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Why are US health bureaucrats pressing mRNA jabs on kids when other countries aren't?
This question is not rhetorical. The incentives here are bizarre, especially since the campaign is bound to fail.
They didn’t have to be this stupid.
The Centers for Disease Control’s push for new mRNA Covid jabs for everyone is an awful medical decision - particularly for children. Healthy kids and teens are at tiny risk from Omicron but face real dangers from mRNA side effects.
It is equally disastrous politically. Since Wednesday, my tweet using the CDC’s own data to highlight the putrid risk-benefit ratio of vaccinating kids has had 5 million views, far more than any cable news show, and over 40,000 likes. (And I’m far from alone in decrying it.)
(Yes, you read that right.)
What’s particularly odd is that the CDC didn’t have to take this beating.
Most countries are not pushing Covid jabs for healthy kids or working-age adults this fall. The cutoff is generally 65, though Australia recommends the shots only for people over 75 (people 65-74 are told to “consider” them.)
American health bureaucrats could have followed those rules. They could even have set the line lower - 50, say - and still congratulated themselves for being aggressive.
Instead, they chose to include children - a policy that is not merely absurd but guaranteed to spur backlash among all but the tiniest minority of mRNA fanatics.
What’s really happening here?
(For the answer, SUBSCRIBE! You won’t just get to read the article, you’ll feel good all over*
*Feeling good all over not guaranteed.)
The simplest (and saddest) possibility: Dr. Mandy Cohen, the new CDC director, and her advisors are just too dumb to understand the math showing how terrible these recommendations are.
This theory has a certain surface plausibility, but I’m not sure. American public health bureaucrats are hardly geniuses, but are they really so much stupider than health bureaucrats everywhere else?
Besides, the CDC’s own presentation Tuesday shows it knows the problems with recommending the shots to teens. Besides ignoring massive numbers of acute side effects like fever that the shots cause, it had to estimate zero cases of mRNA-caused myocarditis in teens out of 1 million shots to make the cost-benefit math work. (In reality, large studies show the shots cause clinically significant myocarditis in teenage boys as often as 1 in 2,500 or 3,000 times - up to 400 cases per 1 million shots in boys.)
(I didn’t say I knew math! I said I was a doctor, a mother, and the head of the CDC!)
If not stupidity, what?
On Wednesday, my fellow Substacker Eugyppius offered another intriguing theory - the CDC has now recognized that huge numbers of Americans have tuned it out and now plays only to its hyper-liberal base:
the radicalism of the CDC arises from the success of the pandemicist opposition in the United States. America was one of the few Western countries that saw genuine resistance to the lockdowners and the vaccinators, extending even to elements of the political establishment. This opposition did serious damage to the entire enterprise of public health, and now millions of Americans will never care what the CDC says about anything ever again.
In Europe, the mainstream parties formed a united front in support of the hygiene dictatorship, permitting our public health institutions to retain some claim to social consensus, however tenuous… they still have something to lose, which is an incentive towards moderation.
But this theory may give the CDC too much credit for being canny.
It is more likely the incentives run the other way, that the CDC is not so much preaching to the Covidian choir as trying to avoid being screamed at by it.
For proof, look to Florida, where governor Ron DeSantis and state surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladopo stood up to the agency and discouraged healthy people under 65 from being boosted this fall. Their reward was an article in the New York Times thundering:
DeSantis Spreads Vaccine Skepticism With Guidance That Contradicts C.D.C.
Nowhere did the article note that the Florida recommendations are not the outliers globally, the CDC’s are.
At the same time, health bureaucrats generally believe Americans are so stupid they cannot be trusted to make their own choices and must be told exactly what to do (except for recreational drugs, where no one should ever be told what to do).
This attitude has been clear throughout Covid, and was on full display again this week. As NPR wrote:
“The universal recommendation, as opposed to one that applies to selected groups, could ease the rollout of the vaccine and improve access and equity.
“Let's keep America strong, healthy," said Dr. Camille Kotton, a [CDC advisory] panel member who voted in favor of the recommendation and who is an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School... “Let’s make things clear.”
Let’s make things clear:
Vaccine good everyone, no vaccine bad, everyone take vaccine, understann’ me?
I said, VACCINE GOOD EVERYONE, EVERYONE TAKE VACCINE! IT LIKE CANDY FOR YOU! AMERICA STRONG, HEALTHY GOOD AMERICA! BE GOOD AMERICA TAKE GOOD SHOTTY SHOT. YUM!
Meanwhile, back in reality, the CDC’s recommendations are likely to be near-universally rejected, especially for kids. Under 3.4 million American kids and teens aged 5-17 received the bivalent booster, according to the agency’s own data - barely 6 percent.
Uptake will likely be even lower this year, because practically all parents have seen firsthand how mild Omicron is for kids.
Paradoxically, the likelihood of massive rejection may actually have encouraged the smarter and more skeptical people inside the agencies to keep their mouths shut. If the recommendations don’t matter, the CDC can say whatever it likes. Let Dr. Mandy talk to “patients” on her pretend phone! It’s so cute and it keeps her busy!
Thus it appears that this latest embarrassment comes from the CDC’s response to its own internal incentives, its political masters, and its desire to avoid a beating in the media, by which I mean elite liberal outlets like NPR, CNN, and the Times - the only outlets it cares about. Alas, neither reality nor the prospect of a broad backlash could overcome those forces.
What else is new?