Children With Respiratory Illnesses at Pediatric Centers More Likely to Be Hospitalized if Vaccinated: CDC Study

Authors say study shows Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective.
Children With Respiratory Illnesses at Pediatric Centers More Likely to Be Hospitalized if Vaccinated: CDC Study
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 25, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Zachary Stieber

Children who reported to pediatric center emergency departments with respiratory illness and were hospitalized were more likely to have taken COVID-19 vaccines, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than half of vaccinated children included in the study were admitted to hospitals as inpatients, compared to less than half of unvaccinated children.

The study examined children aged 6 months to 4 years who went to emergency departments at one of seven pediatric medical centers, including Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Some of the children were admitted to hospitals. The encounters happened as early as July 1, 2022, and as late as Sept. 30, 2023.

The children needed to have one or more symptoms indicating acute respiratory illness, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

The overwhelming majority of the young children in the study never received a dose of a vaccine. That group of 6,377 far outnumbered the 281 children who received one dose and the 776 children who received at least two doses. Across the United States, most young children are unvaccinated.

Of the unvaccinated children in the study, 44 percent were hospitalized. Of the vaccinated, 55 percent were hospitalized.

“This means that upon visiting hospital emergency departments, compared to unvaccinated children, vaccinated children had *increased* risks of inpatient hospitalization, very statistically significantly so,” Dr. Harvey Risch, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, who was not involved with the study, told The Epoch Times in an email.

Vaccinated children were also more likely to receive intensive care, need supplemental oxygen, and die, according to the paper, though just three deaths were recorded among the study population and some of the differences were not statistically significant.

The CDC’s media office, which promoted the study, told The Epoch Times in an email: “Although proportionally more hospitalized children had received a COVID-19 vaccine than children enrolled in the emergency department (ED), this does not mean that vaccinated children were more likely to be hospitalized.”

The CDC also said the paper showed that vaccination was “effective at reducing emergency department visits and hospitalizations in children.”

Dr. Eyal Shahar, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona who reviewed the study, noted that the vaccinated children had worse underlying health. “That largely explains worse outcomes,” Dr. Shahar told The Epoch Times via email. “We cannot attribute the outcomes to vaccination.”

The CDC published the paper in its quasi-journal. Papers published by the journal are typically not peer-reviewed but are shaped to align with CDC policy. The CDC currently recommends COVID-19 vaccination for nearly all Americans, regardless of prior infection or underlying health.

The study’s authors, some of whom work for the CDC, said the study showed that “receipt of ≥2 COVID-19 mRNA vaccine doses was 40% effective ... in preventing emergency department visits and hospitalization,” referring to the Pfizer and Moderna modified messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.

The authors reached that conclusion after separating out patients who tested positive for COVID-19. There were 387, with 94 percent unvaccinated. The unvaccinated were only 85 percent of the study population, indicating they were at higher risk of visiting an emergency department with respiratory illness and then testing positive for COVID-19.

“No one cares whether the vaccines reduce COVID-associated hospitalization if at the same time they increase non-COVID-associated hospitalization,” Dr. Risch said.

The researchers estimated that the effectiveness of one vaccine dose against emergency department presentation or hospitalization was 31 percent, increasing to 40 percent for at least two doses.

Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg, an epidemiologist in California who reviewed the paper, said that the authors inappropriately inferred causality despite the study being observational.

“They should have said ‘was associated with lower rate of...’ rather than ‘was effective in preventing,’” Dr. Hoeg told The Epoch Times via email.

The researchers did not present separate estimates for protection against hospitalization and emergency department visits, nor did they track how the effectiveness estimates changed over time. Vaccine effectiveness has been shown to drop over time in other studies.

Regarding effectiveness, the authors referred to an earlier CDC-published study that estimated vaccination provided from 7 percent to 80 percent protection against COVID-19-associated urgent care counters and emergency department visits. A third CDC-published study estimated protection against symptomatic COVID-19 infection among young children was typically under 50 percent.

Vaccines are supposed to provide at least 50 percent protection, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization guidance.

Dr. Heidi Klein, who works for the CDC, and Dr. Eileen Klein, an emergency medicine doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital, did not respond to requests for comment. They were listed as the new study’s senior authors.

The conflicts of interest described were lengthy, with three authors reporting funding from Pfizer.

Limitations of the paper, the authors said, included the low number of vaccinated children.

“This appears to be another substandard observational study of vaccine efficacy in children published without peer review by the CDC. The list of limitations is a mile long and understates the study’s methodological limitations,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of health policy at Stanford University who reviewed the study, told The Epoch Times via email. “If the CDC wants to answer the question of COVID vaccine benefits and harms to children, it should commission a large, rigorous, randomized trial with meaningful clinical endpoints like prevention of hospitalization and death.”

More on Methods

Researchers collected data for the study through interviews with parents, chart reviews, and immunization records.

All children included had signs of acute respiratory illness.

Children who tested positive for COVID-19 were considered case patients while controls were children who tested negative for COVID-19.

Exclusions included children whose illness lasted more than 10 days, children without verified vaccination status, and children with inconclusive COVID-19 test results.

Ninety-five percent of the children tested negative for COVID-19. Many tested positive for other viruses, such as rhinovirus. Out of 7,434 children, just 387 tested positive for COVID-19.

Those children fared worse by many measures than those who did not, including having a higher probability of needing supplemental oxygen.