HART’s must-read report “COVID-19: an overview of the evidence“, written about in Lockdown Sceptics on Thursday, has been making waves today. Former Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Sumption praised it in the Telegraph this morning, and then this afternoon Times Science Editor Tom Whipple did his best to bury it under smears of being anti-vaccine and “extremely irresponsible”.
In a mean-spirited piece that makes no effort to engage with the arguments of the report, Whipple rounds up the usual suspects to heap opprobrium on anything that deviates from the establishment line or raises awkward questions.
Originally headlined “Scientists condemn report claiming vaccines caused second wave deaths”, it now reads “Scientists condemn report questioning role of vaccine in second wave deaths”, presumably after someone pointed out to the editors that the report never makes such a claim but only raises questions based on patterns in data. The report clearly states that “we cannot infer causation from correlation”.
Among arguments about the harms caused by lockdown the 50-page document also states that the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine coincided with a large number of deaths and this may not have been a coincidence. “When something in data is this unusual, we have to ask questions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be,” it states, in a chapter written by a “quantitative analyst” called Joel Smalley. “It would be extremely unscientific and even negligent not to investigate whether the rise in deaths during this period is linked in some way to the vaccine rollout.” He suggested the Pfizer vaccine had not been tested sufficiently on older people.
Jeremy Brown, from UCL and a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said this was “ridiculous”. He pointed to the now extensive real-world data showing the vaccines were safe and reduced deaths. “It is quite conclusively true that the vaccine offers protection in the real world,” he said. Far from killing people, he said, “if you’ve been vaccinated you have around an 85% lower chance of ending up in hospital”.
The rise in deaths was caused by infections, he said, rather than vaccines.
He added that academics should not be endorsing the idea vaccines may be causing mass death. “The only way out of this mess is the vaccine so anything that undermines that is distinctly unhelpful,” he said.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, added that to make the link “shows a blatant disregard for the facts” and “is irresponsible in the extreme”.
HART this evening published a response that clarifies they are not making claims so much as raising questions.
While scientists quoted in the article have dismissed HART’s suggestion that there is a possible link between vaccination and COVID-19 infections, it is worth highlighting that earlier this month a study led by Public Health England found a “notable” rise in COVID-19 infections in the over-70s immediately after receiving a vaccine.
We are not asserting that vaccines are the only possible cause of “second wave” cases and deaths. We are not asserting that the vaccines are, in and of themselves, dangerous or deadly. There are many factors at play here. For example, the increased contact from the vaccination programme or from possible relaxation of social distancing following vaccination have been suggested as possible causes for the correlation. It has also been shown that lymphocyte levels fall in the first three days after Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination. The phase two trial of AstraZeneca showed a transient neutropenia in 46% of patients in the vaccine arm (compared to 7% in the control arm). Whether this suppressed immunity sufficiently accounts for increased susceptibility is uncertain. These observations have no bearing on the efficacy of the vaccines which is a separate issue.
They draw attention to a number of studies that show a spike in infections in the days following vaccination: the FDA Pfizer report that found a 40% increase in the vaccinated versus placebo arm in the first week of the trial; an Israeli study reporting a doubling in daily incidence until about eight days after the Pfizer vaccine had been given; a Danish paper showing a 40% increase of COVID-19 in the vaccinated in the first two weeks; and a Public Health England study that noted a 48% increase in Covid in the first nine days after vaccination.