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Fox News host Will Cain falsely claims vaccine more dangerous for children than COVID-19
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Doctors who spoke to PolitiFact said children are far more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than from the vaccine. The CDC says “the known risks of COVID-19 illness ... far outweigh the potential risks of having a rare adverse reaction to vaccination.”
Fox News host Will Cain cited data that the doctors said was cherry-picked, including COVID-19 hospitalization data that was an undercount and vaccine safety data that is subject to many limitations and cannot be used to determine causality.
Anyone can make a report to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS, making it a hotbed for misinformation about vaccine safety. The unverified entries in VAERS are not enough to establish a causal relationship between the COVID-19 vaccine and a hospitalization or other adverse event, experts said.
Fox News host Will Cain falsely claimed the COVID-19 vaccines are more dangerous for children than COVID-19, citing an open-system database that is frequently misused to promote anti-vaccine misinformation.
"We know from VAERS reporting — Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting — and although it's imperfect, we know from that, the risk to children from the vaccine outweighs the risk to COVID," Cain said on "Fox News Primetime" Oct. 1. "This comes in the form of hospitalizations."
"You are more likely, as a child, to end up in the hospital because of the vaccine than you are because of COVID," Cain continued. "That's data from the CDC and from VAERS."
VAERS is short for the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, not "Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting." The federal database is open to anyone, and reports to it are not verified before they go public, making it a source that has been exploited by anti-vaccine activists as well as other Fox News hosts.
PolitiFact consulted data, research and experts in pediatrics and infectious diseases. We found Cain’s statement to be inaccurate.
Children have generally fared better against COVID-19 than adults. But the disease presents a far greater risk than the vaccines, which have proven safe and effective and are recommended for ages 12 and up by public health agencies and medical associations. To date, children 12 years or older are approved only to get the Pfizer vaccine.
"You’re far more likely to get sick and hospitalized if you get a COVID infection than if you get the vaccine," said Dr. Sean O’Leary, a professor at the University of Colorado and the vice chair of the committee on infectious diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics.
One September CDC report said COVID-19 "hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated adolescents." Another study from July estimated that every million second dose of the Pfizer vaccine administered to children ages 12 to 17 would prevent 215 COVID-19 hospitalizations on average for boys, and 183 for girls.
On its website, the agency contradicts Cain’s claim:
"CDC continues to recommend that everyone aged 12 years and older get vaccinated for COVID-19. The known risks of COVID-19 illness and its related, possibly severe complications, such as long-term health problems, hospitalization, and even death, far outweigh the potential risks of having a rare adverse reaction to vaccination, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis."
"The claim by Will Cain is completely false and contradicted by actual data," said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
Payton Nguyen, 12, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Lakera Thorne at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 13, 2021. (AP)
Cain said on air that his claim about child hospitalizations because of the vaccine was based on VAERS, a database that he acknowledged to be "imperfect."
VAERS is useful for researchers, helping them collect data and identify patterns for further examination. But reports to VAERS are not vetted before they go online, so they are not reliable for back-of-the-napkin math, and they are not enough to show cause and effect, experts said.
"VAERS does not determine causality. It is simply a safety signal fail-safe," said Schleiss. "A kid might get a COVID vaccine and then break her leg playing basketball and be hospitalized."
"This is a common misuse of VAERS data," added Dr. Dean Blumberg, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, Davis.
A disclaimer on the VAERS website says "VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness," and "may include information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverifiable." Anyone accessing VAERS must click a button saying they read and understand the disclaimer.
PolitiFact reviewed VAERS and identified around 1,000 reports of a hospitalization among children ages 12 to 17 since May, when they became eligible for the Pfizer shot. That’s a tiny percentage of the roughly 14.5 million children ages 12 to 17 who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 12 million are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Another problem was Cain’s data. Doctors said it was cherry picked, and it came from another vaccine after-effects database, not VAERS.
When asked for evidence to support his claim about child hospitalizations caused by the COVID-19 vaccines, Cain pointed through a Fox News spokesperson not to VAERS, but to a slide from a June presentation by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The slide cited data from a newer vaccine database, v-safe, which uses surveys sent through smartphones to collect information from vaccine recipients who voluntarily sign up.
The slide said that through mid June, 0.1% of v-safe enrollees ages 12 to 15 received "medical care in emergency dept/hospital" after their first Pfizer dose, and 0.2% after their second.
Like VAERS, the v-safe database is subject to many limitations, and the responses it collects cannot be used to establish causality. "It’s by no means a representative sample," O’Leary said. "That’s (Cain) cherry-picking data and misusing data to represent his position."
"V-safe does not record reason for hospitalization, and it cannot be determined whether hospitalization was related to vaccination," a more recent CDC review of v-safe data said.
That more recent report, published in August, reviewed v-safe responses through mid-July. Hospitalizations were reported by 0.02% of v-safe enrollees ages 12 to 15 after their first Pfizer shot; 0.04% of enrollees ages 12 to 15 after the second dose; 0.02% of enrollees ages 16 to 17 after the first dose; and 0.03% of enrollees ages 16 to 17 after the second dose.
For hospitalizations from COVID-19, Cain cited preliminary hospitalization data from the CDC’s COVID-NET, which logged 4,228 hospitalizations for children ages 0 to 17 through Sept. 25.
But experts said that data is prone to undercounting, since COVID-NET is based on just 100 counties across 10 states. The data’s flaws should be clear, Schleiss said, because it says that only 216,311 adults ages 18 and up have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic.
"Heck, the rolling 7-day average number of hospitalizations, according to the CDC, is about 70,000," Schleiss said. "At that pace, the COVID-NET numbers would be surpassed in three days. COVID-NET is just a tiny sampling."
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association provide a more accurate count of child hospitalizations from COVID-19, experts said. Those organizations listed 22,429 hospitalizations for children and a 0.9% hospitalization rate through Sept. 30, based on reporting from 24 states and New York City.
Cain’s claim also glossed over other realities about COVID-19, including that the disease has killed hundreds of children and hobbled many with long-term symptoms. O’Leary said an estimated 1 in 3,200 children who get COVID-19 develop MISC, a rare inflammatory syndrome.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association counted 520 deaths to children from COVID-19 through Sept. 30, based on reporting from 45 states and New York City, while the CDC says VAERS reports have "not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines."
"There is no question that it is safer for children to be vaccinated against COVID, and that unvaccinated children have an overall higher risk of hospitalization," Blumberg said.
Cain said, "You are more likely, as a child, to end up in the hospital because of the vaccine than you are because of COVID. That's data from the CDC and from VAERS."
The claim relied on the faulty assumption that the unverified reports submitted to VAERS can establish causation. Doctors rejected Cain’s claim as false and misleading.
The experts said the data Cain provided to PolitiFact was cherry-picked, and that children are far more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than the vaccine.
We rate Cain’s claim False.
RELATED: Doubts raised over preprint study regarding myocarditis risk in teenage boys
RELATED: Science Does Recommend COVID-19 Vaccine For Young People, Contrary To Larry Elder’s Claim
Fox News, "Fox News Primetime," Oct. 1, 2021
Media Matters for America, "Fox host says ‘the risk to children from the vaccine outweighs the risk to COVID,'" Oct. 1, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Demographic Trends of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US reported to CDC," Oct. 4, 2021
American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association, "Children and COVID-19: State Data Report," Sept. 30, 2021
U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Hospitalizations Associated with COVID-19 Among Children and Adolescents — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1, 2020–August 14, 2021," Sept. 10, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Myocarditis and Pericarditis After mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination," Sept. 8, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Association Between COVID-19 and Myocarditis Using Hospital-Based Administrative Data — United States, March 2020–January 2021," Sept. 3, 2021
University of California Davis Health, "Heart inflammation, COVID-19 and the rare side effects of the vaccine," Sept. 2, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and myocarditis in individuals aged 16-29 years: Benefits-Risk Discussion," Aug. 30, 2021
The New York Times, "Heart Problem More Common After Covid-19 Than After Vaccination, Study Finds," Aug. 25, 2021
The New York Times, "‘This Is Really Scary’: Kids Struggle With Long Covid," Aug. 8, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 Vaccine Safety in Adolescents Aged 12–17 Years — United States, December 14, 2020–July 16, 2021," Aug. 6, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine After Reports of Myocarditis Among Vaccine Recipients: Update from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, June 2021," July 9, 2021
Yale Medicine, "The Link Between Myocarditis and COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines," June 24, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Overview of Myocarditis and Pericarditis ACIP COVID-19 Vaccines Work Group," June 23, 2021
PolitiFact, "Doubts raised over preprint study regarding myocarditis risk in teenage boys," Sept. 20, 2021
PolitiFact, "Science Does Recommend COVID-19 Vaccine For Young People, Contrary To Larry Elder’s Claim," Sept. 11, 2021
Email statement from Fox News host Will Cain via Fox News, Oct. 5, 2021
Email correspondence with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct. 5, 2021
Phone interview with Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair for committee for infectious diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics and professor of pediatrics-infectious diseases at the University of Colorado Medicine, Oct. 6, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Aaron Milstone, associate hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, Oct. 5, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Dean Blumberg, associate professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California Davis Health, Oct. 5, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Oct. 5, 2021
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Fox News host Will Cain falsely claims vaccine more dangerous for children than COVID-19
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