Dr. Elizabeth Lang’s child-vaccine advocacy requires a critical eye.

The state and federal governments are preparing the country, with the help of the news media, to be pressured to vaccinate young children against COVID-19, despite the documented reality that children are not at great danger from this disease (see here and here, for starters).  As part of the performance, the doctor-advocates are making the rounds for interviews such as Lynn Arditi’s The Public’s Radio talk with Dr. Elizabeth Lang.

Lang was one of the five signers of that irresponsible and misleading letter from the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics advocating for the continued masking of children in schools, so it isn’t surprising to see responses like this, which should raise all sorts of red flags along the boundary of medical advice and political advocacy:

So we tend to think of children as not getting very sick from COVID. How many children in Rhode Island have been hospitalized with COVID-19?

Dr. Lang: Now the children are out and about and running their normal lives, even with masks on mitigating measures, and now that the grandparents are all vaccinated, or the majority of them are, the illness is still looking for people to infect. And so the infection age of people who are sick with COVID is much younger . Children are getting sick. Just a couple of weeks ago 25% of the nation’s infections for COVID were in children.

Most obviously, like a politician, Lang just doesn’t answer the question, although it would be easy enough to do so.  Since we’re talking about children who will be newly eligible for the vaccine (aged 5 to 12), we can look at the state’s numbers for the 5 to 14 age group.  The answer is that 88 children have been hospitalized for any reason at any point while testing positive for COVID since the pandemic began.  That rounds to 0% of all children in this age range.  That’s not a typo; it’s zero percent.

When she does give a number, it’s national, without context, and for a different metric.  Is that 25% of cases across the country since the start of the pandemic?  Recent?  On a given day?  What age groups is she counting as “children”?  And how many “infections” were just the result of an overly sensitive testing mechanism generating false positives?

One gets the impression that Lang knows the answer to Arditi’s question won’t be sufficiently frightening, so she dodges.  Readers with some training in writing, marketing, or politics may spot another tell:  In response to a factual question, Dr. Lang jumps right to generating images rather than providing numbers:  “children are out and about and running their normal lives.”  Oh, no!  They’re not being cautious!  This allows Lang to interject the most objectionable part of the whole answer: “the illness is still looking for people to infect.”

That image has been central to the fear mongering and it is false.  As I noted back when the discussion concerned summer camps: “COVID isn’t a demon floating in the air seeking somebody to infect; except for brief jumps, it’s trapped in the people who have it.”  Personifying the disease exaggerates the risk.  If lighting is simply a natural process that occurs in certain circumstances at calculable odds, then the risk can be assessed and absorbed.  If there’s a lightning god looking for human beings to strike, it might aim for you.  The odds of bumping into COVID in a highly immune population seem much higher if we envision the virus scheming, somehow able to know who is still vulnerable.

As the pressure mounts to subject our children to this new vaccine, we’ll have to assess the credibility of advocates very carefully, and the honorific of “doctor” before somebody’s name can no longer be used blindly as a shortcut.


Featured image by Francisco Goya on WikiArt.

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