The New York Times was forced to issue a correction admitting it had inflated the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations of children by more than 800,000.
The Times published an article Wednesday discussing the possibility of single-dose COVID-19 vaccines for children. In the original version, reporter Apoorva Mandavilli wrote that “[n]early 900,000 children have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since the pandemic began.”
On Thursday, the Times corrected the article to say that “[m]ore than 63,000 children were hospitalized with Covid-19 from August 2020 to October 2021.”
The correction represents a hospitalization number that is 14 times lower than the original version claimed.
“How did an error that large happen, @NYTimes?” Pluribus editor Jeryl Bier asked in a tweet on Friday.
Original: "Nearly 900,000 children have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since the pandemic began…"
Corrected: "More than 63,000 children were hospitalized with Covid-19 from August 2020 to October 2021…"
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) October 8, 2021
It was one of three errors the Times had to correct.
The original article said Sweden and Denmark had begun offering single doses of the vaccine to children. In the correction, the Times said those two countries had, in fact, halted the use of the vaccine in children, which is a stark contrast to the original claim.
“In addition, the article misstated the timing of an F.D.A. meeting on authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children. It is later this month, not next week,” the lengthy correction said in conclusion.
The errors drew mockery and criticism on Twitter.
I see this NYT reporter is meeting her usual standards today. pic.twitter.com/zZ3OV348PU
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) October 8, 2021
The real number was 63,000 and not 900,000
Not sure how it’s possible to make a “mistake” that big.https://t.co/VfA41sGYMb
— Jeff Harris (@TheVotersSay) October 8, 2021
— Karol Markowicz (@karol) October 8, 2021
The question of whether to vaccinate children is a hot-button issue.
Jeremy Brown, an expert in respiratory diseases at University College London, told the Times he could not “make the absolute statement that it’s totally safe to give this vaccine.” He also suggested vaccinating children was morally wrong given our current knowledge on COVID-19 and the vaccine.
“The chance of getting severe Covid in a healthy 12- to 15-year-old is almost negligible,” he said. “Against that, you have to make sure that the vaccine that you’re giving is utterly safe. … You don’t vaccinate a 15-year-old to prevent them infecting other adults — that’s not morally, ethically the right thing to do.”
Despite that warning, Mandavilli wrote that “the United States is not in [the] same position as other countries.” She said some doctors believe the situation in America justifies vaccinating children.
In order to support that claim, the Times reporter used the false statistic about 900,000 children having been hospitalized with COVID-19. The number was eventually corrected to 63,000, but only after the article had been on the Times’ website for a day and many readers had seen the bogus figure.
“The Swedish Public Health Agency has decided to pause the use of Moderna’s vaccine Spikevax, for everyone born in 1991 and later, for precautionary reasons,” a translation of the news release said. “The cause is signals of an increased risk of side effects such as inflammation of the heart muscle or heart sac. However, the risk of being affected is very small.”
According to Reuters, Hong Kong, Norway and the United Kingdom are giving just one dose of the vaccine to children because of the reported side effects after the second dose.
Finland has joined the list of countries halting the Moderna vaccine for people under 30, but it plans to continue offering them the Pfizer vaccine.