Following a vote to recommend approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, Fox host Tucker Carlson told viewers that Pfizer “has not conducted meaningful clinical trials on young people” and asserted that vaccinating children would put them at a higher risk for complications like myocarditis, citing an apparent member of a QAnon group on Telegram for evidence.
According to the evidence presented during the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) review of Pfizer’s request, children ages 5 to 11 are vulnerable to contracting, being hospitalized from, and dying from COVID-19. In fact, even though Carlson claimed more children die from the flu than from COVID-19, the efforts put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 significantly reduced child influenza hospitalizations, to a point where there were fewer influenza hospitalizations for children than COVID-19 hospitalizations in 2020-2021.
Carlson’s claim that there have been no significant clinical trials conducted to assess the safety of the vaccine for children is also false. Pfizer and BioNTech’s clinical trial followed more than 4,500 children under 12 years of age, about 3,000 of which received the vaccine. A subset of those tested were part of a “safety expansion” group requested by the FDA in order to better gauge the possibility of adverse effects.
Of the children in the trial, 2,268 were monitored for at least two and up to three months after taking the second dose of the vaccine; an additional 2,379 children were monitored as part of the “safety expansion” group for a few weeks after the second dose. The most common adverse events after taking the vaccine were fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain. Of the severe adverse events reported by those in the study participants, none were directly linked to the vaccine: Three children broke bones, one developed infective arthritis, and one swallowed a penny.
There were no reported cases of myocarditis in the clinical trial, though as epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina notes, that was to be expected as “were not nearly large enough to capture such a rare event.” She points out the relevant context from the FDA for such concerns:
Myocarditis is a true safety signal, but rare. There have been 877 cases of vaccine-induced myocarditis among 12-29 year olds (out of more than 100,000,000 vaccinated). Of these, 829 were hospitalized and 77% recovered. At the time of analysis, 5 people were in the ICU. No myocarditis cases reported and investigated by the CDC have resulted in death.
Not all myocarditis should be treated the same. Classic myocarditis (opposed to vaccine-induced myocarditis) has a relatively high mortality rate and can even result in sudden death. Classic myocarditis also impacts on how well the heart pumps blood (called ejection fraction). We don’t see mortality or ejection fraction reduction with vaccine-induced myocarditis. It’s a much more mild form of disease.
Long term effects of vaccine-induced myocarditis. Kids tend to bounce back very well. A key study followed a subset of adolescents with vaccine-induced myocarditis. Adolescents fully recovered from symptoms and arrhythmias ~35 days. Data is limited, but continues to be studied. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of time.
Why is this happening? We don’t know yet. Only 2 of the myocarditis cases among children have been biopsied. We think genetics and hormones may play a role.
The study did find that the vaccine is effective, with antibody numbers comparable to an older age group; furthermore, the vaccine worked against the delta variant. The vaccine showed 90.7% efficacy against COVID-19 disease.
As evidence for his claim about myocarditis, Carlson cited the “substack Techno Fog” and a “brilliant attorney called Travis Miller.” That person has been a member (and allegedly an administrator) of a major Telegram channel dedicated to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and the account behind the theory reportedly linked more than once to Techno Fog’s Twitter account. Miller apparently noted how “supportive” Carlson’s team was.
Carlson’s misrepresentation of the way vaccination recommendations are being made is par for the course in his long-standing campaign to demonize the COVID-19 response. Earlier in the year, Carlson falsely claimed dozens of people a day were dying due to the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it “single deadliest mass vaccination event in modern history.” Even as one of Fox’s hosts receives death threats for encouraging the public to get vaccinated, the network continues to allow its most prominent voice to lie to the public about vaccines.
Update (10/27/21, 6 p.m. EDT): A “Techno Fog” email account contacted Media Matters, claiming that it is “not and never has been” an administrator of the We the Media QAnon group, even though “it appears they said I was.” This post has been updated accordingly.