Last Halloween, I gathered up a lawn chair and an enormous bowl of candy and sat on my front steps, not quite sure what to expect.
Weeks earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had categorized trick-or-treating as a “high-risk activity,” and public health authorities asked parents to keep their kids at home for their own health and safety.
Months into the worst pandemic in decades, we knew a few things about what activities constituted risky behavior. (Hint: not trick-or-treating.)
There were already substantial data to confirm that the virus didn’t spread efficiently outdoors, even without masks, though they were still widely used at the time.
The evidence that the virus didn’t spread via surfaces wasn’t really a concern was also quite compelling. And by that time, studies had also shown that the virus was orders of magnitude less dangerous to children than to seniors or vulnerable adults — less worrisome even than the flu.
But health authorities were still pushing policies that were incongruent with the latest “science.”
As we approach another pandemic Halloween, nothing much has changed.
We still have public-health authorities making recommendations backed by the thinnest of data. And, as has been the approach with masking, the recommendations come without the slightest indication that the experts have considered the overall well-being of children beyond whether they contract a disease for which they are at little risk.
Case in point: the Food and Drug Administration is on the cusp of approving for emergency use the available COVID-19 vaccines for 5-11 year-olds — an age group for whom COVID is far from an emergency.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 158 children between 5-11 have succumbed to the virus since the pandemic began. In almost all of those cases the children had significant underlying health problems, such as cancer.
That’s 158 out of almost 29 million in the U.S.
While pediatric cases have increased as a share of positive tests in recent months, the virus’ expression in children is usually mild and children are far more likely to be asymptomatic. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said about 50% of the infections in children are such.
Even The New York Times has conceded that the risks for unvaccinated children look similar to the risks for vaccinated adults — those in their 50s, 40s and even their 30s.
And given what we are coming to understand about the durability of natural immunity, this should be a source of comfort for everyone, parents especially.
Yet when the vaccine is approved for children, the Biden administration says it will ship a double pediatric dose for each child in that age cohort.
For some parents, vaccinating their children will mean an end to living in fear; the pandemic will finally be over, (even if vaccinated kids will be required to wear masks for the foreseeable future). If your kid has a serious underlying illness, that is understandable.
But others are less comfortable with a public-health establishment that advocates so strongly for vaccinating a population in which the healthy are more threatened by the possible side effects of a shot than by the disease it is intended to prevent.
Such side effects, which include myocarditis most commonly in teenage boys, are the source of much debate, ongoing research and understandable concern.
In response, a growing number of countries have either paused vaccination or reduced vaccine dosage for 12-17 year-olds, noting that the rare but serious incidence of heart-related complications warrant further study and consideration.
Not the U.S., which has instead pursued vaccination for even smaller children with unusual enthusiasm.
This has been done under the guise of protecting children from a virus that is not a substantial danger to them, giving parents reason to wonder if the underlying reason has always been to protect adults.
Everyone wants this pandemic to end. For some parents, vaccinating their kids is the way to do it.
But for others, the existing encouraging data about COVID and kids and the troubling lack of long-term data about vaccines and kids means the pandemic is effectively already over.
The fear of COVID — at least where kids are concerned — should be, too.
Last year, my candy bowl was empty by 8 p.m. I expect it will be this year, as well.
Next year, will we finally drive a stake into the heart of this madness that is robbing our kids of the childhood they deserve?