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Has SIDS Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Why do some folks think that rates of SIDS have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic and that they can link that to decreased immunization rates?

Why are so many fewer children dying? A report that blamed fewer cases of SIDS didn't actually use data about SIDS.
Why are so many fewer children dying? A report that blamed fewer cases of SIDS didn’t actually use data about SIDS.

The usual suspects…

Has SIDS Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had many unexpected, but not unwelcome indirect effects.

For one thing, it put a quick end to this year’s flu season.

“NSSP found that emergency department (ED) visits declined 42% during the early COVID-19 pandemic, from a mean of 2.1 million per week (March 31–April 27, 2019) to 1.2 million (March 29–April 25, 2020), with the steepest decreases in persons aged ≤14 years, females, and the Northeast. The proportion of infectious disease–related visits was four times higher during the early pandemic period.”

Potential Indirect Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Use of Emergency Departments for Acute Life-Threatening Conditions — United States, January–May 2020

But how could it lead to a drop in the rate of SIDS?

Amy Becker and Mark Blaxill think they have an answer in their Lessons from the Lockdown report.

Taking a look at their report, it is easy to see that they don’t.

The first thing we notice is that they looked at provisional mortality statistics.

“Provisional data are not yet complete. Counts will not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period, especially for more recent periods.”

Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics

Then we see that they didn’t actually look at data on SIDS deaths!

“We have no specific data on the trend in SIDS deaths during the pandemic.”

Lessons from the Lockdown

So what data did they look at?

They looked at total deaths.

Total deaths have been down and it seems that they assumed that it was because of SIDS.

Of course, that wouldn’t explain why deaths are also down in older children and teens…

“But what about Becker and Blaxill’s claims that there was “very little” effect among school age children or adolescents? As an absolute number, that’s sort of true, but as a percentage? Not so much. Again, look at the graph. Between the weeks of February 1 and May 16, deaths of children 5-14 years old fell from over 100/week to roughly 75 a week, a fall of close to 25%, not much less than that among infants. During the same time period, among children aged 1-4 years, the number of deaths fell from around 70-90 a week to 50-60 a week, a similar decline.”

Antivaxxers Amy Becker and Mark Blaxill deceptively use COVID-19 death statistics to claim that vaccines cause SIDS

What might explain a decrease in deaths among all children?

Fewer accidental deaths, for one thing.

Remember, accidents are a leading cause of death in children and with more kids stuck at home, there have almost certainly been fewer accidents.

Another effect of social distancing, besides helping to decrease your risk of getting COVID-19, has been lower rates of other respiratory diseases and gastrointestinal diseases. That likely also contributed to a decrease in childhood deaths, especially among infants.

All of these factors certainly led to a decrease in ER visits.

The number of ED visits decreased 42%, from a mean of 2,099,734 per week during March 31–April 27, 2019, to a mean of 1,220,211 per week during the early pandemic period of March 29–April 25, 2020. Visits declined for every age group, with the largest proportional declines in visits by children aged ≤10 years (72%) and 11–14 years (71%).
The number of ED visits decreased 42%, from a mean of 2,099,734 per week during March 31–April 27, 2019, to a mean of 1,220,211 per week during the early pandemic period of March 29–April 25, 2020. Visits declined for every age group, with the largest proportional declines in visits by children aged ≤10 years (72%) and 11–14 years (71%).

Is there any other reason to be skeptical of the claims made in the Lessons from the Lockdown?

For one thing, while we don’t have any official statistics yet, there is no indication that referral rates to support organizations for SIDS or SUDC have decreased.

Also, we know that rates of SIDS didn’t decrease during other periods of decreased immunization rates.

Remember Sweden?

The incidence of SIDS didn’t drop when they stopped using the DPT vaccine in Sweden in 1979.
The incidence of SIDS didn’t drop when they stopped using the DPT vaccine in Sweden in 1979.

When they stopped using the DPT vaccine over fears about SIDS, they didn’t see a decrease in SIDS. They did see a lot more pertussis…

Need a real pandemic lesson?

Get your kids vaccinated and protected.

Lower immunization rates that have been reported during the pandemic will put us at risk for more outbreaks and epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases as folks start to travel.

More on SIDS

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