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Younger people face less of a health threat from COVID-19, but vaccines reduce their chances of developing serious disease from the virus.
Heart inflammation linked to coronavirus vaccination is rare among young people, and occurs more commonly among those infected by COVID-19.
As a highly transmissible coronavirus variant begins to dominate new infections in the U.S., social media users are sharing a video clip from vaccine scientist-turned-anti-vaccine activist Dr. Robert Malone.
In a TikTok clip shared Jan. 3 on Instagram, Malone falsely called COVID-19 vaccines "experimental genetic therapy" and said they "provide zero benefit relative to risk for the young and healthy."
He didn’t define young.
COVID-19 generally poses more of a health threat as people age, but experts say younger people still share in vaccination’s benefits, including a reduced chance of serious illness if they contract the virus.
As for the risk of vaccination, myocarditis, a rare heart muscle inflammation, occurs far more often among young people who get COVID-19.
Studies back up the experts on both points.
We’ve written about Malone before. He has promoted several false and misleading claims about the COVID-19 vaccines and the pandemic.
In January 2022, Malone was banned from Twitter for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policies; YouTube removed videos of a controversial interview he did with podcast host Joe Rogan. Malone’s Twitter account was restored in December.
Malone didn’t reply to our requests for information for this fact-check.
It’s long been known that serious illness and death from COVID-19 is much less common among young people, even though the largest number of cases is among 18- to 29-year-olds. The latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back that up.
For example, as of Dec. 28, the COVID-19 hospitalization risk among people ages 85 and older was 15 times higher than among people ages 18 to 29; the COVID-19 death rate was 350 times higher for the older cohort.
Because the risk of severe COVID-19 is low for the young and healthy, "there are people who feel like the benefit isn’t worth it," said Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine.
But Wachter said there is evidence that vaccines for young people lower the risk of a severe case, the probability of long COVID and the probability of transmitting the virus to others.
Dr. Matthew Laurens, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and researcher at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development, said vaccination protection against serious COVID-19 complications, including hospitalization and death, apply to both healthy people and those with underlying illnesses.
A study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine found that vaccination reduced the risk of omicron variant-associated hospitalization by two-thirds among children ages 5 to 11 years. The same month, a study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that vaccination reduced the probability of long COVID — long-term effects from infection — by 15%.
Other benefits of vaccination to younger people, said Dr. Davidson Hamer, interim director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at Boston University, include preventing lost time from work or school because of infection and preventing infection spread to other people.
Ten children were being treated for COVID-19 at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Jan. 9 when we called Dr. Paul Offit, director of the hospital’s Vaccine Education Center.
Malone "should come to a children’s hospital and see children suffering," Offit said, citing the importance of COVID-19 vaccination. "When you see children suffering and it’s preventable, you prevent it," he said.
Vaccine critics sometimes cite myocarditis as a COVID-19 vaccination risk, particularly among younger people. But the risk is often overstated.
Hamer said there is "very low risk" among young people of myocarditis and the condition stemming from vaccination tends to be mild to moderate, and temporary. Moreover, he said, cardiac complications "are more common after the disease itself as opposed to vaccination."
Laurens pointed to a CDC study that found that from March 2020 to January 2021, patients ages 16 to 39 with COVID-19 had seven times the risk for myocarditis compared with patients who did not have COVID-19.
The findings underscored the importance of vaccination "to reduce the public health impact of COVID-19 and its associated complications," the study said.
News stories in January reported that a new variant, XBB.1.5, was quickly becoming the dominant strain in parts of the United States. The World Health Organization described the strain as the omicron variant’s most transmissible descendant. The strain has been causing 25% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., up from 10% in December, Johns Hopkins University said Jan. 9.
Malone, an anti-vaccine activist, said COVID-19 vaccines "provide zero benefit relative to risk for the young and healthy."
Although younger people face less of a health threat from COVID-19, vaccines reduce their chances of developing serious disease from the virus. As for risk, heart inflammation from the vaccines is rare among young people, and occurs more commonly among young people infected by COVID-19.
We rate the statement False.
RELATED: Coronavirus fact-checks
Instagram, post, Jan. 3, 2023
PolitiFact, "Who is Robert Malone? Joe Rogan’s guest was a vaccine scientist, became an anti-vaccine darling," Jan. 6, 2022
PolitiFact, "Why an analysis of COVID-19 vaccines from Florida’s surgeon general is flawed," Oct. 13, 2022
PolitiFact, "Children are at far higher risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than from vaccines," Feb. 15, 2022
PolitiFact, "Claim that children will be harmed by spike proteins from COVID-19 vaccines is false," Jan. 6, 2022
PolitiFact, "Social media claim misleads on risk of myocarditis," Jan. 31, 2022
Email, Dr. Davidson Hamer, global health and medicine professor and interim director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at Boston University, Jan. 6, 2023
Email, Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Jan. 6, 2023
New England Journal of Medicine, "BNT162b2 Protection against the Omicron Variant in Children and Adolescents," May 19, 2022
Email, Dr. Matthew Laurens, pediatric infectious disease specialist and researcher at Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Jan. 9, 2023
Nature Medicine, "Long COVID after breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infection," May 25, 2022
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Association Between COVID-19 and Myocarditis Using Hospital-Based Administrative Data — United States, March 2020–January 2021," Sept. 2, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization, and Death By Age Group," Dec. 28, 2022
Interview, Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Jan. 9, 2023
Daily Telegraph New Zealand, "Robert Malone: Covid Mrna Injections Cause ‘more Harm Than Good’ And Provide ‘zero Benefit,’" July 3, 2022
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