With half of all US adults now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, efforts are underway to expand the shots to younger Americans. But misinformation narratives about vaccines and young people remain pervasive.
On May 25, Moderna said in a press release that its Covid-19 vaccine was highly effective in trial participants ages 12-17, with no cases reported in those who received a full two doses. The drugmaker added that it would share the results with the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulators worldwide in early June in an effort to get approval for the shot’s use in that age group. The move follows the FDA’s emergency use authorization this month of Pfizer’s vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on May 17 that it had begun investigating a small number of mostly mild cases of myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, in young people who received mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines. The CDC said the rate was consistent with the normal occurrence of the condition, yet unverified narratives alleging severe risk to young people have circulated since. For example, in a conspiracy theory-themed Telegram channel with 28,000 subscribers, a post on May 25 alleged that more than 60 children had died after being vaccinated. The user cited the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which contains voluntary and unvetted reports of vaccine injury and which is frequently the subject of misinformation.
In some cases, narratives drew on the evolving understanding of the risks of Covid-19 in children. For example, Scott Jensen, a former Minnesota state senator who recently announced a run for governor there, touted two recent papers in the journal Hospital Pediatrics suggesting that at least 40 per cent of hospitalizations of children in California for Covid-19 were overcounted. In a tweet shared at least 2,000 times, Jensen drew the unevidenced conclusion the data had been manipulated to promote the mandatory vaccination of children (vaccines are not mandatory in any age group).
Meanwhile, opposition to vaccinating young people has moved into at least one courtroom. Last week, the group America’s Frontline Doctors, which was founded by a participant in the January 6 Capitol insurrection and which frequently shares anti-vaccine disinformation, filed a restraining order in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama calling for the reversal of the emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. — First Draft staff