Epidemiologist on Children: "Let Them Live Their Lives"

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Excerpts from an Interview with Harvard Epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff

From the the video interview, "The Power of Natural Immunity,"

Mr. Jekielek: There’s also this whole talking about collateral damage. But we just keep hearing people say, just trust the science. Trust the science. But very often, what is being attached to the trust of science has nothing to do with science. The broader impact on society of this is something I’ve been thinking about. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Dr. Kulldorff: Yeah, I think the trust both in public health as well as science more broadly has received a lot of damage during this pandemic, and for good reasons. I don’t trust the whole scientific process as I used to do. I think it’s a very natural skepticism to have. I think it would be strange that people didn’t distrust public health and science at this point.

Mr. Jekielek: Can this trust be regained?

Dr. Kulldorff: We have to try. We have to work at it, but I don’t know. I think the pandemic will end, we know that and we’ll go into an endemic stage. But whether we can restore all the damage to science, I don’t know. We have to try. I’m involved in one initiative called the Brownstone Institute to try to work on that in the realm of public health.

I was always optimistic that we will eventually sort out the pandemic and there won’t be more lockdowns. I don’t think there’s going to be vaccine mandates and passport in the long run. I’m optimistic on those things, but restoring the trust in public health, I’m less optimistic about it, but we still have to try because it’s very important.

Mr. Jekielek: To this small group of people and Dr. Anthony Fauci that are setting policy, what would be your advice at this point, given everything that we know?

Dr. Kulldorff: Two things. One thing that is done wrong now, if there’s a huge emphasis on vaccinating children or vaccinating people who have natural immunity, that’s not going to benefit public health. But there are still older people in this country who have not been vaccinated and have not had COVID. Those are the people that we need to reach.

All these vaccine mandates are for children, students and working age adults. There are no mandates for retirees. I don’t think there should be, but there should be an enormous effort to reach those retirees who have not yet been vaccinated or haven’t had a COVID. And there are still many of them who are not vaccinated. That’s where the public health effort should be.

By mandating vaccines for people who don’t need it, a lot of people are going to say, “They don’t need it. So, they’re telling me to get it. Do I need it?” By lying about natural immunity, for example, or misrepresenting them or questioning natural immunity, they’re actually making it harder to reach those older people who still really need this vaccine. That’s one part that is very, very important.

The other one is for children, let them live their lives. They’re not at risk here. Don’t test them in schools. Let them just play with their friends. Don’t put masks on them in school. Let them go back to normal life right now. It’s brutal what we have done to the children in this country during this pandemic.

They are the least at risk from this disease and they have carried a huge burden. With masks now, a lot of adults are not wearing masks anymore, but they’re still forcing children to wear masks in schools, even though there’s no evidence that it works. It is obviously harmful aspects to wearing a mask. Those are the two things that would be the most important things to do.

. . .

Mr. Jekielek: We’ve been talking about vaccination of children a little bit already, and you’ve been mentioning how the risk is minuscule. It appears that the White House is setting up to do basically large scale vaccination of children. I think it’s five to 12. That was the recent memo from the White House. What are your thoughts about that?

Dr. Kulldorff: I don’t think children should be vaccinated for COVID. I’m a huge fan of vaccinating children for measles, for mumps, for polio, from rotavirus, and many other diseases because that’s very critical. But COVID is not a huge threat to children. They can be infected just as they can get the common cold, but they’re not a big threat.

They don’t die from this except in various circumstances. If you want to talk about protecting children or keeping children safe, I think we can talk about traffic accidents, for example, where there are some risks and there are other things that we should make sure to keep children safe. But COVID is not a big risk factor for children.

One example is from Sweden, during the first wave, in the spring of 2020, which affected Sweden quite strongly. Sweden decided to keep daycare and schools open for all kids ages one to 15. There are 1.8 million such children who lived through the first wave without vaccines, of course, without masks, without any social distancing in schools. If a child was sick, they were told to stay home. But that was basically it. Do you know how many of those 1.8 million children died from COVID?

Mr. Jekielek: I think I remember the number because it’s zero, right?

Dr. Kulldorff: Yes, zero.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay, yeah.

Dr. Kulldorff: And only a few hospitalizations. This is not a risky disease for children, and children have had much higher risk from not going to school, from not being outside exercising, playing baseball or soccer, or ice hockey or whatever. They’re at a higher risk for not having a good social relationship with other children.

If you want to worry about the risk of children, we shouldn’t worry about COVID. We should worry about all of those things, making sure they’re in school, that they get to participate in sport activities, in cultural activities like music, concerts, theater, and all of those things. That’s where we should worry about the children.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s also, of course, been this discussion around masking and there have been studies, so I think even since we talked that have come out about the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of masking.

Dr. Kulldorff: Yeah. First of all, for children, there has been no good studies. We have no evidence that masks work in children. But there have been two randomized studies—that’s the gold standard in science, to have the randomized trials. There’s been two studies on masks in adults, one from Denmark and one that was done in Bangladesh.

The Danish studies show that the mask could either be slightly protective or slightly making things worse. It was not statistically significant. But that only evaluated masks protecting the person wearing the mask. The Danish study didn’t evaluate whether if me wearing a mask would protect other people.

The study from Bangladesh did both because they randomized not individuals, but they randomized communities or villages. Some villages was randomized to wearing masks and others, to not being encouraged to wear a mask if they could. If they wanted to, of course, anybody could. Nobody was prevented from doing it.

There, we found that the masks reduce COVID somewhere between zero and 18 percent. It means that there was either no effect from mask or very small effect from masks. This idea that has been going around that masks will save us or protect us, they might do a tiny bit from these randomized studies, but they’re surely not a game changer.

Even if they do prevent a little bit, that might just reduce or prolong the time until somebody gets infected. All this emphasis on masks I think has been very unfortunate because it means that the other things that we don’t emphasize, things that actually would help.

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