One would think this should be obvious, but, after seeing a bunch of economists on the twitterz congratulate themselves on how smart they were during the pandemic, including praise for Emily Oster, this article from a couple of weeks ago about a Korean outbreak seems relevant. In January 2022, there was a massive outbreak, infecting at least 200 people across 75 households, which spread through multiple pediatric facilities (schools, martial arts academies, daycares). Here’s a very nice figure that highlights those chains of transmission:
Not only did it spread through multiple places where children congregate, but the chains were relatively long: it’s not just an instance of a single superspreader event sickening a bunch of people and then ending. One piece of good news is that household spread was cut in half when the infected person had a full course of vaccination (2 doses; Table 2), so vaccination, as was shown in Denmark, does lower transmission (just not enough by itself to end the pandemic unfortunately). So, as an infectious disease specialist told me years ago about influenza, “The kids and the grandkids murder their parents and grandparents.” In this case, no one died, but nearly fourteen percent of the infected required hospitalization (Table 1).
Despite this, as well as the reality that nearly all U.S. kids have been infected at least once with COVID*, the belief that kids don’t spread COVID still persists. One reason, besides wishful thinking, is, early on in the pandemic, kids didn’t have many contacts (e.g., no school, activities were cancelled, etc.), so they didn’t have the opportunity to be infected. This was misinterpreted as ‘kids don’t get COVID’, when, in fact, it was ‘kids haven’t been exposed to COVID yet.’ Once kids started congregating again in the absence of protective measures, well, they’re going to get COVID. The good news is, compared to adults, the consequences of infection in children are less severe on average. Unfortunately, once something people want to be true is misperceived as actually true, it’s difficult to dislodge.
This points to a separate fallacy, in that The Discourse™ places much more importance on intrinsic factors such as people’s immunological status and characteristics of the virus, and downplays the role of environmental factors, such as behavior (e.g., masking, activity restrictions, etc.). But estimates of how infectious a given strain is or how well protected a person is are context-dependent and only can be measured in a given environment. To use an extreme example, if you live on island and no one is infected, neither the inhabitants’ vaccination (or exposure) status nor the infectiousness of the virus matter: no one can get infected, so no one will.
All that said, if given the chance, as happened in South Korea, kids will transmit COVID.
*Talk about unconsented experiments….