen.
Newsom’s pitch is essentially this: If the state already uses its authority to require childhood vaccination against, say, measles, what’s different about force-vaxxing against Covid?
He doesn’t know?
For measles and other diseases of childhood the dosing regimen is fixed. For mRNA vaccines it would be two jabs and then anybody’s guess about coerced boosting thereafter—this with vaccines relying on a new mechanism of action and without the long-term safety record of traditional childhood vaccines. Concerns persist about heart inflammation (myocarditis, pericarditis), neurological symptoms (Guillain Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis), tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and autoimmune disorders beyond the neurological (hepatitis).
The point isn’t that any risk is so high or so low as to decide the issue for or against getting vaxxed. It’s that weighing risk, however speculative, against benefit isn’t for a governor to decide when the benefit of vaxxing is so slight for healthy children and when the public-good argument is in tatters.
Among healthy children, Covid disease amounting to more than a cold or the flu is rare. The risk of death was so low as to be difficult to calculate even before the CDC lowered its mortality figures for a coding error. In a trial the size of Pfizer’s, enrolling 4,647 children, there was no chance of demonstrating a significant reduction in death or hospitalization.
By the end of the trial no child, vaxxed or not vaxxed, had died of Covid, no child had entered a hospital, no child had met the criterion for severe disease. What Pfizer primarily sought to demonstrate was only that the vaccine increased antibodies. The FDA went along with this trial design even as it acknowledged there was no established antibody correlate of protection.
Many parents in California will decide in favor of mRNA vaccines for their children, and it goes without saying they should go forward as they think best. But so should the parents who decide otherwise. They would be the parents of the two-thirds of children in the state who have yet to be fully vaxxed.
About the Author
Richard Koenig is the author of the Kindle Single “No Place to Go,” an account of efforts to provide toilets amid a cholera outbreak in Ghana.