Fact Check – Omicron Variant and Children

Since the beginning of Covid in late 2019/early 2020, misinformation and disinformation have spread quicker than the virus itself. Deepfakes are becoming more and more common and the average internet “troll” can easily photo edit their false claim Twitter post to look like it came directly from your favorite trusted news site. And as with all hot topics today, politically and otherwise, people are quick to point out simple mistakes and misinformation as intentional and created to be disinformation. As I have learned through Module 4 in my Digital Media Literacy course, journalists are under a lot of pressure to provide information and breaking news as quick as possible. And due to this pressure, they accidentally create misinformation that is often corrected but those corrections can be overlooked. Once angry readers discover a mistake they easily deem it as hostile and to be created on purpose.

Due to the nature of Covid, many doctors and scientists are now being treated like journalists and are also expected to have all the correct answers immediately. If they do not, their science and work are deemed untrustworthy and this, in turn, leads to further misinformation and sometimes disinformation. Such an incident happened on February 2nd, 2022, in a MSNBC interview with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel. Dr. Emanuel studied at both Harvard and Oxford and is both an oncologist and bioethicist. During this interview, Dr. Emanuel misspoke and said that children are “…likely to get a serious condition of Omicron.” Representatives for Dr. Emanule sought to clarify with Reuters, an international news organization known for debunking false information, that Dr. Emanuel misspoke and meant to say “a case of omicron” instead of a “serious one.”

Reuters uses past informative articles they posted discussing this topic, children with the Omicron variant, as well as scientific articles that showcase hard numbers and data. Through these articles they find that although children not vaccinated are more likely to catch the Omicron variant, there is not yet any hard proof that they are likely to be hospitalized. Reuters also has a direct quote from a different doctor, Dr. Walensky, stating that they did not see a direct correlation between children with Omicron and a rise in children being hospitalized. This shows that Reuters seeks out and receives information about the same topic from different sources and professionals in their field of work.

However, they do also acknowledge a different side of information and that is in the UK, very young children and babies that catch the Omicron variant are more likely to be hospitalized than young children and babies who caught previous variants. They also post a link to a previous article about this topic that goes more in-depth on the topic that includes further quotes from other medical professionals.

Reuters does not try to brush away what Dr. Emanuel said. They acknowledge that he did say it, that he inadvertently spread misinformation, but has also admitted to misspeaking. Reuters deems this mistake as, “Missing Context.”

Like with everything else related to Covid, new information becomes available every day while new variants begin to grow to lead to more questions and more information to be discovered. While a few weeks ago some scientists believed Omicron was proving to cause stronger symptoms in children, scientists are now finding that this may not be the case.

In a Nature article, a British weekly scientific journal, that although more children are catching the Omicron variant, child hospitalization is lower than when the Delta variant was dominant. However, scientists are still determining why Omicron is spreading fast and also why it is potentially causing less severe symptoms in both children and adults. The author of this article does not pretend to have all the answers and discusses previous findings related to this topic that have been confirmed by doctors and other professionals.

In a New York Times opinion piece, an epidemiologist and a pediatrician, are asked a multitude of questions relating to children and the Omicron variant. They discuss the risk of not vaccinating children as well as other ways to protect children if parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children. They discuss current and available data relating to long Covid in children and also what it looks like for a child to have a severe case of Covid. Both doctors do a good job of trying not to show favoritism to one side and acknowledge both adults who want to get their children vaccinated, as well as parents who do not want to use the vaccine. Non-favoritism is important in both factual and opinion-based news reports as if an author or interviewee shows favoritism to one side, that will cause the other side to become defensive and instead seek out news articles that align with their confirmation bias.

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