The benefits of COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks; vaccinated children don’t die at a higher rate compared to unvaccinated children
Although children are less likely to become ill and die from COVID-19, they are still susceptible to the virus and some die from the infection. Among children, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to range from around one per 10,000 to one per 30,000 children infected. Individuals who are vaccinated against COVID-19 aren’t more likely to die compared to unvaccinated individuals. The benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks.
Inaccurate: The mortality rate of COVID-19 among children is estimated to range from one per 10,000 to one per 30,000 infected children. This is higher than the mortality rate of one per 174,803 that Norman cited in his claim. Furthermore, clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines didn’t report deaths in children aged five to 17 who were vaccinated.
Unsupported: There is no data supporting the claim that vaccinated children have a higher mortality rate compared to unvaccinated children.
On 2 October 2021, writer Adrian Norman claimed on Instagram that for every 1,000 children vaccinated, one had died due to the vaccine during the clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines against COVID-19. Norman also claimed that this meant California is requiring a vaccine with a higher mortality rate than the disease itself. The post, which received more than 10,000 interactions on Instagram to date, was also shared by other users on Instagram (see examples here, here,and here).
In his post, Norman first claimed that, according to data by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one per 174,803 children aged five to 17 with COVID-19 died. However, data from the CDC show that, as of 8 October 2021, 444 children between the ages of five and 17 years have died of COVID-19. Within the same time period, 4,160,595 cases of COVID-19 were reported in children between the ages of five and 17. Therefore, CDC data actually shows that one per 9,370 (0.01%) of children in that age group died from COVID-19.
This is corroborated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which found that as of 30 September 2021, “in states reporting, 0.00%-0.03% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death”. As such, the COVID-19 mortality rate among children is higher than the 1 per 174,803 (0.00057%) cited by Norman.
Norman then claimed that trials of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines showed that one child per 1,000 who were vaccinated died. In his post, Norman didn’t provide a source for this claim. Neither Pfizer/BioNTech nor Moderna have reported their trial results in children in a scientific publication yet, therefore not all data regarding safety and efficacy is publicly available and can be reviewed.
However, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization for use in teenagers aged 12 to 15 years in the U.S. by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in the European Union by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Some information about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial in children aged 12 to 15 is available through the EMA’s assessment report. According to the report, 2,260 participants aged 12 to 15 were enrolled in the trial, of which 1,131 participants received the vaccine. According to the EMA, no deaths or adverse events leading to death were reported in the trial.
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (named Spikevax in the E.U.) has been approved for use in children aged 12-15 by the EMA. The EMA’s assessment report shows that among the 2,486 participants between 12 and 18 years who received at least one dose of the vaccine, no deaths or adverse events leading to death were reported (see page 73 of the report).
No deaths were reported in the available data for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trials in children aged five to 11. According to a press release by Pfizer, data from its study in children aged five to 11 years showed that “the COVID-19 vaccine was well tolerated, with side effects generally comparable to those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of age”. Therefore, none of the available clinical trial data supports Norman’s claim that one in 1,000 vaccinated children die.
As Norman didn’t provide data to back up his claim, we posited that a misrepresentation of data from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) could have served as a source for his claim. This is because a common form of vaccine misinformation involves the misinterpretation of reports in VAERS as evidence of causality. As explained in a previous review by Health Feedback, VAERS reports alone don’t demonstrate causal relationships between a vaccine and adverse events.
If we do take a look at VAERS data, 25 deaths were reported among children aged between 0 and 17 after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as of 8 October 2021 (see Figure 1), while three deaths were reported among children in the same age group who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (see Figure 2).
Figure 1. Deaths among children aged between less than six months and 17 years after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, recorded in VAERS as of 8 October 2021.
Figure 2. Deaths among children aged between less than six months and 17 years after receiving Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, recorded in VAERS as of 8 October 2021.
As 14,790,769 children under the age of 18 have received at least one dose of vaccine in the U.S. as of 7 October 2021, this would mean 28 deaths among 14,790,769 vaccinated children, which translates to roughly one death recorded for every 600,000 vaccinated. If the vaccines caused death at a rate of one per 1,000 vaccinated children, as Norman claimed, we would expect 14,790 deaths to be recorded by this time, not 28. Therefore, not even a misinterpretation of VAERS data explains the basis for Norman’s claim.
In summary, no data supports the claim by Norman that one per 1,000 children who received a COVID-19 vaccine die. The mortality rate of COVID-19 among children is significantly higher than the rate claimed by Norman. The vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks, and both the CDC and experts recommend vaccinating children, if they are eligible.