Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who frequently writes about parenting, published an article in The Atlantic in March that made a lot of people angry. The headline was, “Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Like a Vaccinated Grandma.” The article argued that Covid-19 tended to be so mild in children that vaccinated parents could feel comfortable going out in the world with their unvaccinated children.
Critics called the article insensitive and misleading, saying it understated the risks that children could both get sick and spread the virus. Oster responded on her website with a note standing by her main argument but apologizing particularly for the headline’s lack of nuance. Her critics seemed somewhat vindicated.
Seven months later, with a lot more Covid data available, the debate over the article looks quite different.
Oster is the one who has largely been vindicated. If anything, subsequent data indicates she did not go far enough in describing the age skew of Covid. Today, an accurate version of her headline might be: “Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Much Safer Than a Vaccinated Grandma.”
“Covid is a threat to children. But it’s not an extraordinary threat,” Dr. Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at the University of Southampton, has written. “It’s very ordinary. In general, the risks from being infected are similar to the other respiratory viruses you probably don’t think much about.”
As a point of comparison, the annual risk of death for all vaccinated people over 65 in Seattle this year appears to be around 1 in 2,700. The annual average risk that an American dies in a vehicle crash is lower — about 1 in 8,500 — but not a different order of magnitude.
What does Oster think about all of this? She has taken the high road on social media and in her email newsletter, rather than relitigating the earlier debate. Instead, she devoted a recent newsletter to reviewing the evidence about children and Covid vaccines.
“I hope we can be prepared to be a little bit gentle with each other,” she wrote. “Asking questions about vaccines for kids or being more cautious for kids than older adults — these are reasonable approaches.”
But hold the phones —– She’s still an idiot.
At the end, she explained why she would be vaccinating her children once they became eligible: “I do not want them to get Covid. I am worried about their immune-compromised grandparent. I would like to avoid quarantine and keep them in school.”
If I get vaxxed I can still spread Covid.
ht/ c. steven tucker