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Children and the Burden of Covid Policy

Students at a middle school in East Los Angeles, California in September.


etienne laurent/Shutterstock

Since the start of the pandemic, some media folk have continued to insist on making obscene comparisons between the number of Americans who have died with Covid and the number of Americans killed in various wars, as if it’s irrelevant whether one dies at age 80 or age 18. But there is one way in which Covid really is similar to combat. In both cases, aging policy makers demand disproportionate sacrifices from the young.

Fortunately children age 0 to 17 in the U.S. are always at comparatively low risk of death relative to their elders. When children have died in 2020 and 2021, the website of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 99% of cases the kids have died from something other than Covid.

But that doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered greatly from Covid and the political reaction to it. Our masked and restricted generation of youngsters is hurting, as U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledges in a new report:

Since the pandemic began, rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, have increased. Recent research covering 80,000 youth globally found that depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms. Negative emotions or behaviors such as impulsivity and irritability—associated with conditions such as ADHD—appear to have moderately increased. Early clinical data are also concerning: In early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time period in early 2019. Moreover, pandemic-related measures reduced in-person interactions among children, friends, social supports, and professionals such as teachers, school counselors, pediatricians, and child welfare workers. This made it harder to recognize signs of child abuse, mental health concerns, and other challenges.

This brings us to current fights about vaccine mandates. Requiring traditional childhood vaccines has been a great way to protect youngsters and their fellow students from deadly diseases. But Covid vaccination of children is largely a benefit for the oldsters with whom they may come in contact outside of school. When the child in question has already had Covid, the case for a mandated vaccination is not easy to make.

Last month in the Journal, Dr. Nicole Saphier of Weill Cornell Medical College and

Dr. Marty Makary

of Johns Hopkins wrote about the Pfizer vaccine study:

If a child already had Covid, there’s no scientific basis for vaccination. Deep within the 80-page Pfizer report is this crucial line: “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.” That’s consistent with the largest population-based study on the topic, which found that natural immunity was 27 times as effective as vaccinated immunity in preventing symptomatic Covid. Natural immunity is likely even more robust in children, given their stronger immune systems. An indiscriminate Covid vaccine mandate may result in unintended harm among children with natural immunity.

What we know is that many children who are not vaccinated are about to bear another large Covid policy burden.

Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times reports:

About 34,000 students have not yet complied with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the Los Angeles Unified School District — and there’s no longer enough time for students who have not gotten their first shot to be fully vaccinated by the Jan. 10 start of the second semester, portending significant disruption to their education as they will be barred from campus… Students who are not fully vaccinated — or exempt — will be forced into the district’s independent study program or will have to leave the Los Angeles public school system.

Shifting 34,000 students 12 and older into independent study would be challenging —especially as the district’s independent study program, called City of Angels, has been beset by staffing shortages and confusion after it was inundated at the start of the school year with about 10,000 students, a number that grew to 16,000. The 34,000 total by itself would make up one of the 25 largest school systems in California.

There’s no indication that L.A. Unified is backing down — with no leniency or extended deadlines under public discussion.

Of course, as with so many other Covid policies, this burden falls heavier on children than on adults, as Mr. Blume notes:

The L.A. school system is one of the few in the nation with a student vaccine mandate — and also among a small number with an employee vaccine mandate. The employee mandate has already taken effect, with relatively modest disruption, because an overwhelming majority of workers complied. Employees could request an exemption for personal beliefs; students will not have that option.

Are parents and their children in L.A. schools not even permitted to have their own beliefs?


James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”


Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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(Lisa Rossi helps compile Best of the Web.)


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