National Review title: Is Europe Wrong? Or Are We?
NR subtitle: European countries aren’t vaccinating their five-year-olds, and they’re taking off the masks.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty
Date: 22 October 2021
“The United States is weeks away from rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as five. And yet, even after it is rolled out, children will still be masking in schools. “We’re going to continue to recommend masks in all schools, for all people in those schools,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky.
This brings up lots of questions. If not when vaccines become available to children, then when? When a certain number take them? When they get boosters six months later? Given that unvaccinated children are demonstrably safer from COVID than are vaccinated adults who often live and work without the mask requirement, what other possible milestone is there?
Also, why is the United States so far out on the limb with childhood vaccines? Most countries aren’t close to vaccinating children under twelve. The United States is joining Cuba, the United Arab Emirates, and Cambodia in vaccinating young children. Israel, which had one of the most aggressive immunization programs in the world, offers COVID vaccines only to five- to eleven-year-olds who have chronic lung illnesses or who are severely immunocompromised.
And Europe? Do U.S. health officials, and those laymen and -women who are supremely anxious that all children get vaccinated, think that Europe lacks medical and scientific wisdom?
Almost no European countries mandate masks for young schoolchildren. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is also strongly against school closures. “The negative physical, mental and educational impacts of proactive school closures on children, as well as the economic impact on society more broadly, would likely outweigh the benefits,” the guidance says. It continues: “In primary schools, the use of face masks is recommended for teachers and other adults when physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, but it is not recommended for students.”
CDC has no mention of developmental, social, or mental-health impacts of masking children. And American health experts seem to be taking their cues from the CDC, as they line up to say that all mental-health concerns about masking young children are “misinformation.”
Public-health authorities in Europe view the question very differently. Here’s a sample of the guidance developed jointly by the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER) and the European Academy of Paediatrics (EAP):
For children, masks represent a relevant psychological dimension, which unlike for adults must be understood in a 2-fold approach (physical and psychological). It is important to consider the issues related both to the masks used by children and by adults with which they live. The recognition of family members and other close loved ones is largely based on facial traits. In very young children (under 4 years old) fear is often verified toward the person wearing a mask.
The same report says that children between the ages of three and four may be less resistant to wearing masks than two-year-olds but that they often cry and demonstrate fear when approached by adults who wear masks. It goes on to urge policy-makers to take into consideration other disabilities. “Particular care should be taken when deciding to put masks on children who previously have a disability.”
Now think of the CDC’s recommendations, where two-year-olds are required to mask in day-care centers. Or on flights. There is currently not even a guess when two-year-olds might be released from this obligation to public safety despite the fact that we know they do not transmit COVID-19 efficiently. In America, two-year-olds in the midst of an asthma attack, and requiring an inhaler, are thrown out of public spaces for violating the CDC’s mask mandate.
Meanwhile, even the last of masking in Europe is coming down, and some of the larger cautious holdouts are starting to relax. Two-thirds of the French students who were required to wear masks were released from the obligation. Their teachers aren’t even mandated to be vaccinated. Countries such as Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden aren’t masking young children.
It’s important to note that these European examples aren’t just the decisions of policy-makers, who are subject to the public; they are the advice of doctors and scientists leading public-health bodies. The president of the Professional Association of Paediatricians and Youth Physicians in Germany gave remarks to the effect that there was no reason why primary-school pupils should continue to wear masks in class, because those children contribute less to the incidence of infection than teenagers and adults do.
In the United States, questioning or even just sullenly resenting public-health guidance is attributed to perverse irrationality or a kind of death wish among MAGA-hat-wearing radicals who deny science. But surely this can’t be said of German, Irish, British, and French public-health bodies.
With America diverging so dramatically from the World Health Organization and the European CDC, shouldn’t public-health officials have to explain and demonstrate that Americans are getting tremendous public-health benefits from these unusual interventions on young children, benefits which Europeans are inexplicably uninterested in?
If the scientific consensus is so obvious, why are American public-health officials not crying out to Europe about all the death and destruction they are needlessly undergoing because of their failure to gag two-year-olds?
Or maybe we can go with Occam’s razor and conclude that there is no easy consensus. And that maybe our mania for masking infants and young children, along with our unusual anxiety about vaccinating them for COVID, is self-referential and weird, and will only be a source of needless conflict.”