Day: 10 March 2021

Is the British Covid Variant Really ‘Twice as Deadly’?

There follows a guest post from HART member and Lockdown Sceptics veteran Dr Clare Craig responding to the alarming reports today that, as the Express headline put it, “Kent Covid strain could be twice as deadly”.

Yesterday the BMJ published a new article comparing mortality rates in people with old variant Covid and new variant Covid from October through to the end of January. Their headline conclusion was that the risk of dying was 64% higher in people who had caught the new variant (and perhaps up to 104%, hence the headline that it “could be twice as deadly”).

Before worrying that this may be the case it is worth looking closer at their results. There are a number of odd things about this study:

  1. Each person with old Covid was matched for sex, age, ethnicity, deprivation, location and date of infection. There were over 214,000 pairs found. However, it turned out that there was extensive duplication in the data and many of these “cases” were the same people. After removing duplicates there were only 54,906 pairs left. 
  1. The two groups were not matched for comorbidities, meaning the study did not control for them. This was unfortunate as many comorbidities increase the mortality rate significantly.
  1. Their main finding was that 227 people in the new variant group died compared with 141 in the old variant group. This equates to a 99.59% survival rate compared to a 99.74% survival rate. While the difference may – according to the authors’ methodology – have been statistically significant, this does not equate to it being of any practical relevance in terms of the threat of this virus to society.

Guy de la Bédoyère: Why I’ve Had the Jab

We’re publishing an original piece today by Guy de la Bédoyère about why he decided to get vaccinated. Guy wrote a book about the development of the Polio vaccine, so he’s something of an expert on the subject, although he’s no vaccine evangelist. Indeed, he and his wife decided not to give their children the MMR (although they now deeply regret that decision). However, when it came to the Covid jab, it was a no-brainer. Here is an extract:

I live in a country where many businesses that I care about are going to have no control over what they are required to do by the state. Some of those businesses deal with other countries where they will have even less influence. We also face dealing with foreign businesses which can also impose conditions beyond the UK’s control. Two of my sons live abroad (Vietnam and Mexico). My choice then is predicated in no small part on whether I and my wife will be physically able ever again to travel to see them, or them to see us. If being vaccinated opens that door then so be it.

British Airways and other airlines have been a large part of our lives and we wish to support them. In the end, just as it did for Peter Hitchens, this clinched it for me, though I never really had any doubt. No point in cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Seeing our son, granddaughter, and grandson in Hanoi is a great deal more important to us than fussing about a vaccine which we are not obliged to have anyway. Thanks to Covid we haven’t even met one of the children yet.

I could complain all I liked about the injustice of being prevented from taking a flight if I hadn’t been vaccinated but it’s not a battle I could ever win, and – more to the point – I don’t have the time to waste fighting a battle I wasn’t interested in fighting in the first place. The inconvenience of not having a vaccine would far outweigh the inconvenience of having had it.

As with all Guy’s pieces, this one’s worth reading in full.

Spain to Launch Vaccine Passports for Travellers

Travellers into Spain will be required to present digital vaccine passports from May, the country’s Tourism Minister has announced. The Mail has the story.

Sunny Spanish holidays could be back on for Britons within weeks as the tourism minister revealed a vaccine passport system was planned for the middle of May. 

It comes after Greece announced plans to reopen to holidaymakers from mid-May and Cyprus said it would welcome fully-vaccinated Britons from May 1st.

But those hoping to jet off for the Early May bank holiday are set to be barred by UK authorities because Boris Johnson has said he won’t allow overseas leisure travel until at least May 17th. 

Spain’s tourism minister Reyes Maroto told a radio station on Wednesday: “We could be in a position to start implementing the digital passport (when the tourism fair FITUR starts on May 19th).”

Under the Government’s roadmap for England, this would mean that holidaymakers could fly freely to Spain – providing they had their jabs and the country hadn’t be [sic] added to the dreaded “red list” from which entry to the UK is banned over Covid variant fears. 

This would prevent those who do not take the vaccine from being able to travel to Spain, among other countries. But even those who are fully vaccinated may not be permitted to holiday abroad by mid-May. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who promised in January that he would personally stand “on the barricades” if all of our freedoms were not returned in March, said: “I am hopeful [about holidaying in May] but, as with everything to do with this virus, you can’t say for certain.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Greece will open its borders to British holidaymakers on May 14th. Britons who have either had both doses of the vaccine or can produce a negative test will not face any restrictions. Greece’s refusal to exclude the unvaccinated is a sign that post-lockdown(s), countries may be reluctant to restrict tourism for fear of limiting their economic recoveries.

Testing Regime in Schools Ignores Problem of False Positives

Biostatistics Professor Jon Deeks has written a critical piece on the shortfalls of the current mass testing regime for children in schools. Of particular concern is the occurrence of false positives. UnHerd has the story.

The fitness for purpose [of the testing regime] is a combination of the sensitivity of the test (what percentage of infected cases it correctly identifies) and the specificity (what percentage of uninfected people it correctly says are negative). But it also depends on how, where and when a test is used.

Different studies of the UK Innova lateral flow test (the test being used in schools) have reported variously that its sensitivity is 78%, 58%, 40% and even 3%. The higher 78% and 58% figures come from using the test among people with symptoms, the lower 40% and 3% figures come from using it for mass testing among people without symptoms, as is being done in schools. (And none of these studies have assessed how well the test detects infection in children). So although the test can pick up people who have the infection, it will miss quite a few – so there is a risk that disinhibition after a negative test could actually exacerbate case numbers if children incorrectly think they are safe and the rules no longer apply.

But the more concerning aspect are the false positives, related to the specificity. The original Government studies found only around 3 in 1,000 people were getting false positives, and this dropped to 1 in 1,000 in the Liverpool study. Doesn’t sound like a lot, right?

But consider the problem from the perspective of a pupil who has just got a positive test result. The reasonable question for them (and their parents) to ask is “what are the chances that this is a false positive?” Given that a positive test result means the pupil, their family and their school bubble will have to isolate for 10 days, a high false positive probability is a real problem.

Jon, who is a Senior Researcher in the Institute of Applied Health Research at Birmingham University, goes on to outline three scenarios regarding the prevalence of the disease and the accuracy of the tests.

Where 1 in 100 pupils have the infection (Scenario A), by testing a million we would find 5,000 cases but get 990 false positives. This ratio of true to false positives is quite favourable – 5 out of every 6 with positive results actually would have COVID-19 infection – so the probability that the pupil genuinely has the infection is over 80%.

However, the picture becomes less favourable as the infection becomes rarer: if only 1 in 1,000 pupils were infected (Scenario B) we would detect 500 cases but get 999 false positives. The ratio of true to false positives is now unfavourable – one true result for every two false results.

If only 1 in 10,000 had the infection there would be one true result for every 20 false results (Scenario C). Why would anybody consent to a test where the chances that a positive result is wrong are so much higher than it is right? This isn’t the fault of the test – it’s the application in a low prevalence setting. Using any test – even one with an incredibly high specificity – will lead to more false than true positive results when the disease becomes rare.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Government’s refusal to let pupils use follow-up tests to confirm positive Covid results is “ruining” their return to school, parents say.

Stop Press 2: Professor Deeks made the same point in an interview for Radio 5 Live.

Vaccine Passports Parliamentary Debate on March 15th – Write to Your MP

We’ve received a “Call to Action” on vaccine passports from Liz Evans at the UK Medical Freedom Alliance that we thought we’d share with readers.

UKMFA Vaccine/Immunity Passports Campaign

In the lead up to the Parliamentary debate on Vaccine/Immunity Passports next Monday March 15th, the UK Medical Freedom Alliance is mounting an email/letter campaign to MPs, expressing opposition to this measure.

On our website we have created a Template Letter for you to send/email, along with a copy of/link to our Open Letter on Vaccine/Immunity Passports that we sent to Government, Ministers, and relevant authorities just over a week ago.  Please share this campaign on all your social media channels and websites, and with all your contacts.

In the Open Letter we detail our grave legal, ethical, and medical concerns, in response to recent rhetoric from government and private businesses, regarding the introduction of Vaccine/Immunity passports.  We urge a return to individual responsibility for our own health and argue that it is disproportionate and unnecessary to go down the route of further restrictions and loss of freedoms that a Vaccine/Immunity Passport would entail.  We argue that Vaccine Passports represent a dangerous path which has no place in a democratic and free society, and which would be a profoundly illiberal, undemocratic, and un-British policy.

We are asking our supporters to send a copy of the UKMFA/Lawyers for Liberty Open Letter to their MP, and have also created a Word Doc Template cover letter for you to use – see this link for all the letters/information.

Grant Shapps Grilled by Julia Hartley-Brewer About Breaking Promise

In January, Grant Shapps said that if the Government did not fully unlock the country by early March after the most vulnerable groups were vaccinated, he would personally stand “on the barricades to get [all of] our freedoms back”. This date has passed, and restrictions are to remain in place for at least another three months, but Mr Shapps has lost his nerve.

He appeared on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s talkRADIO show this morning and was forced to listen to his promise to stand up to the Government two months ago if it continued to keep hold of Britons’ liberty. Mr Shapps claimed his promise had not been broken as we are now “starting to get our freedoms back”. He insisted that he “stand[s] by what we were saying before”, and then went on to contradict what he said before.

“If there hadn’t been a roadmap, if we were saying these cases are coming down but we’re not going to tell you how we’re going to get out of lockdown, then you and I would be out there.”

Julia was having none of it. She pointed out the fact that more of the over 70s have been vaccinated than we had expected, and at a quicker rate too. The effectiveness of a single dose of the vaccine is also greater than was originally presumed. So, she asked, “how could you possibly say you stand by what you said in January”? Mr Shapps’ response featured a lot of political talk – highlighting that “everybody… has contributed enormously to what has been a very difficult and painful year” – and a reutterance of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which contradicts his previously stated position. His words were littered with the phrases “all being well” and “earliest dates”.

“The goalposts always move, don’t they. They’re going to keep moving forever.” Julia asked – in a question which rather answers itself – “do you understand why lots of people don’t trust the Government anymore?”

She seemed to give up completely when Mr Shapps said “I want you to have your civil liberties back, but I don’t want you to have them back in a way that kills other people”. Will this ever end?

Worth watching in full.

NHS Test and Trace Has Never Met Its Key Targets Despite £22 Billion Cost

The Prime Minister hoped that it would be “world-beating“, but it turns out that England’s test and trace system has met none of its key targets despite its £22 billion price tag. Not exactly money well spent! Parliament’s spending watchdog has concluded that there is no evidence the Government’s programme contributed to a reduction in Covid infection levels. The Guardian has the story.

In a report which examined the rush to invest in the scheme, the cross-party public accounts committee has challenged ministers to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money” and criticised the use of private consultants who are paid up to £6,624 a day.

The programme, which has a budget that exceeds that of the Department for Transport, is run by Dido Harding, who was appointed by Matt Hancock, last year…

The timing of the report’s conclusions is an embarrassment for the Government as it continues to refuse to give a pay increase of more than 1% to health workers.

Ministers had justified the vast expenditure on preventing a second national lockdown, but – questioning the programme’s effectiveness – MPs who compiled the report noted that England is now living under its third.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said the enormous amounts spent on the scheme leaves the impression that the public purse has been used like a cashpoint.

“Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, test and trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified – avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice,” she said. “British taxpayers cannot be treated by the Government like an ATM machine. We need to see a clear plan and costs better controlled.”

This is not the first report to highlight the failures of test and trace. In December, the National Audit Office found that only as high as 38% of those tested for Covid received their results within 24 hours, with a low of 14% in October, falling far short of the Government’s target. Perhaps more money will solve the problem…

Worth reading in full.

Is the MHRA’s Yellow Card Reporting System Fit For Purpose?

We’re publishing an original piece today by a scientist who has been involved in university teaching and research in biology and scientific enquiry for 35 years. It’s about the Yellow Card reporting system the vaccine regulator has put in place to document the adverse effects of the Covid vaccines and the author is sceptical, to put it mildly. Here’s an extract:

As a means of providing data to establish a causal relationship between vaccination and an adverse event, the Yellow Card scheme is fundamentally flawed. It does not yield data from a control group against which to compare the vaccinated group. In this situation all that can be established is a temporal association between vaccination and an adverse event and there is no means of establishing causation. Using this approach, it can always be argued that any association that is found is merely a coincidence. The Yellow Card scheme, because it is not founded on fundamental principles of good experimental design, is therefore not fit for the purpose of increasing our understanding of either the beneficial or the adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccines. It is not providing the protection from the possible harmful effects of COVID-19 vaccination that the UK public deserves.

Aside from this fundamental flaw, the Yellow Card scheme does not even generate a reliable summary of suspected adverse events that follow after vaccination. The reason for this is that it relies on a voluntary app-based reporting system which places the onus either on medically unqualified patients, carers and parents, or on qualified but more distantly connected medical staff to make a connection between vaccination and an adverse health event, and thereafter to file a report on this suspected connection. It takes little critical scrutiny to realise that a system based on these principles will be subject to huge underreporting either by individuals who are not medically trained to make such connections, or by medically trained staff who lack a close temporal connection with vaccinated individuals. A simple illustration of this fact is that in the Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine trials, where individuals were comprehensively monitored for adverse events, the reported rates for symptoms such as headaches and fatigue were of the order of 30% – 50%, whereas under the Yellow Card scheme they were of the order of 0.3% – 0.5%. Only 1% of these events are being reported by the Yellow Card scheme. Not only is there huge underreporting, but we also anticipate considerable bias in a voluntary reporting scheme; those who believe that vaccines may do harm will be motivated to make a report, while those who are predisposed to dismiss a connection between vaccination and harm will not take the trouble.

Worth reading in full.

Partial Easing of Lockdown Restrictions in Scotland

From Friday, private garden parties and picnics in parks – with up to four people from two households – will be permitted in Scotland, under an “accelerated” easing of the country’s lockdown before Easter. Nicola Sturgeon also announced that churches will be able to hold services for up to 50 worshippers. The Telegraph has the story.

From Friday, up to four Scots from two households will be allowed to meet for social and recreational purposes, as well as essential exercise, meaning private garden parties and picnics in parks will be permitted.

Ms Sturgeon further relaxed the rules for children aged between 12 and 17, with four from up to four households allowed to meet outside so they can “see more of their friends than is currently the case”. There is no limit for younger children.

She also announced that up to 15 people will be permitted to meet outside for non-contact sport and group exercise and that community worship will restart from March 26th, in time for Easter.

Unlike in England, churches are shut in Scotland for worship and are only allowed to open for services being broadcast, conducting a marriage or civil partnership or a funeral.

But Ms Sturgeon said communal worship would be allowed to restart on March 26th, with the pre-lockdown limit on attendance increased from 20 to 50, subject to two-metre social distancing.

The Church of Scotland welcomed the announcement, “assuming physical distancing of 2m can be in place”.

Despite this relaxation, Scots will still be required to stay at home except for specific purposes – a rule which, from Friday, will also include limited outdoor socialising.

Worth reading in full.

Up to Two Thirds of Serious Covid Infections are Caught in Hospital – Study

An important pre-print was published last week by Public Health Scotland looking at how all 204,913 people eligible for shielding (the “clinically extremely vulnerable”) – about 3% of the population – have fared during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers matched all 160,307 positive cases of COVID-19 (as of January 28th) to individuals in Scotland to form a complete picture of the course of their illness in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the shielding programme.

Their striking conclusion was they found “no evidence that the shielding programme per se reduced COVID-19 rates”, though they allowed for the possibility that “without shielding advice and support the outcome in this group would have been worse”.