The Need for Parents to Be Vigilant: A Voice from China
I recently had a troubling video chat with a dear friend in China who discussed the shock and dismay of many Chinese citizens over what they are discovering in some of the government-approved school books their children have been using. They noticed a number of arguably sexualized drawings, such as a girl’s underwear completely exposed while jumping rope, suspicious bulges in the pants of boys, or a scene with what appears to be a short bald man/boy groping a girl from behind as another boy lifts another girl’s skirt. Many of the drawings, all from the same artist, make Chinese people look “creepy” with their tongue sticking out. On top of that, Chinese parents were noticing that a popular brand of children’s clothing had troubling images and English phrases on them involving violence and some grotesque scenes. One shirt says “Welcome to Hell” and in addition to images of a monster cutting arms off of people, a creepy man approaches what may be a caged child as the man says, “Let me touch you!” Another has a boy talking about wanting to get his gun and shoot a group of Indians.
The ire of thousands of Chinese parents has been stirred. Something odd is going on, they feel. The images my friend showed me were far more troubling than what the US press has reported. Yahoo’s report showed nothing controversial. NBC News showed a couple of innocuous images, one of which had been objected to because a child wore a shirt with part of it looking somewhat like an American flag. An understandable concern in China, but the story failed to convey the reasons for some very serious concerns among parents. The New York Times article by Austin Ramzy showed one of the same images as Yahoo! of kids staring at triangles, and also showed the boy wearing a shirt that slightly resembled an American flag. But nothing that might raise concerns about exposing children to sexual messaging or anything that a groomer might like.
Kudos, though, to CNN’s report for showing one of the images of somewhat greater concern: a boy holding a triangle who, at first glance, has no pants on. But upon closer examination, it looks like it’s just flesh-colored pants with a poorly drawn zipper region. The article did not mention that this feature of unusual shapes in the male crotch area happens in a variety of other images in ways that don’t seem like an accident. That doesn’t mean the artist is a groomer, but it adds to the concerns of parents.
My friend indicated that the outrage of many parents in China comes from the sense that their trust has been betrayed. They trusted their schools to be among the safest places for their kids, they trusted that books there had been carefully screened, they trusted the government’s censorship program to keep harmful images out of books and off clothing (overlooking, of course, the unabated violence on their video games many kids play), and now there’s a concern that kids might be deliberately exposed to corrupt influences from people trying to make kids think that it’s normal to have boys grope girls or lift skirts. This may be completely overblown, but Chinese parents are beginning to sense what many parents in the US have learned: parents cannot blindly trust the institutions and people who they thought would be watching out for their kids. They cannot assume that the influences from schools or other outside sources will be safe and wholesome. They are remembering that it’s the duty of parents to watch out for their kids, and this requires constant vigilance.
We talked about some of the controversies here in the US, including the legitimate concern of parents about those who somehow take pleasure from exposing children to questionable material and getting young kids to talk about and think about sex as early as possible. There are “groomers” out there. It’s an increasing problem, but not a new one. My little community here in Wisconsin has been shaken several times over the years by trusted teachers who were arrested for multiple counts of molesting young boys or girls. In terms of promoting controversial views on sexuality, there seem to be few limits to what some teachers will attempt. Over 20 years ago the children of a nearby school in our community were exposed to an invited speaker in a class who gave a troubling explicit description of a dangerous, even brutal sexual act that adults in a school should not be discussing with kids. And of course, it was not presented as the dangerous, unhealthy act that it is. Things seem to have gotten worse since then. Who’s watching out for your children? It’s got to be the parents, first and foremost. And this maxim doesn’t just apply to education, but also to the physical health of your children.
The Increasing Need for Parental Vigilance in the COVID Era
A momentous change has just occurred in the United States: COVID vaccination has now been approved for children as young as six months old. Yes, that’s six months, not six years. With this decision, the United States joins a number of other nations in vaccinating infants. A very specific number. Can you guess what that number is?
If you’ve been reading the news, you may remember hearing that around a dozen countries are already doing what we are starting to do in vaccinating young children. NPR, for example, reports that, “A dozen countries, including China, already vaccinate kids under 5.” But, as if often the case these days, what’s reported might be misleading. Cuba and Venezuela, vaccinate down to age 2, and a small handful of other nations like China vaccinate as young as age 3. But nobody else is vaccinating babies as young as 6 months. And none of those vaccinating young children are using the mRNA technology that the US is using, so their limited experience doesn’t do much to support our confidence in the safety of vaccinating kids. (See Jordan Schachtel, “America is now the only country in the world that authorizes COVID shots for infants,” Dossier, June 17, 2017.)
So that specific number of other nations on the same path as the US is actually zero. We are the only nation on the planet vaccinating infants. Is this a good idea? We stand alone, with a paucity of data. Should we be comfortable with that? Do we really know what we are doing to our children? Do babies and young children really need to be vaccinated?
This is your decision as a parent. Many parents are naturally worried that COVID might prove fatal for their children. Those who question the efficacy of vaccines and especially the need for children to be vaccinated have been derided with snide remarks such as “We prefer our children alive, thank you.” Yes, I think we all want our children to live (here I will deftly avoid the controversial issue of abortion and especially the grisly issue of late-term abortion and the attitudes of its increasingly radical advocates). But the question is, do the vaccines make a genuine difference in the survival and health of a child? In making the decision to vaccinate your child or not, you may wish to consider some points that are rarely discussed by the P.R. teams of pharmaceutical companies and the media they sponsor:
- The IFR (infection-fatality ratio) for children under 7 years of age is 0.0023%, which can be expressed as 2.3 deaths expected for 100,000 cases of COVID. That’s the overall total for that group, which includes the average number of children already suffering with severe health issues (comorbidities). See the report from the COVID-19 Forecasting Team, “Variation in the COVID-19 infection–fatality ratio by age, time, and geography during the pre-vaccine era: a systematic analysis,” The Lancet, vol. 399, no. 10334 (April 16, 2022): 1469-1488, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02867-1.
- For healthy children, the risk of fatality from COVID is nearly zero. For example, the preprint of a large German study, “Risk of Hospitalization, severe disease, and mortality due to COVID-19 and PIMS-TS in children with SARS-CoV-2 infection in Germany,” published Nov. 30, 2021 at MedRxiv.org, https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.11.30.21267048, found that for children aged 5 to 11 with COVID, the ICU admission rate was 0.2 per 10,000 but the case fatality rate could not be calculated due to the absence of fatal cases — i.e., there were zero deaths. They also recognized that statistics such as the ICU admission rate were likely inflated since the vast majority of COVID infections in children were likely undetected. See related data from the US in a Johns Hopkins study and data from the UK in a study published in Nature. Bottom line: children are extremely unlikely to die from COVID. For healthy children, it is unclear if there is any evidence of anybody dying due to COVID. The risk of death by a bee sting, drowning, poisoning, a lightning strike, a car crash, etc., is much higher. (Kudos to Dr. Toby Rogers for pointing me to these studies.)
If there is essentially no risk to children, what does it take to justify the risk or costs of receiving vaccination? Does a vanishingly small benefit outweigh the cost and the potential harm? At this point, a carefully trained reader may reflexively object, preferably with dramatic outrage: “Harm? There is absolutely no harm. Are you an anti-vaxxer?” Here we face one of the great tragedies of misinformation in the COVID era. We have heard over and over that the vaccines are safe and effective. Now we are learning that they aren’t that effective — as far as we can tell my vaccinated son gave COVID to my vaccinated wife, who then gave it to vaccinated me. Counter to what we had been told, we’ve learned that the vaccines do very little to stop transmission of the disease, but we hope they are still helpful in reducing severe effects for infected adults. So “safe and effective” has become “safe and sometimes somewhat effective.” But is that 100% safe? Because any risk or cost would make vaccination questionable if there is only an extremely small benefit.
Readers may wish to consider the nations of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, nations not usually known for anti-vax hysteria. These nations became concerned enough about reports of heart inflammation (myocarditis) following vaccination with the Moderna vaccine that they have recommended it not be given to people under 18, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Other vaccines appear to have lower risk of myocarditis, but it is not zero. The CDC is aware of reports about myocarditis but still says that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks and thus in the CDC’s statement on myocarditis after vaccination, they say the “CDC continues to recommend that everyone ages 6 months and older get vaccinated for COVID-19.”
Surely there must be great data to support these claims, right? For this, I recommend a video by a mainstream, pro-vax doctor, Vinay Prasad. See his June 19, 2022 report, “Kids Vaccine for Under 5 Years Old.” In fact, the FDA relied on data suggesting that COVID was a leading cause of death in children, such as the 4th leading cause of death in some age groups — but this included dying with COVID versus dying from COVID. As COVID has swept through the majority of children in the past year, there’s a much higher risk that a dying child may have had COVID, but that doesn’t mean that a vaccine would have saved that child’s life. COVID may have hastened death in some cases for those with serious comorbidities, but again, a vaccine may not have made any difference. To show a benefit from the vaccines, it’s not enough to show that some children died with the virus present in their body.
In his video discussion, Dr. Prasad praises the data analysis work of a mother in Georgia, known simply as Kelly, who has exposed some pretty big gaps in the FDA’s work with her article, “Fact Check: Covid as a Leading Cause of Death in Children” at Covid-Georgia.com. She is @KellyKGa on Twitter, where you can see her post about the article. She shows how somebody has fudged the data to make COVID seem much more dangerous than it is. The fudging is pretty horrific. For example, she reveals that the FDA used a “cumulative” number for COVID that is actually based on 26 months of COVID deaths and compared that number to annual (single-year) deaths of other causes to make COVID rank higher. Double dipping on the COVID grief! Wow. And there’s more. She also shows that the scary FDA chart combines multiple categories of death into one big group of “accidents” for things that are normally categorized separately (drownings, car crashes, poisonings or drug overdoses, etc.). By making lots of causes be grouped into one big category, COVID moves up in the list of the top causes of death. I’ve seen other people pointing to this questionable data from the FDA and feeling that it shows just how terrifying things are for kids and how much we need to vaccinate them. Forgive me for think that’s great P.R. word for Big Pharma, but a dereliction of the FDA’s duty to protect out kids and do real science. In any case, I’m proud of this proactive and gutsy mom who dared to ask questions and show the painful gaps in the data relied on by the FDA — but isn’t that what we are paying the 21 FDA experts who have us the unanimous ruling to start vaccinating babies to “save the children”?
There are other gaps in the logic of the FDA in approving the vaccines for young children. (See Vinay Prasad’s report above, and for a more impassioned discussion, see “The Pfizer clinical trial in kids 6 months to 4 years old is an embarrassment” by Dr. Toby Rogers.) For example, the study did not show the targeted benefit of reducing hospitalization or improving health. The study was too small and there were no kids hospitalized in the control group to compare against, so on the face of it, the study failed to show a benefit. That’s quite the challenge for a disease that doesn’t cause severe problems for the vast majority of children. Instead, after failing to meet the targets for efficacy, the makers of the vaccines argued that they could look at antibody levels in the blood as a proxy for the targeted benefit. If the vaccine increased antibodies, bingo! Must be effective in reducing illness and saving life, right? But it is well known that antibodies alone don’e ensure efficacy. Antibodies that target a long-gone strain of COVID might not improve outcomes for new strains. As Eric Rubin, Harvard Professor and editor of the New England Journal of Medicine stated in a recent meeting (video available here), “We know what kind of antibody response can be generated, we just don’t know if it works.” Knowing that it works and that it is safe was supposed to be the point of the trials, one would think. But the trials were completely inadequate to support that conclusion.
A further problem is that the study specifically excluded children that had already had COVID based on the presence of antibodies in their blood. But this ensures that the study is no longer applicable to maybe 80 or 90% of American children, who have already have had COVID. Understanding how the vaccine improves or potentially decreases immune response in the vast majority of children is absolutely essential and yet was deliberate excised from the study (concerns about the possibility of unintended impact on the immune system may be worthy of investigation). Some allege that was done deliberately to increase the chances of looking good (kids who already have natural immunity are much less likely to face harm from COVID, and thus are probably less likely to benefit from a vaccine). Or perhaps it was just abysmal stupidity, if you wish to be charitable about this. Either way, it’s a great disservice to our children. Given the many problems behind the FDA’s decision to ignore vigorous dissent, extensive data, to rush the U.S. into vaccinating children with an experimental drug that isn’t really needed for the vast majority of children, and to make this approval without careful consideration of not just efficacy but also long-term safety, it may be fair to ask a very unpleasant question: Who’s really watching out for the children? It’s not Big Pharma, not the media, not the FDA, the CDC, or the NIH. Parents, it’s up to you. Yo don’t need to delve into reports like a courageous mom in Georgia did, but I suggest you should go the extra mile to stay informed in an era of unreliable guardians claiming to watch out for our kids.
While I am vaccinated and have encouraged other adults to be vaccinated, I have recently become more hesitant in light of increasing data pointing to marginal benefits for most people. The original hype of nearly 100% efficacy and the widely spread expectation that the vaccines would stop the spread of COVID have not panned out. Increasingly, we are finding hints of potential risks that need to be weighted against the limited efficacy — an issue that certainly applies to children may also apply to many adults. The decision to be vaccinated or boosted obviously must remain a personal choice for each individual, made in light of careful reflection of data, consultation with medical experts, and other rational means of obtaining valid information. After studying things out carefully, prayer may also be wise for this or any other important medical decision. But please recognize that it’s your personal decision. Don’t let others pressure you, and let’s not pressure or blame others who make a different choice than you or I have made.
When I say it’s your decision, I also mean that your vaccination status is not the Church’s decision or responsibility. Yes, right after the vaccines became available in the midst of a national crisis, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a very logical statement on the importance of immunization (a term that includes a recognition of natural immunity, to the credit of the Church) in an August 12, 2021 First Presidency Statement:
We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.
To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.
Based on the best information from trusted sources at the time, it appeared that the vaccines were highly effective and extremely safe, and I hope that’s still largely true. However, if you or anyone else later has vaccine regret because of adverse effects or low efficacy, please remember that this statement was not presented as a revelation or some kind of future guarantee of total vaccine effectiveness and safety for all. It was not meant as individual medical advice to trump the advice of a doctor that might warn some patients against vaccination such as a pregnant woman or those with a history of allergic reactions to vaccines. And please don’t extrapolate that statement as some kind of justification for not doing your own due diligence with your children. Vaccination for children was not available when that statement was given. The statement reflected medical advice from leading experts in 2021. Some of the statements of those experts have not held up well over time. I appreciated the good-citizen approach of the Church in encouraging us to do our best to prevent COVID and its spread, and can understand the good-faith effort to encourage vaccination. It was surely a wise thing to do in light of what was known then. The state of knowledge has changed since then, and the new class of very young customers that vaccines are being marketed to involves a whole new set of questions and considerations. Parents, it’s your duty to study these issues and make a wise, informed decision. What may be safe for many adults so far is not necessarily proven safe for infants, so it’s good to ask tough questions as you seek knowledge in this matter.
In addition to asking what we know, you wold be wise to ask about what we don’t know. Here are some further questions you may wish to ask:
- If my child is vaccinated, what do we know about the long-term impact of the vaccines on my child’s reproductive system? Hint: The very short-term study of a surprisingly small group of children that the FDA relied on has not had time to even begin addressing this issue. Is it anti-vax hysteria to ask this kind of question? No, this is called due diligence. Don’t let fools shame you into not asking valid questions. (Meanwhile, you may have seen the official P.R. agencies’ “fact checking” on claims that recent research shows the vaccines have an adverse impact on male fertility, but the data in the scientific paper in question may be even more troubling than originally noted. See the blog of the former New York Times science writer, Alex Berenson, for information on the male fertility issue.)
- Is there a possibility that the vaccine could have long-term health effects on my child many years from now such as cancer or harms to the immune system? Ask that question of those who are trustworthy and informed, and ask what data they have if they give you assurances that all will be well.
- Is there a chance of any conflict of interest behind the FDA approval of the vaccines for children, or for the support of the NIH and the CDC in promoting the vaccines as the primary means of coping with COVID?
- For children who have already had COVID, what kind of safety and efficacy data do we have for the vaccines?
These are challenging times. Parents need to pay attention to what’s brewing in their schools and on their kid’s devices and in their social circles, but they also need to worry what’s about to be brewing in their children’s bodies if they accept the CDC’s advice to vaccinate infants and other children. It might be the right thing, but given the very small sample size and the questionable methodology behind the FDA approval, it’s reasonable to not blindly trust government in a matter where billions of dollars of profit have the potential to influence judgment. Carefully consider the risk to your child if not vaccinated, the proven benefit (if any), the potential risks, and the methodology of those telling you to get them vaccinated. If you choose to have them vaccinated, that’s fine — it’s your choice as parent. I just hope it will be made carefully and for the right reasons.