STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Will the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine kill 117 children ages 5 to 11 to save one child from dying of the virus? No, that's not true: There is no evidence to support that claim, which was made using data reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), an unverified alert system. The accuracy and significance of VAERS reports is unclear until they are verified. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have endorsed the Pfizer vaccine for children in the 5-11 age group.
The claim appeared in a November 4, 2021, online newsletter from Steve Kirsch on the Substack platform under the title "We will kill 117 kids to save one child from dying from COVID in the 5 to 11 age range." It opens:
We will kill 117 kids to save one child from dying from COVID in the 5 to 11 age range
That's according to a risk-benefit analysis done by risk-benefit expert Dr. Toby Rogers. His analysis has been viewed by over 22,000 readers. No mistakes were found. Nothing but praise.
This is what Steve Kirsch's newsletter looked like on November 19, 2021:
(Source: Steve Kirsch's newsletter screenshot taken on Fri Nov 19 19:14:06 2021 UTC)
The claim is based on an October 31, 2021, newsletter written by anti-vaccine activist Toby Rogers, who has a Ph.D. in political economy, and who also says he has one year each of undergraduate and graduate statistics. He takes issue with the FDA briefing document used by Pfizer to gain emergency use authorization for children ages 5 to 11. In his October 25, 2021, newsletter, Rogers says:
The FDA's risk-benefit analysis in connection with Pfizer's Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) application to inject children ages 5 to 11 with their COVID-19 vaccine is one of the shoddiest documents I've ever seen.
Pfizer challenged the newsletter's claim. In a November 19, 2021, email to Lead Stories, company representative Kit Longley said:
These claims are false. The EUA application and FDA briefing document ... show the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any potential risks - and the FDA and CDC endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in children 5 through 11 years of age.
In a November 22, 2021, email to Lead Stories, the CDC's Martha Sharan defended the vaccine:
There are about 28 million children age 5 through 11 in the United States, and there have been at least 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 within this age group during the pandemic (data from March 7, 2020 - September 13, 2021). By vaccinating children age 5 and older, we can help protect them from getting COVID-19 and protect them from severe disease, hospitalizations, or developing long-term COVID-19 complications. According to a study of 14 states published in MMWR looking at hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 in children and adolescents, weekly COVID-19-associated hospitalization rates among children and adolescents rose nearly five-fold during late June to mid-August 2021, coinciding with rapid spread of the highly- contagious Delta variant.
COVID-19 vaccines have undergone - and will continue to undergo - the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Children may have side effects after getting vaccinated, which are normal signs that their body is building protection, but they should go away in a few days. Serious health events after COVID-19 vaccination are rare, but may occur. However, the risk of serious complications related to COVID-19 infection, including hospitalization, multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), or death, are greater than the risks of myocarditis or pericarditis, hospitalization, or death from vaccination.
In addition, getting children age 5 and older vaccinated can also reduce disruptions to in-person learning and activities by helping curb community spread and help protect others who are at high risk of having severe complications from COVID-19. And, one way to protect the health of children not currently eligible for vaccination or those who are at risk for severe complications from getting infected, is to ensure that everyone who is eligible in a household is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for emergency use in children 5 to 11 on October 29, 2021. The FDA's news release said:
Key points for parents and caregivers:
- Effectiveness: Immune responses of children 5 through 11 years of age were comparable to those of individuals 16 through 25 years of age. In addition, the vaccine was found to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 5 through 11.
- Safety: The vaccine's safety was studied in approximately 3,100 children age 5 through 11 who received the vaccine and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study.
In coming up with his figures that the vaccine would kill 117 children for every one who was saved from dying of the virus, Rogers used data reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is co-sponsored by the CDC and the FDA.
Lead Stories has debunked several claims that misuse VAERS.
Anyone with internet access can add a report to the VAERS list of reports. The public access link to it expressly warns against unwarranted conclusions based on VAERS material because the list only provides a tally of unverified notes about any health event people experience after they are vaccinated.
The list itself cannot be used to prove or quantify, since all it shows is a chronological correlation, not the causal link that would be more difficult to establish. It's the equivalent of a police precinct's running "blotter" reports that may serve as a starting point for police work, not an endpoint.
VAERS website warnings include:
When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.
Since vaccinations for children 5 to 11 only began in early November 2021, little data is available. As of November 19, 2021, the CDC COVID Data Tracker reported 2,523,207 children in that age group had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Since the January 2020 start of the pandemic, 197 children 5 to 11 have died of the virus.
The newsletter by Rogers provided no direct evidence to support his claims, only extrapolations from other age groups. He also used information from the National Vaccine Information Center. The nonprofit organization bills itself as "an independent clearinghouse for information on diseases and vaccine science, policy, law and the ethical principle of informed consent." Founded under the name Dissatisfied Parents Together (DPT) in 1982, it has been criticized as a leading source of misinformation about vaccines. The National Vaccine Information Center shares VAERS data, but without the standard warnings of its limitations.
2021-11-22T22:54:24Z 2021-11-22T22:54:24ZThis story has been updated with comment and information from the CDC.