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GOP recall candidate Larry Elder claimed the science is unsettled on whether young people should receive the COVID-19 vaccine or wear masks in schools.
That’s not supported by the facts. For months, leading scientific groups have offered clear recommendations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend young people, ages 12 and up, receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health and slow the pandemic.
- Additionally, leading health groups including the CDC and AAP recommend students wear masks at schools to reduce the spread of the virus.
Larry Elder, the top GOP candidate in the California recall election, claimed recently that the science is unsettled on whether young people should receive the COVID-19 vaccine or wear masks in schools.
"I don’t believe the science suggests that young people should be vaccinated," Elder said in a CNN interview that aired Aug. 31. "I don’t believe that young people should have to wear masks at school. I’m not sure the science is settled on that at all."
Elder, a conservative radio talk show host, opposes mask and vaccine mandates and has said he’ll end California’s requirements if elected governor.
There’s plenty of debate on whether to mandate these protections. But is the science unsettled on whether young people should receive the vaccine or wear masks at school, as Elder claims?
We found the science is more clear than Elder makes it out to be.
Numerous leading scientific organizations recommend children, ages 12 and up, should receive the vaccine and wear masks at school to protect their health and slow the pandemic.
Groups That Recommend Young People Receive The COVID-19 Vaccine
"The data continue to show that this vaccine is safe and effective," said Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a press release in May. "I urge all parents to call their pediatrician to learn more about how to get their children and teens vaccinated."
Elder was correct in the CNN interview when he said that children tend to get more mild cases of COVID-19 than adults and are not hospitalized at the same rate. But cases are rising sharply among adolescents as the delta variant spreads across the country.
Nationally, nearly 94,000 child cases of COVID-19 were recorded for the week ending Aug. 5, up from 72,000 cases the week before and up from 39,000 two weeks earlier, NPR reported, based on data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.
On its website, the CDC recommends "everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against COVID-19." It describes the vaccine as safe and effective, and a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.
Timetable For COVID-19 Vaccine For Children Under 12
We also looked at Elder’s claim that he doesn’t "believe the science suggests" young people should be vaccinated in the context of children under 12. For this group, we found the examination of vaccine data isn’t complete, but no indication that vaccines will be unsafe for these younger children once authorized.
As many parents of young children know, the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been authorized for kids under 12 because the FDA is still collecting data to evaluate vaccine safety and effectiveness for these age groups.
In July, the FDA expanded vaccine trials for children under 12 "to more closely examine rare but serious instances, particularly in young boys, in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed," or myocarditis, the Washington Post reported. It said this has pushed the timetable to early 2022.
There have been more than 1,000 reports of cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, a similar condition where the lining of the outside of the heart becomes inflamed, after some COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States, according to the CDC.
"Considering the hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses that have been administered, these reports are very rare," reported Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a fact sheet about the vaccines for parents. "The problem occurs more often in adolescents [teens] and young adults, and in males. The myocarditis or pericarditis in almost all cases is mild and resolves quickly."
On its website, the CDC says side effects in adolescents, including possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis, "are rare and the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks."
"COVID-19 vaccines have been used under the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history, which includes studies in adolescents," the CDC website adds.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NPR last month that Pfizer and Moderna "are still collecting trial data, trying to understand — among other things — whether young children should receive a smaller vaccine dose than what has already been approved for adults."
That indicates work is ongoing to ensure the right dose of the vaccine is authorized for young children. Elder’s claim that the science suggests young people shouldn’t receive the vaccine is not supported.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, recently said that a vaccine could be available to young children "hopefully by the mid, late fall and early winter."
The World Health Organization is one leading group that says children should not be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations. But as PolitiFact reported in June, that’s not because the WHO takes issue with its safety or effectiveness.
Instead, the WHO believes health care workers, front-line workers, the elderly and those with high-risk medical conditions should be at the front of the line because children develop less severe cases than adults and vaccine supplies are limited in many countries.
The Science On Wearing Masks At Schools
We also examined Elder’s claim that young people shouldn’t have to wear masks because the science isn’t "settled" on that. Again, we found the science is more certain than Elder makes it out to be.
On its website, the CDC recommends "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."
It describes mask use as one of several ways to reduce transmission in schools, along with ventilation, hand-washing and physical distancing.
"Although outbreaks in schools can occur, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than – or at least similar to – levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools," the CDC reported in July, adding that inconsistent mask use can contribute to outbreaks.
Since the start of the pandemic, PolitiFact has examined the science behind using masks to slow transmission and debunked myths about them. It’s found masks are most effective as "source control," which means preventing infected people from spreading the virus to other people.
Now that students are back on campus in California and across the country, health officials say vaccines and universal mask requirements will be key to keeping in-person learning safe and open.
"Masking is likely the second most important thing [behind vaccinations] to prevent transmission and allow children to go to schools and have in-person learning safely," said Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento.
Blumberg added that wearing a standard surgical mask or double layer fabric mask reduces a person’s chance of infection by about 70%.
"If you want to avoid having that outbreak that's going to send all the kids home again, you should be doing everything to avoid that. And that means wearing masks," Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, added in the NPR interview.
In July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration issued guidance calling for universal masking at K-12 public schools statewide. Newsom later said it would allow local school districts to decide how to deal with students who refuse to wear a mask, sparking confusion about whether the guidance is a requirement.
Elder’s campaign did not respond to a request for evidence supporting his statement.
Larry Elder, the top-polling GOP candidate in the California recall election, claimed the science doesn’t suggest young people should receive the COVID-19 vaccine or wear masks in schools.
That’s not supported by the facts. For months, leading scientific groups have offered clear recommendations on these topics.
We found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend young people, ages 12 and up, receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health and slow the pandemic.
The vaccine has not yet been authorized for children under 12 because more data collection is needed, though health officials expect it will be approved this fall or winter.
Elder’s overall statement would have been more accurate had he said the science on the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 is incomplete. Instead, he claimed the science suggests young people in general should not be vaccinated, which is wrong.
We rate Elder’s claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
Larry Elder, interview on CNN, Aug. 31, 2021.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases, UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, interview Sept. 1, 2021.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens, updated Aug. 17, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, updated Aug. 5, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs – Updated, updated July 9, 2021
U.S. Federal Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Adolescents in Another Important Action in Fight Against Pandemic, May 10, 2021
American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, CDC recommend COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 and older, May 12, 2021
American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools, accessed September 2021
Johns Hopkins University Medical School, COVID-19 Vaccine: What Parents Need to Know, accessed September 2021
PolitiFact, Mask skeptics ask questions. PolitiFact answers, March 16, 2021
Los Angeles Times, Hospitals see more unvaccinated, younger, healthier people with COVID-19, Aug. 29, 2021
NPR, Nearly 94,000 Kids Got COVID-19 Last Week. They Were 15% Of All New Cases, Aug. 10, 2021
NPR, A Vaccine For Children Is Not Likely To Be Approved Until The End Of Year, Aug. 24, 2021
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