62

Michael Yeadon, a former vice president at Pfizer and lately known as, e.g., making unsubstantiated claims about covid vaccinations, has made the claim in question in a video interview (archived version available here). Specifically, in the interview he says that

Young people are not susceptible to COVID-19. If they acquire the virus they usually have no symptoms and they shrug it off very easily so they are not at risk. It's a crazy thing then to vaccinate them with something that is actually 50 times more likely to kill them than the virus itself.

This claim has recently started circulating in social media, e.g., in the form of the picture below. It should be pointed out that the girl in the picture is almost certainly completely unrelated to the claim since the same girl appears, e.g., in the thumbnail of this Youtube video posted in the beginning of May, 2019.

Is there any evidence supporting the claim that for young people, vaccinating against COVID-19 is substantially more dangerours than the virus?

Screenshot of Whatsapp post

The text of the image (translated from Spanish) is:

Children have 50 TIMES more probability of dying from the Covid vaccine than from the virus.

Dr. Michael Yeadon, Former vice president of Pfizer

Obtain more information on Defending The Republic.org/Covid

Our principal responsibility as parents is protecting the children.

6
  • 4
    I wonder where the mortality figure for the vaccine comes from. The US might have vaccinated enough teenagers by now to have some data for them but as far as I know very few children (ie under 12) have been vaccinated against COVID19 anywhere in the world.
    – quarague
    Aug 23 at 7:43
  • The linked video doesn't play. Is there another source? Aug 23 at 7:55
  • @WeatherVane I changed the link to a non-archived version where the video can be viewed.
    – Kiro
    Aug 23 at 8:05
  • 7
    @fredsbend The screenshot seems to come from a Telegram group (deduction from the background pattern), the 3.4K means that at the moment of the screenshot 3.4K people on the group have seen the image.
    – Genorme
    Aug 23 at 8:37
  • 2
    I think the claim is well-debunked in the accepted answer, but another balancing fact to consider is the health impact on a child of the death of a parent. Especially, I would have thought, if the child knows that they brought the fatal infection into the household. I don't know how this might be quantified, but it is very much in an average child's interests to keep their parents healthy.
    – nigel222
    Aug 25 at 10:36
129

As per context from the Bannon-hosted interview, the claim was made in the context of the US FDA approval for vaccinating the 12-15 y.o., so I'll address it [only] in that regard.

The claims is unsubstantiated from what I/we know so far, simply because there were zero deaths in the vaccinated group in the clinical trial that led to this (provisional) approval.

No thromboses or hypersensitivity adverse events or vaccine-related anaphylaxis was seen. Few participants in any cohort (≤0.4% through 1 month after dose 2) had serious adverse events, and none were considered by the investigators to have been vaccine-related. No deaths were reported.

Now in the video, immediately after the quoted claim he goes on to talk about VAERS data, but this is not directly in support of his previous claim (on youth) but to make another one comparing VAERS data with that from previous years (i.e. on other vaccines), which is another anti-vaxxer meme by now.

Entertaining that he might have done a quick calculation based on VAERS data in youth... that still doesn't pan out for me to anywhere near his 50x claim. In a recent CDC report "8.9 million U.S. adolescents aged 12–17 years had received Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine" and the "CDC reviewed 14 reports of death after vaccination". The usual anti-vaxxer method (from the previously linked question) is to assume all are caused by the vaccine, which would give 14 / 8.9M = 1.57 deaths per million vaccines. On the other hand, again from CDC data (warning: it's a dynamic page, numbers may change in the future--see footnote below for what data was used) in the same 12-17 age group there are 125+102 = 227 deaths from Covid-19... out of (approx.) 1.136M + 0.773M = 1.909M infections in the same age group, so that's 227 / 1.909M = 118.9 deaths per million infections. So instead of 50:1, as Yeadon claims, the ratio I came up with is 1:75, in the opposite direction, even using anti-vaxxer methodology.

The CDC insofar could not attribute any of those VAERS deaths as being caused by the vaccine; the report additionally says:

Impressions regarding cause of death did not indicate a pattern suggestive of a causal relationship with vaccination; however, cause of death for some decedents is pending receipt of additional information.

Despite his credentials, Yeadon has made quite a few other unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of the Covid-19 vaccines and generally downplayed the risk from the virus. Some of his more recent claims have been so improbable... that there was fact checking that he even said that... e.g. he prognosticated that vaccine booster recipients will die in two years and that it's part of a "mass depopulation" programme amounting to "deliberate execution potentially of billions of people".


Screenshots of the (dynamic) CDC data used "Data as of: Sunday, August 22, 2021 1:18 PM ET. Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2021 3:03 PM ET":

enter image description here enter image description here


As a comment on the other answers, the mortality rate for a given disease (unlike the case or infection fatality rate) is obviously very dependant on the prevalence of the disease, meaning the mortality rate goes to zero as prevalence goes to zero, because the denominator for the mortality rate is the whole population, not just those infected (or showing symptoms). And surely enough, disease prevalence is a considered a factor in deciding whether to vaccinate a population, even if IFR/CFR for that disease is (or would be) high in case of an outbreak, e.g. there's no campaign or general recommendation to vaccinate Americans against Ebola, but there is one for those who work in specific areas. But it's a textbook case of faulty generalization to say something like "Americans don't get vaccinated against Ebola, therefore Ebola is not dangerous/deadly".

Even in the case of Covid-19 vaccination, some countries, e.g. Germany progressed from a recommendation (in June) to vaccinate just the adolescents who had additional risk factors to vaccinating everyone over 12 (in August). I haven't found a direct quote from STIKO (my German sucks), but they've been paraphrased as taking prevalence into account:

The advisory board to the German government said the U-turn had been made due to an evaluation of new scientific observations and data that showed young people face a high risk of getting Covid due to the more transmissible Delta variant.

and also the US rollout having had few problems in terms of side effects in children, plus the delta variant spreading...

STIKO said that they adjusted their recommendations based on new data about the potential side effects of the currently-available coronavirus vaccines, particularly after the large-scale vaccination rollout across adolescent populations in the USA. According to the committee, almost 10 million young people have already been vaccinated in the US. [...]

In addition, now that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is the dominant strain in Germany, STIKO said that mathematical modelling shows there is a significantly higher risk of young people getting infected in the event of a possible fourth wave in the autumn.

So, yeah, disease prevalence matters in such decisions, but it's not clear at all [to me] from the Bannon interview that Yeadon is talking about this issue.

3
  • 5
    Prior Q here on another claim by Yeadon skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/49958/…
    – Fizz
    Aug 23 at 9:48
  • 5
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Comment if you are trying to improve the answer. Make your own answer if it's a fundamental problem. Air your issues with moderation on Skeptics Meta.
    – fredsbend
    Aug 23 at 21:29
  • 2
    The best link to the STIKO decision for Germany is this (primary source for the final decision): rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/EpidBull/Archiv/2021/Ausgaben/… . STIKO is purely science based and independent from any political or executive organization in Germany. The document is long (there are 33 pages handling the children, with all the scientifical details, number crunching etc. etc.), and I did not read it, but at a quick glance I see some of the points you made in your answer reflected there.
    – AnoE
    Aug 24 at 15:14
10

The reported number of 14 adolescent "deaths from vaccination" is entirely consistent with the expected background mortality in that age group from unrelated medical reasons.

The CDC database https://wonder.cdc.gov/ permits designing your own queries. The overall mortality from medical causes (i.e., no accidents, suicide and assault) excluding certain obviously unrelated causes like congenital/chromosomal defects in the age group 10-19 years was 85 per million. If we simply use the crude criteria that the death occur within two weeks of the second vaccination, the death rate should be 1/26 of that (2 weeks of the 52 in a year), ignoring seasonal effects. That amounts to an expected mortality for medical reasons of ~3.2/million in any two-week period, or ~29 expected deaths in any two-week period among the 8.9 million vaccinated pre-teen and teenagers.

The reported number is well below the expected medical background mortality.

9
  • Not my DV. It is indeed so, even the CDC says (in that report) "Impressions regarding cause of death did not indicate a pattern suggestive of a causal relationship with vaccination; however, cause of death for some decedents is pending receipt of additional information." I just didn't think it worthwhile mentioning for the purpose of this question... and also because there's another one on interpreting VAERS data.
    – Fizz
    Aug 25 at 14:24
  • @Fizz What does "Not my DV" mean? Aug 25 at 14:32
  • DV = downvote. 'twas probably a mod since your answer also got a tag/warning added and only mods can do that... You can probably use the CDC quote I gave to meet the formal requirements of "no original research"...
    – Fizz
    Aug 25 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Fizz Ah, I see. Well, I'm a fan of primary data. If the mod wants to delete the answer, be it. Aug 25 at 15:19
  • "Answers which are wholly based on "original research" are generally downvoted and may be deleted" Is this a hint? because I don't think SE should tell me what to do.
    – tuskiomi
    Sep 10 at 16:45
-4

It is possible that his claim is less wrong than other answers suggest(1:5, 1:75), if you are very creative with defining what young people are.

In other words you would need to define young people to mean healthy young white people. And probably you could also add other factors like BMI, to further narrow down your definition.

Consider this data:

Researchers estimate that 25 deaths in a population of some 12 million children in England gives a broad, overall mortality rate of 2 per million children.

They checked England's public health data and found most of the young people who had died of Covid-19 had underlying health conditions:

  • Around 15 had life-limiting or underlying conditions, including 13 living with complex neuro-disabilities

  • Six had no underlying conditions recorded in the last five years - though researchers caution some illnesses may have been missed

  • Though the overall risks were still low, children and young people who died were more likely to be over the age of 10 and of Black and Asian ethnicity.

tl;dr he is wrong, but not less than math in other answers says if you consider only healthy kids.

13
  • 6
    I understand different people adopting different age ranges as "young" (0-5? 0-12? 0-17?). I can understand people implicitly implying (for example) American children because the target audience of the "Real America's Voice" is only Americans. But I can't see any reasonable justification in defining "young people" to only include white children or healthy children. That definition seems hopelessly racist and ableist. Can you find an example of someone using it that way? If not, this answer seems like it is pushing the steelman technique too far.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 24 at 0:09
  • 27
    Ah the mixture of the old standbys "Vaccines are responsible for every death that even remotely happened in their vincinity" and "Most Covid deaths are actually caused by other things" - that is one way to make the numbers give you the result you want.
    – CharonX
    Aug 24 at 7:04
  • 8
    You can really disturb the ratios if you define "healthy" as demonstrated by "surviving COVID-19" - wow suddenly that group is completely invulnerable! Aug 24 at 13:26
  • 11
    -1 Skeptics is most here to avoid "being very creative with definitions". Aug 24 at 14:22
  • 8
    I think this answer and many of the comments are doing a disservice to the original claimant by assuming that the words have been twisted in a very specific and unreasonable way, without evidence. Answers of the form "By normal definitions, the claim is false", or "By the definitions explicitly given by the OP it is true, even if by normal definitions it is false" are reasonable. Answers of the form "If we assume without evidence that the claimant is using racist and ableist definitions, then their claim is still false" are not reasonable.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 25 at 2:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .