Public health officials are dangerously close to destroying their credibility

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Public health officials and the media have employed an interesting strategy for the almost two years of this pandemic: lie to and manipulate the public to try to elicit their desired behavior. Some are better at it than others, who don’t realize they’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud.

“Pediatric hospitalizations are becoming an increasing point of concern,” NBC New York reported Wednesday, a day after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state has 184 child COVID hospitalizations, 109 of them in Gotham.

“Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the state health commissioner,” NBC continued, “said pediatric COVID hospitalizations have doubled in the last three weeks. In New York City, they’ve quintupled in that time span.”

Here’s the quiet part that NBC New York knew to keep out of its reporting but Bassett volunteered during the same hearing: “The numbers that we gave on pediatric admissions weren’t intended to make it seem that children were having an epidemic of infection. These were small numbers that we reported in our health alert. That was based on 50 hospitalizations, and I’ve now given you some larger numbers, but they’re still small numbers. It really is to motivate pediatricians and families to seek the protection of vaccination.”

A growing source of frustration for those following COVID data is the refusal to list primary diagnosis in reporting hospitalization numbers. Are children showing up “with” COVID or do they merely discover their COVID-positive status upon admission for other issues?

Dr. Paul Offit explained that because it is winter, there will be an increase in cases — even with the vaccine.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

A leading expert on pediatric vaccination, Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explained on “The Today Show” Tuesday, “It’s winter, and this is a winter virus, and this Omicron is particularly contagious, so I think you were going to see an increase anyway.”

He went on: “We test anybody who’s admitted to the hospital for whatever reason to see whether or not they have COVID, and we’re definitely seeing an increase in cases. However, we’re really not seeing an increase in children who are hospitalized for COVID or in the intensive care unit for COVID.”

It must be extremely frustrating for honest doctors like Offit to watch the credibility of public health policy and childhood vaccination be blown into orbit by government officials like Hochul and Bassett. Unlike them, Offit treats parents like rational adults.

In a recent interview with the American Medical Association, Offit discussed the decision to vaccinate young children, weighing it against the risk of vaccine-related issues like myocarditis, a swelling of the heart. “There are never risk-free choices. There are just choices to take different risks,” he said. “And, clearly, the choice is to get a vaccine, which is the lesser risk.”

This is messaging that resonates and treats parents with respect, able to make their own risk analysis without information or data being exaggerated or manipulated.

Unfortunately for Offit and other forthright experts like him, officials like Hochul and Bassett — not to mention the media who breathlessly cover their statements without showing the full picture — are destroying faith in public health and the lifesaving gift of vaccines for a lifetime. The next time parents show up at a pediatrician appointment and find their children are due for immunizations against dangerous childhood diseases, will they consent? Will they trust that these vaccines are truly necessary or will they suspect they’re being lied to again?

After taking over for a disgraced Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Kathy Hochul has continued to steer New York aimlessly through the pandemic.
After taking over for a disgraced Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Kathy Hochul has continued to steer New York aimlessly through the pandemic.
Pacific Press/LightRocket via Ge

Even before the pandemic, trust was waning both in the safety and necessity of childhood immunizations and the trustworthiness of the pharmaceutical industry and government agencies tasked with regulating them. When we reach the other side of this pandemic, we’ll be able to calculate just how hollowed out our faith in the medical field has become. When that happens, we won’t be dealing just with COVID but the resurgence of entirely preventable childhood viruses and illnesses such as the measles and even, perhaps, polio.

If and when that happens, here’s hoping we have more trustworthy and capable public health leadership manning the ship instead of piloting it at full-speed into an iceberg.

Twitter and Instagram: @bethanyshondark

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