CDC panel just met this week to weigh vaccine risk to kids
After a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel this week deemed COVID-19 more dangerous to kids than the vaccine to prevent it, Michigan health authorities reported to the agency that a 13-year-old boy died within days of receiving the shot.
The Saginaw County Health Department said Thursday that it received a death notice from the medical examiner on June 17 that the boy had died three days after receiving the second of the two vaccine doses. Federal officials are now exploring whether his death is linked to the vaccine.
“Loss of life in an adolescent for any reason is heartbreaking,” the Saginaw County Health Department said in a statement, adding that Health Officer Chris Harrington and medical director Delicia Pruitt “are mothers of children near the boy’s age, so it hits close to home for them.
The announcement about the boy’s death came just after a CDC vaccine advisory panel met this week to consider reports of heart inflammation in adolescents, teens, and young adults after being vaccinated. Saginaw County health officials did not indicate whether the boy had suffered heart inflammation or any other health condition, and did not respond to further questions about his death.
The health department said that because the boy was recently vaccinated, his death was reported by the medical examiner to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
“The investigation as to whether there is a correlation between his death and vaccination is now at the federal level with CDC,” the health department said.
The CDC said in a statement that “this case is currently under investigation and until the investigation is complete, it is premature to assign a specific cause of death.”
When a serious reaction or death is reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System after the COVID-19 vaccination, CDC reviews all medical records associated with the case, including death certificates, and autopsy reports. The determination of the cause of death is done by the certifying official who completes the death certificate or the pathologist who conducts the autopsy.
“VAERS is not designed to determine if the vaccine caused the reported adverse event,” the CDC said. “While some reported adverse events may be caused by vaccination, others are not and may have occurred coincidentally.”
The reported cases of myocarditis and pericarditis occurred more often in boys and within days after the second shot. The CDC panel did not indicate that there had been any reports of death in those cases.
The CDC’s Vaccine Safety Technical Work Group found a “likely association” between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and heart inflammation in younger people. But it concluded, “the benefits still clearly outweigh the risks for COVID-19 vaccination in adolescents and young adults.”
The 15-member CDC advisory panel agreed with that assessment as well as a statement by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration representative that advisory warnings should be updated to reflect the potential heart risk. The CDC continues to recommend the vaccines for eligible healthy people ages 12 and older.
The concerns over vaccine-related heart risk come two months after federal health authorities suspended the use of Johnson and Johnson’s one-shot vaccine after reports of rare but sometimes fatal blood clots, mostly seen in women. Use of the vaccine resumed after 10 days, accompanied by risk warnings for clinicians and people receiving the shot. Public confidence in the J&J vaccine has withered since.
The World Health Organization has concluded that “more evidence is needed on the use of the different COVID-19 vaccines in children to be able to make general recommendations on vaccinating children against COVID-19.”
“Children and adolescents tend to have the milder disease compared to adults,” the WHO says, “so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers.”
Several respected health experts have questioned the CDC’s resistance to adjusting its guidance this week for adolescents and teens.
Dr. Marty Makary, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, accused the CDC of misrepresenting the data and said children should be given just one shot to lower their risk.
“Why does a 300-lbs man get the exact same drug dose as a thin 12-year old girl?” Makary asked on Twitter.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, says young men 18 and older should seek out Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine, which is different from the more widely used Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and not linked to heart inflammation. The J&J vaccine is only authorized for those 18 and older.
Boys 12-17, she said, should consider delaying the second Pfizer shot 8-12 weeks instead of the recommended three weeks, waiting longer if they live in an area where virus cases are low.
She argues that acknowledging the risks of side effects will “increase trust in public health.”
The Saginaw County health department said it in its statement that it “continues to encourage families to speak with their physicians to weigh their own risks and benefits of vaccination.”
John Woolfolk | Reporter
John Woolfolk is a reporter for the Bay Area News Group, based at The Mercury News. A native of New Orleans, he grew up near San Jose. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and has been a journalist since 1990, covering cities, counties, law enforcement, courts and other general news. He also has worked as an editor since 2013.