COVID

‘Irrefutable figures’ show COVID-19 killed more kids than the flu, Boston doctor says

“Understanding the real risk that COVID-19 poses to children is about the only thing I can think of that might convince parents to do the right thing."

A nurse administers a pediatric dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to a girl at a L.A. Care Health Plan vaccination clinic at the Los Angeles Mission College in January. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

A new analysis by a Boston doctor shows that COVID-19 has killed more children than the seasonal flu, contrary to the narrative pushed by some that coronavirus is not a bad disease for children. 

Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote in an Inside Medicine post on Monday that at the peak of the omicron wave, COVID-19 killed more children per month than flu does on average each year. In 2021, coronavirus killed about 600 children, compared to the 10-year average of 120 children dying of the flu per year. 

“These irrefutable figures, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveal that last year, pediatric COVID-19 deaths were around 500% that of pediatric flu deaths in a typical 21st century season,” Faust wrote. 

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The doctor went on to write that since 2000, there have only been seven times that a respiratory virus killed more than 65 children in a month. Twice those deaths were from the flu, but the other five times were from COVID-19.

The numbers get a little confusing though, Faust wrote, because there are stats reported for both actual deaths and estimated numbers. 

The National Center for Health Statistics, or NCHS, counts every single death in the United States, Faust wrote. Meanwhile, the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, or NCIRD, estimates the overall burden of diseases, which include both underlying and contributing causes of death.  

“If a person dies primarily of terminal cancer, but influenza might have played a role in the timing of their death, the NCIRD might include that death in its annual assessment of influenza’s ‘burden of disease,’” Faust wrote.

Because both coronavirus and influenza deaths for children are mandated for reporting to public health officials, the actual counts of deaths by the NCHS are “highly accurate and are certainly the right comparator for Covid-19,” Faust said. 

It’s important to do an apples-to-apples comparison when talking about the severity of COVID, Faust said — comparing actual counts to actual counts or estimates to estimates.

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In that vein, Faust cautioned against comparing pediatric outcomes to adult outcomes. 

“It’s true that older adults are orders of magnitude more likely to die of Covid-19 than children are,” Faust wrote. “But in public health, you compare groups to themselves, if you want to understand a particular threat. You wouldn’t downplay pediatric cancer by noting that 80-year-olds die of cancer at a rate that is 541-times greater that of 8-year-olds (which, by the way, is true).”

Though Faust is pointed out that COVID-19 has severe outcomes for some children, he emphasized that he is not arguing schools should close.

Rather, he said that the discussion should be about how to keep schools safe.

“Pediatric Covid-19 vaccination rates remain woefully low,” Faust wrote. “Understanding the real risk that Covid-19 poses to children is about the only thing I can think of that might convince parents to do the right thing.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator who is on leave from his position as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, applauded Faust’s analysis and stressed the importance of vaccines to keep kids “out of the hospital.”

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“If your kid 5 or older isn’t vaccinated, its time,” he wrote.

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