Ashish Jha’s Improper Comparison of Pediatric Polio and Covid-19 Vaccinations
by Andrew Bostom, M.D., M.S., and Michelle Cretella, M.D.
Within 10 days of the 11/2/21 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) interim recommendation for use of Pfizer’s covid-19 mRNA vaccine in children aged 5-11 years old, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha claimed in an 11/11/21 Washington Post oped.
- “If today’s misinformation, politicization and anti-vaccine sentiment existed in the United States in the 1950s, would the polio vaccine have received the same level of uptake?”
Hard data on childhood polio versus covid-19 disease severity, and direct juxtaposition of the polio and covid-19 vaccine trials, reveals a very different reality.
A 1957 JAMA publication analyzed polio mortality between 1915 and 1954 in U.S. children aged up to 14 years old, prior to mass polio vaccination efforts. Despite a steady decline due to the expanding development of natural immunity, the average polio death rate among these children, including the major outbreaks, was an alarming 5.7%. Rhode Island, through October 31st in 1953, alone, recorded 289 clinical pediatric polio cases, with 15 deaths, a 5.2% fatality rate.
These data stand in stark contrast to the near zero childhood covid-19 mortality, overall, and perhaps literally zero, among children free of chronic comorbidity. Rhode Island has had zero primary cause pediatric covid-19 deaths, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, per its recording system, maintains, “In states reporting, 0.00%-0.03% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.” An elegant study from a national database in Germany reported concordant findings, noting,
- “The lowest risk was observed in children aged 5-11 without comorbidities. In this group, the ICU admission rate was 0.2 per 10,000 (2 per 100,000) and case fatality could not be calculated, due to an absence of cases”
Dr. Vinay Prasad’s pellucid commentary on the German analysis, referenced these additional salient data:
- For healthy kids, the risk of death is 3 per 1,000,000 with no deaths reported in kids older than 5.
- Kids 5 to 11 have a risk of going to the ICU of 2 in 100,000; 0 died.
- Among kids who died of COVID-19, 38% were already on palliative/ hospice care.
Juxtaposing the polio and covid-19 pediatric vaccine trials highlights consistent, equally glaring discordances.
The controlled (both placebo and observational controls) 1954 polio vaccine field trial recruited ~1.83 million total children, with ~1.35 million in the paralytic polio analysis. Pfizer’s Covid-19 mRNA vaccine randomized, controlled trial in 5 to 11 year-olds enrolled ~2300.
516 total cases of paralytic polio accumulated in the 1954 polio field trial, and vaccination reduced its incidence by 71.1% and 62.4%, relative to the placebo and observational-control groups, respectively. The Pfizer covid-19 vaccine randomized, placebo-controlled trial in 5 to 11 year-olds recorded zero cases of severe covid-19, despite recruiting ~20% with comorbidities. Covid-19 vaccination did reduce mildly symptomatic, covid-19 by “90.7%,” based on “3 cases in the BNT162b2 group and 16 cases in the placebo group (noting the 2:1 randomization of vaccine: placebo)”. Additionally, “No cases of COVID-19 were observed in either the vaccine group or the placebo group in participants with evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
In summary, the 1954 polio vaccine trial for an order of magnitude more lethal, and crippling childhood disease than covid-19, assessed ~650-fold the number of children evaluated in Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine trial. Polio vaccination in the 1954 trial prevented 374 cases of paralytic polio. Covid-19 vaccination in Pfizer’s trial prevented 13 cases equivalent to self-limited colds. Moreover, notwithstanding overwrought concerns about pediatric “long covid,” a December, 2021 Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal review of 14 studies of this ostensible syndrome, concluded,
- Evidence for long COVID in children and adolescents is limited, and all studies to date have substantial limitations or do not show a difference between children who had been infected by SARS-CoV-2 and those who were not.
Dr. Jha’s comparison equating pediatric polio and covid-19 vaccination does not pass muster. Informed, dissenting medical opinions leery of mass, indiscriminate childhood covid-19 vaccination campaigns, should not be vilified.
Andrew Bostom, M.D. MS, is an adjunct scholar to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. He is an academic clinical trialist and epidemiologist, who is currently a Research Physician at the Brown University Center For Primary Care and Prevention of Kent-Memorial Hospital in Rhode Island.
Michelle Cretella, M.D., is Executive Director of the American College of Pediatricians. She is a Rhode Islander who practiced pediatrics with a special interest in behavioral health for 15 years.
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