One of the unexpected consequences of the policy response to COVID has been the collapse of trust in public health experts.
The CDC has deservedly been at the forefront of this erosion of “expertise,” beginning with their early flip flop on masks. In spring 2020, the CDC recommended against mask wearing by the general public, in line with pre-COVID evidence. By summer 2020, the director of the organization was claiming that masks would provide better protection than vaccines.
They continued to mislead the public on the effectiveness of masks, collaborated with teacher’s unions to keep schools closed and claimed that vaccinated people did not “carry the virus.” Repeatedly, the CDC has shown that they are willing to mislead in order to achieve their policy goals.
But this latest misstep might be their worst yet.
Seemingly out of a desire to justify authorizing vaccinations for young children, the CDC presented misleading data on the risks of COVID.
At a recent meeting of the Advisory on Immunization Practices group, as chronicled in a post by writer Kelley K, the CDC presented a graphic claiming that COVID was a leading cause of death among kids 0-4.
Except this graphic is completely false.
It came from a preprint posted by researchers in the UK, who reviewed mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. That dataset includes deaths where COVID was the main contributor as well as those where it was present, but not the underlying cause.
This discrepancy creates a significant issue with accuracy, since the preprint claimed to “only consider Covid-19 as an underlying (and not contributing) cause of death”.
As Kelley points out, there is a noticeable difference between the NCHS statistics and the CDC’s own “WONDER” database, which delineates between contributing and underlying causes.
NCHS, which includes incidental COVID deaths, shows that 1,433 children died with COVID, but the WONDER database shows 1,088 deaths from COVID. That’s a 24% difference and would dramatically alter the graphic.
They used COVID data that included deaths with COVID and compared it to data that includes deaths from an illness.
It’s completely discrediting.
Even worse, the misleading graphic represents COVID deaths cumulatively and compares it to annualized data. Simply, they took two years of COVID related mortality and compared it to one year of data for all other causes.
Kelley re-ran the data using the correct comparisons, which significantly altered the outcome.
While the CDC rankings claimed that COVID was the 4th leading cause of death for children under the age of 1, the corrected annualized ranking was 9th, after using exclusively underlying cause data.
Similarly, the NCHS data used in the preprint and by the CDC claimed 124 deaths in that age group, but COVID was the underlying cause in only 79 deaths.
Rankings for childhood mortality are also overly simplistic, since even the “leading” causes of death pale in comparison to accidents, which caused ~25x more annualized deaths than COVID.
But the worst part about this is that the CDC likely knew that the data they were presenting was wrong and dangerously misleading. And they used it anyway.
They were so desperate to justify their desire to vaccinate young children that they were willing to use inaccurate information and comparisons to do so.
They knew that the media and influential “experts” around the internet would pick up on the graphic, creating unnecessary fear amongst parents and higher demand for the vaccines. And of course, they were right; CNN’s Leana Wen immediately shared the slides:
These CDC ACIP slides make the case for vaccinating children <5.#covid19 may be milder in kids than adults, but it's still a top reason for child fatality.
We give routine childhood vaccinations for other diseases that cause less deaths–because the point is to prevent them. pic.twitter.com/oGG0OuneWS
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) June 18, 2022
Instead of accurately informing the public and allowing parents to make a risk-benefit calculation, the CDC is essentially trying to coerce behavior through fear.
Even better, the lead researcher posted on Twitter that they were aware of the issues and would be making corrections.
We have received some feedback and criticism along several dimensions. We are planning to update the preprint to take into account some of this feedback, primarily by focusing on Covid as an underlying cause of death using CDC WONDER Provisional Mortality Statistics. 2/3
— Seth Flaxman (@flaxter) June 19, 2022
But of course, it’s too late. The data has now been spread far and wide; the CDC and their allies did their damage. The vaccines were authorized regardless and many parents will make the decision to vaccinate their children based on misrepresented information.
It’s yet another episode in the depressing saga of experts disgracing themselves to achieve their goals and undercutting the public’s trust in the process.