Another week, another Vaccine Surveillance report (now published by the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the successor to Public Health England), and with it more worrying news on the vaccine front.
Infection rates in the double-vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated continue to rise, meaning unadjusted vaccine effectiveness continues to decline. Infection rates are now higher in the double-vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated by 124% in those in their 40s, 103% in those in their 50s and 60s and 101% in those in their 70s, corresponding to unadjusted vaccine effectiveness estimates of minus-124%, minus-103% and minus-101% respectively. For those over 80 the unadjusted vaccine effectiveness is minus-34% while for those in their 30s it is minus-27%. For 18-29 year-olds it is 25%, so still positive but low, while for under-18s it is 90%, the only age group showing high efficacy. Vaccine effectiveness against emergency hospital admission and death continues to hold up, though with some indication of gradual slide, particularly in older age groups (see below). (For definitions and limitations, see here.)
“My heat pump has me left in the cold” – I was helping save the planet and saving myself the cost of buying oil. The perfect win-win. A toasty house whatever the weather and a minuscule energy bill. But I was wrong, writes John Humphreys in the Mail.
Footballers haven’t been the only sportspeople to be barraged by invasive questions about their Covid vaccination status. Tennis players have received the same treatment, but Novak Djokovic is standing his ground, saying reporters are “taking the liberty” to ask whether he has been jabbed and “judg[ing] a person” for not giving the ‘correct’ answer. RThas the story.
World number one Djokovic has repeatedly expressed his reservations about players being pressured to take a Covid jab, and the reigning Australian Open champion insists his decision is a “private matter” amid a string of controversies surrounding the likes of NBA star Kyrie Irving, who has been left out by the Brooklyn Nets because he is not vaccinated.
Djokovic rival Stefanos Tsitsipas found himself at the center of a political row after he made a wide range of remarks about Covid and vaccines, and the Greek – whose own Government seemed to distance themselves from views which appeared to include a suggestion that spreading the virus could have positive effects – now appears to be willing to be vaccinated.
Russian contender Andrey Rublev has become the latest player to drop their apparent reluctance because of the logistical issues not being vaccinated could cause, but Djokovic is yet to openly say he has had the treatment.
“Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne,” Djokovic told Blic, speaking ahead of a first Grand Slam of the year in January which is likely to take place under tight restrictions.
“I will not reveal my status, whether I have been vaccinated or not – it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.
“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person.
“Whatever you say – ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’ – they will take advantage.”
Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the state of Victoria, has reiterated how difficult it could be for unvaccinated stars to travel to the country, explaining that they may not be allowed in.
“I don’t think an unvaccinated tennis player is going to get a visa to come into this country,” predicted the politician.
“If they did get a visa, they’d probably have to quarantine for a couple of weeks when no other players will have to.
“I don’t think any other tennis player or golfer or Formula One driver will even get a visa to get here.
“Professional sport is part of that authorised worker list and they have to be double-dose vaccinated.”
Boris Johnson said today that there is “absolutely nothing to indicate” there will be another lockdown this winter, in spite of mounting pressure from NHS bigwigs and trade union barons. MailOnlinehas more.
The Prime Minister said a national shutdown is not ‘on the cards’ as he was grilled about rising coronavirus case numbers.
His comments came after Tory MPs and hospitality chiefs urged the PM to resist calls from health bosses to trigger the Government’s COVID-19 ‘Plan B’.
Conservative MPs fear going ahead with the fall back strategy of telling people to work from home and to wear face masks would put the nation on a “slippery slope” towards another lockdown.
They are adamant there should be no return to draconian curbs, claiming that the Government must not be “bullied” by health leaders into imposing new rules.
Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have warned against reimposing restrictions, telling the PM that many pubs, bars and restaurants would “go to the wall”.
The hospitality industry is concerned that even light touch restrictions could hit bookings and put “Christmas at risk”.
The Government has insisted the triggering of ‘Plan B’ is not imminent, with the focus currently on rolling out vaccine booster shots.
But ministers struck an ominous tone this morning as they said the blueprint is “there for a reason”.
Health bosses have called on the Government to introduce ‘Plan B’ measures as they warned the NHS is currently heading for a winter crisis.
Stop Press: SAGE is backing Boris’s decision not to implement ‘Plan B’. The latest modelling from SPI-M concluded that admission rates “are unlikely to get significantly higher than those currently seen” if vaccine protection does not wane much further than has already been observed. The Telegraph‘s Sarah Knapton has more.
A winter Covid wave is likely to be mild compared to last year even without ‘Plan B’ measures, Government scientists said as they warned that restrictions may not work as well as in previous waves.
The latest modelling, released on Friday, suggests that unless there is a rapid increase in transmission rates, coupled with the repeated waning of protection from Covid jabs, hospital admissions will be nowhere near the highs of January.
PCR Covid tests for travel have been scrapped but holidaymakers still face extortionate bills for travel testing, with some providers asking for up to 20 times the price of lateral flow tests in Europe. The Telegraphhas the story.
The Government is due to launch a new “bespoke” list of lateral flow test providers… with fully jabbed travellers able to book their swabs ready for their return next week.
However, analysis by the Telegraph of the current firms on the official list that already offer lateral flow swabs show they are charging up to 20 times the price of tests available in Europe.
The Government’s switch from the more expensive PCR tests to cheaper lateral flow swabs for returning travellers is designed to give foreign travel a boost by saving families hundreds of pounds.
But the analysis of existing providers reveals the costs range from £17.99 – offered by 001 Expert Covid Testing U.K. – to £150 by the Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent.
At least half a dozen are pitched at £100 or more, although the costs were inflated by offering a bespoke on-site testing service rather than the “click and collect at home” tests the Government has allowed.
A significant number were also priced at £50 or more, compared with all the major European destinations offering lateral flow tests at €30 or less (£25.32). Even the cheapest failed to disclose in their headline price advertised on Gov.uk that packaging and posting will add £10 to the cost.
From Monday, any fully jabbed holidaymaker will be able to use lateral flow tests on their return to the U.K. If they test positive, they can get a free PCR test on the NHS to check their result.
PCR tests have averaged around £70, with the most expensive at £300. It is understood the “bespoke” list for lateral flow tests will include 25 firms specifically authorised to provide them.
In a recent viral tweet, the anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham criticised the Government’s initial Covid strategy (which, as we know, was later ditched in favour of lockdowns).
I’m no defender of the Government’s response to the pandemic, but it’s hard to imagine a more wrong-headed criticism than this. Indeed, it’s impressive how many fallacies Maugham managed to pack into 280 characters.
First: “Herd immunity”. As the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have tirelessly pointed out, describing any response to the pandemic as a ‘herd immunity strategy’ is like describing a pilot’s plan to land a plane as a ‘gravity strategy’. Given that Covid cannot be eliminated, herd immunity will eventually be reached, regardless of what we do.
The goal of any plan to address Covid, write Kulldorff and Bhattacharya, “should be to minimise disease mortality and the collateral harms from the plan itself, while managing the build-up of immunity in the population.”
Second, the implication of Maugham’s tweet is that the Government’s initial strategy was motivated by Conservative ideology, and that the alternative – lockdown – is what’s backed by science.
Yet, as I and others have pointed out, it’s actually lockdown that deviates substantially from the pre-Covid consensus. Indeed, the UK’s pandemic preparedness plan does not even mention the term. And in 2019, the WHO classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended under any circumstances”.
Given that the first lockdown was implemented by a communist one-party state, and that subsequent lockdowns were imposed with almost no prior discussion, it would make more sense to say lockdown was motivated by ideology.
Third, the virus does not “target” working class and poorer people, while leaving Etonians and bankers unscathed. It is not some pathogenic agent of class warfare.
If “target” is taken to mean “infect”, then the virus targets people who aren’t immune to it. And if “target” is taken to mean “kill”, then it would be most accurate to say the virus targets the old and the immunocompromised. After all, these groups account for the overwhelming majority of deaths.
Now, it’s true that death rates have been higher in working class occupations, as I noted in a previous post. But this is far more plausibly due to lockdown than to the Government’s initial strategy, which was in any case abandoned in March of 2020.
As the art critic J. J. Charlesworth quipped, “There was never any lockdown. There was just middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things.” Middle-class people like Jolyon Maugham, I might add.
The length of time people must wait after receiving their second Covid vaccine dose before getting their ‘booster’ could be cut from six months to five, under new plans being drawn up by the Government and its scientific advisers.
This is strange given that more people (almost three-quarters of a million more people) are already becoming eligible each week for a third dose than are actually being ‘jabbed’. Perhaps ministers have some more ‘nudges‘ in mind for those who are unwilling to come forward. The Telegraphhas the story.
Proposals to cut the waiting time for a third Covid jab from six months to five are under discussion in Whitehall, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) understood to be showing interest in the idea.
It would mean the vast majority of over-65s could be vaccinated by early November rather than early December, and all over-70s jabbed now rather than by mid-November.
Boris Johnson indicated support for the change on Thursday, saying it was an “extremely important point” and the programme should move “as fast as possible”.
Analysis by the Telegraph suggests nine million more people could get a booster jab if the change happened now, doubling the number of those eligible.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, floated the change on Thursday as a way to boost the number of people who have maximum Covid protection before Christmas. …
The roll-out of Covid booster jabs, which offer people aged over 50 a top-up to their immunity, has been criticised after only half of those eligible have taken up the offer.
There has been discussion inside the Government about changing the definition of ‘fully jabbed’ from two Covid jabs to three for those who are eligible in order to encourage uptake, although no change is expected soon. Mr. Javid said earlier this week that demand and not supply was the problem, adding: “We’ve got the jabs – we just need the arms to put them in.” …
It is understood that Downing Street is open to dropping the six-month delay but will wait for any change in advice from the JCVI. [Not that the body’s advice mattered much when it came to the vaccination of healthy children.]
Stop Press: This piece about the vaccine roll-out and its diminishing returns by an anonymous substacker called eugyppius is very good. Worth bearing in mind that if the Government has its way anonymous accounts like this would probably be unlawful.
“Tories are tied in knots over free speech” – The passage of the Online Harms Bill will expose the contradiction between the Party’s libertarian instincts and its desire to confront tech giants, writes James Forsyth in the Times.
“Covid attitudes have shifted” – New polling published in the Sunday Times suggetsts the number of people who want the Government to limit the spread of the virus at all costs has fallen while the public desire to protect the economy (even if it means ‘more virus’) has become more prominent.
An NHS surgeon who’s contributed to the Daily Sceptic before has sent us an email offering us his perspective on the current NHS ‘crisis’. It’s a reminder that even though the current pressure on the NHS cannot realistically be attributed to Covid hospital admissions – which remain at around 5% of the total – that doesn’t mean that the NHS isn’t under strain.
There are various debates about whether or not the NHS is under pressure with pundits rightly pointing out that the NHS is not under pressure due to Covid-related disease. I think at this stage this is an unhelpful diversion. The fact is there is a big problem and trying to disprove it by just looking at Covid is missing the bigger picture.
The NHS is under a lot of pressure due to processes unrelated to Covid workload. While hospitals are not yet full to the brim, the overall activity levels are higher than usual for certain regions (whether this is due to the catch-up effect, neglect, the iatrogenic effect of recent non-pharmaceutical or other interventions/measures, etc.). The main crisis is related to staffing. This labour shortage has been noted in many sectors of the economy, but the staffing crisis (mainly non-doctoral) in the NHS has been chronic and worsening for years. This year tipped the balance (psychological exhaustion, physical exhaustion, sickness absence, track and trace, etc.). In our region hospitals are routinely cancelling (relatively non-essential) surgery due to lack of staff required to either run operating theatres or wards/ancillary services. Hospitals are routinely running extra activity on Saturdays to try and catch up on cancer work. This is a weekly occurrence not limited to the place I work. Factor in the very long (self-created) waiting lists and the winter (which has not even started), and the crisis could become unmanageable.
I am pessimistic. Regardless of the Covid workload, the Government may use a real crisis in the NHS to justify more pointless non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccine passports (complete nonsense from a medical, ethical and social perspective) out of desperation, misconception, or both.
The U.K. Statistics Authority says it is concerned by the misrepresentation of Covid data by the Government and its head, Sir David Norgrove, points out that “we’ve intervened more during the pandemic and made more comments than in the years before”. It is, of course, expected that mistakes are to be made on occasion, but it’s concerning that time and again these mistakes are being repeated, and with damaging consequences. The Telegraph has published a good piece on this.
“With statistics, it’s usually cock-up rather than conspiracy,” [Sir David] added. “They are under pressure and they get themselves into a hole and we have to help dig them out.”
Yet despite this, nothing seems to be changing.
At a press conference from Downing Street on Wednesday evening, Dr. Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, took the public through slides showing that there were currently 7,891 people in hospital with Covid in the U.K.
What she failed to mention is that this figure does not only include people admitted with Covid, but also those who test positive for coronavirus while in hospital for another condition.
Hospitals were instructed to distinguish between the two groups earlier this year, but so far it has not filtered down into the official figures.
In fact it is only possible to find the data by scrolling to the very bottom of the “Hospital Activity” page of the NHS website. Even then, the figures are woefully out of date.
At the most recent count for England on October 12th, 26% of the overall cases were not primarily Covid.
If that was extrapolated to Dr. Harries’ British data, it would mean that more than 2,000 people included in the Government’s press conference figure are actually in hospital for other causes.
A similar problem can be seen in the daily reported death figures published on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard. On Tuesday, many experts seized on 223 reported deaths to argue that Britain should enact ‘Plan B’ restrictions.
But the reported death data does tend to jump around depending on the day of the week and reflects deaths over several days. Look at the figures by “date of death”, and it is clear to see the situation is largely plateauing.
Dr. Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the University of Oxford, pointed this out earlier this week, saying: “As we have said right from the beginning, we need to focus on deaths by date of occurrence, not deaths by date reported.
“Reporting Tuesday’s numbers – always the highest – in isolation, tends to exaggerate things, and gives no indication of current trends, which has if anything been slowly falling through September and October, [and] no guarantee of future trends of course.”