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FactCheck: No, masks were not shown to increase children's carbon dioxide intake

The paper claimed that masks increase children’s carbon dioxide intake, but multiple problems have been identified with its research.

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SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS are using a study that suggested masks increase children’s carbon dioxide intake to claim that masks are unsafe for young people – but the study was retracted shortly after publication.

The article, which was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said it found that carbon dioxide content in the air children inhale is higher when they wear a mask – but multiple issues were identified with it that undermined its results.

Its findings have been shared on social media in claims that suggest it proves masks are unsafe for children to wear.

Prior to the retraction, an Irish Facebook page that regularly shares Covid-19 misinformation posted a screenshot of the results and wrote “finally, a clinical trial regarding face masks on children”.

The post was shared 285 times.

However, JAMA retracted the research letter in July two weeks after it was published when “numerous scientific issues” were discerned.

The retraction notice says that there were concerns about the device used to assess the carbon dioxide levels and whether the measurements of the carbon dioxide content in inhaled air were accurate, as well as other issues.

The authors were asked to respond to the concerns but did not provide sufficient evidence to resolve the issues.

Jama Journal The notice of retraction that now appears at the top of the article on the JAMA's website Source: JAMA

The full text of the retraction notice states:

The Research Letter, ‘Experimental Assessment of Carbon Dioxide Content in Inhaled Air With or Without Face Masks in Healthy Children: A Randomized Clinical Trial,’ by Harald Walach, PhD, and colleagues published online in JAMA Pediatrics on June 30, 2021, is hereby retracted.
Following publication, numerous scientific issues were raised regarding the study methodology, including concerns about the applicability of the device used for assessment of carbon dioxide levels in this study setting, and whether the measurements obtained accurately represented carbon dioxide content in inhaled air, as well as issues related to the validity of the study conclusions.
In their invited responses to these and other concerns, the authors did not provide sufficiently convincing evidence to resolve these issues, as determined by editorial evaluation and additional scientific review.
Given fundamental concerns about the study methodology, uncertainty regarding the validity of the findings and conclusions, and the potential public health implications, the editors have retracted this Research Letter.”

One of the authors of the research letter, Herald Walach, published an article on vaccine safety in June that has also been retracted.

The Vaccines journal, which published the second article, said that “serious concerns were brought to the attention of the publisher regarding misinterpretation of data, leading to incorrect and distorted conclusions”.

The editor-in-chief and editorial board members evaluated the article and found that it “contained several errors that fundamentally affect the interpretation of the findings”.

Masks in Ireland

Young children in Ireland are not currently required to wear a mask.

Children under age 13 are exempt from the requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and other public spaces like shops, unless they attend secondary school.

Guidance from the HSE outlines that while they aren’t required to, some children may choose to wear one, and a doctor or healthcare worker may advise that a child should wear a face covering for a particular reason.

Earlier this year, Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) looked into whether the minimum age for a mask requirement should be reduced.

In its advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), HIQA said that it wasn’t recommending any change to the age requirement at that time.

This wasn’t because there was any concern about how safe they are for children’s health, but rather because there were low levels of the virus among the age group and because it said masks could potentially be a hindrance to young children who are developing their language and communication skills.

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HIQA noted that the guidance on masks doesn’t prevent children from wearing masks and that parents and children could choose for a child to wear a mask on an individual basis.

More broadly, The Journal has already debunked false claims that masks reduce oxygen intake.

A study published last November found that wearing a face covering even during intense exercise is not dangerous for oxygen levels.

The researchers said that people “can wear face masks during intense exercise with no detrimental effects on performance and minimal impact on blood and muscle oxygenation”.

A different study from January looked at carbon dioxide and oxygen levels after mask-wearing in both healthy individuals and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and found that “gas exchange is not significantly affected by the use of surgical masks, even in subjects with severe lung impairment”.

We rate the verdict that face masks were proven unsafe for children because of an increase in carbon dioxide intake: FALSE

As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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