The Telegraph Retraction: No evidence that 12-15 year olds are “most responsible” for spreading

Henry Bodkin, a correspondent for the Telegraph claimed that “12 to 15-year-olds one of the age groups most responsible for spreading the virus.” After refusing to provide evidence for his claim we appealed to the Telegraph complaints department and forced them into retracting the statement.

In an 11th May article for the Telegraph, Health and Science correspondent Henry Bodkin claimed that “12 to 15-year-olds [are] one of the age groups most responsible for spreading the virus.”

archived version

Being unaware of such a claim ever having been made before I decided to reach out to Henry for further information which I detail in an article of 13th May that you can read here.

Henry drew an end to our correspondence by claiming that the issue was me as I was not accepting his evidence. The trouble is, he wasn’t supplying any evidence of his claim.

Philip, I had a sneaking suspicion that nothing on earth would evidence the claim to your satisfaction.

Here ends our interaction.

Take care.

Henry Bodkin

I then spent a further amount of time trying to find evidence to support his claim and had to give up defeated. Yet, I also couldn’t allow an incorrect claim to stay live on such a popular platform as the Telegraph that would only serve to further intensify the scare-mongering around children and schools and the claims they act as vectors for community spreading. So I contacted the Telegraph complaints department and after some back and forth they have agreed the statement was incorrect and have subsequently removed it. They claimed it was down to a “subbing error”.

I dispute their reasoning it was down to a “subbing error” as had it been then Henry wouldn’t have tried so vigorously to defend his statement but would have instead accepted it was an error. I do welcome the Telegraph correcting the issue however the story is now 2 weeks old and has been read by untold numbers of people many of whom may well now believe that 12-15-year-old kids are in effect super-spreaders. Which there is no evidence to support.

Kids aren’t the enemy

I have documented several high profile cases of social media personalities pushing fear-mongering relating to kids which all seem to be perfectly timed around talk of reopening society again.

In January, the Matron of Kings College Hospital in London, Laura Duffell, would take to BBC Radio 5 and claim,

“We have children who are coming in, it was minimally affecting children in the first wave, we have a whole ward of children here. I know that some of my colleagues are in the same position, where they have whole wards of children with Covid.”

This at a time when schools were to reopen after the Christmas holidays. Her comments raised alarm all over the country and left many a parent fearful for the safety of their children. Schools subsequently remained closed. But Laura was lying, as I revealed by the use of Freedom of Information Request to her hospital. It was my work that forced the BBC into accepting they failed at reporting the story impartially.

More recently Deepti Gurdasani, a lecturer of Machine Learning at the Queen Mary University of London, a staunch believer that kids are super-spreaders of the virus also took to spreading disinformation about transmission rates in school-aged children. What added insult to injury is that the graphs she misread were purposely misrepresented by a member of the Zero-Covid fringe grouping, Independent Sage. Both people seemingly aimed to paint a picture of schools being the cause for large scale community spread of COVID-19. Read my report on this here

Now place Henry’s reporting in the context of the above examples and you begin to see a concerning pattern emerging of disinformation around children and claims of them being huge drivers of viral spread in the community.

We need to leave kids alone. They’ve suffered horrendously for the past 14 months for a virus that barely affects them. They have had a year of their lives taken from them based upon the fear-mongering of adults. Time and time again we witness in the data that infection rates in schools reflect community transmission rates. In other words, when community transmission rates are high so are rates of transmissions in the schools in the infected area/s.

We are currently working on a more substantial report digging into the infection rates around schools that will help clear this misconception up.

It’s time for fewer hysterics; less fear-mongering and less disinformation and it’s time for cool heads, rational debate and to begin reading what the data says and not what some want it to say.

The Telegraph Response

Dear Mr Watson,

Re: Pfizer asks UK regulator to approve Covid vaccine for use in 12 to 15-year-olds

Thank you for your patience while I have been investigating.

Regrettably, the line ‘one of the age groups most responsible for spreading the virus’, was down to a subbing error. I have attached the print version of the article, which you will note, did not carry that line.

I have now removed said line from the online version, which has now been updated.

We appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write and bring this to our attention.

Yours sincerely,

**** *****

Editorial Compliance  

9 thoughts on “The Telegraph Retraction: No evidence that 12-15 year olds are “most responsible” for spreading

  1. Thanks for picking up on this – particularly concerned that Christina Pagel is still using graphs relating to the 10-19 age range as proof of mass spreading in schools when primary cases have been low and the upper half of that age group will rarely be ‘in school’. Whilst you do need to stay in education or training until 18, for many it’s been one day per week for college for several years and there are many older ones who are at work or studying remotely at uni.

    There were a good number of cases picked up in schools when they went back but surely reflects asymptomatic cases from home being picked up by regular testing which parents generally have less access to. I’d be quite interested to know how much difference new variants have on asymptomatic transmission, given the limited examples prior to Christmas:

    Given we have around 18,000 schools (last time I checked) and staff will err on the side of caution for some time yet, I’m sure we’ll still see more cases in schools and outbreaks reported. It was a shame the Covid surveillance reports stopped being published in September in the old format – the infographics were really useful for seeing the change in proportions as the pandemic developed, as well as highlighting how many ‘flu outbreaks there were winter 19-20.

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