Day: 23 March 2021

Children in Line for Covid Jabs From August

Children in the UK could start getting the Covid vaccine from August, much earlier than expected. Ministers are awaiting safety data on a child vaccine study before making their final decisions. The Telegraph has the story.

Children will start getting the Covid vaccine as early as August under provisional Government plans to push for maximum immunity from the virus, the Telegraph can reveal.

Two sources involved in preparations said that was the soonest point at which Britons under the age of 18 would be given the jabs – months earlier than expected.

Safety data on the critical child vaccine study being run by Oxford University – on which ministers are waiting before making their final decisions – is expected shortly, with its conclusions due in June or July.

Israel, the country with the highest proportion of vaccinated citizens, is already giving jabs to 16 and 17-year-olds after deeming it safe.

The plan is not without its opposers, but its supporters are likely to receive much more of a hearing.

Supporters of the plan see the mass vaccination of children as a way to minimise the spread of infection, but critics note the relatively low risk Covid poses to youngsters and the still-emerging safety data.

If the current rate of roughly three million first doses a week is handed out in August, it is possible that most of the 11 million school-age children could be vaccinated before the autumn term. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said “no decisions have been made on whether children should be offered vaccinations”. 

Oxford University’s ongoing child vaccine study is testing the AstraZeneca jab on 300 children aged six to 17. It is currently expected that parents will have to give consent for their children to be vaccinated but how inconceivable is it that no choice will be granted on the matter, given that the Government hopes to make vaccination mandatory for care home staff (as a start)?

Exemptions are expected if a rollout to children is given the final sign-off. It is also likely that parents would have to give consent – currently the position for teenagers in Israel.

Some are already demanding that vaccination should be mandatory for children, including Sean O’Grady, the Associate Editor of the Independent.

I would vaccinate every child old enough to receive it, as a condition of receiving a state education. …

Given the fact that we are still nowhere near herd immunity for the current coronavirus variants, and await with trepidation new – and potentially even more deadly – mutations; this is a moment for determined action. …

Of course, in the end, we do not want to live in a country where gangs of officials grab unvaccinated children or adults, wrestle them to the ground and forcibly inject them. But we do want to live in a country where rights are balanced by responsibilities, and where mutual obligations need to be fulfilled. 

Incentives and penalties, taxes and fines, court orders and conditions of employment – restrictions on liberty – are commonplace in our daily lives; for the protection of the community as a whole. If we want to drive the wrong way down a motorway, then there are legal consequences for doing so.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister has likely ruffled the feathers of some EU leaders by declaring that “the reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends”. The Sun has the story.

Boris has spent days trying to dial down the rhetoric and pleading with European leaders to abandon their threat to slap an export ban on vaccines.

But he risked reigniting tensions with the continent last night as he boasted about how Britain stole the march.

He told MPs at the 1922 Committee: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends.”

He later added: “Actually I regret saying it.”

Worth reading in full.

How Closely Does the Trajectory of the Epidemic in Each Country Resemble a Flu Season?

We’re publishing an original piece today which is the third part in a series called ‘The Flu Hypothesis’. (You can read Part I here and Part II here.) The author, an academic economist, believes that the pattern of the Covid epidemic in each country – or region – resembles the trajectory of a seasonal flu epidemic, in some cases quite aggressive, in others quite mild. In Part III, he considers the possibility that the UK and Germany are experiencing different, flu-like epidemics and wonders whether that explains their different rates of infection.

By the end of February, I had concluded that Britain’s COVID-19 season in 2020-21 had followed an aggressive path. It had accelerated quickly and burned out early. But given that the probabilities were what they were, if the flu hypothesis had anything to it, we should have expected some other countries to have gradual rather than aggressive seasons.

This, I believe, is precisely what we are now seeing in Europe. This week Angela Merkel announced that Germany was having a “new pandemic“. Her language was nothing short of hysterical. She said that a vicious new variant had arrived that was more contagious and more deadly. Looking at the data I cannot see it. It seems more likely that Merkel is trying to deflect blame. Europe’s rollout of the vaccine has made their politicians look incompetent relative to British politicians who were until recently portrayed as bungling due to their embrace of Brexit.

Worth reading in full.

More Than 200,000 Schoolchildren Currently Self-Isolating

With mass testing of schoolchildren happening every week – and the fact that those testing positive and their contacts are required to self-isolate – it is not surprising that more than 200,000 children were at home isolating at the end of last week, according to official estimates. MailOnline has the details.

More than nine in 10 pupils attended schools in England last week – but a growing number of children were self-isolating at home due to possible contact with COVID-19 cases, Government figures show.

Attendance in state schools last week was the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis shows.

But the data suggests that 169,000 pupils were out of class and self-isolating on Thursday last week due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.

The DfE estimates that approximately 2% of all state school pupils on roll up to 201,000 children did not attend school for COVID-19 related reasons on March 18th, up from 1% on March 11th.

This includes 127,000 pupils who have been self-isolating due to a potential contact with a COVID-19 case from inside the educational setting, and a further 42,000 pupils who were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside of school.

Meanwhile, 21,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had COVID-19, 7,000 were off after testing positive for COVID-19, and 4,000 were absent as their school was closed due to Covid-19 reasons.

Secondary schools in England were given flexibility to stagger the return of their pupils between March 8th and 12th as these students were being asked to take voluntary COVID-19 tests on site as part of their return.

Overall, attendance in state schools was 91% on March 18th, up from 89% on March 11th when some secondary schools were still phasing in the return of pupils due to the logistics of mass testing.

Around 89% of secondary school pupils were in class on March 18th a similar proportion to the start of the second week of schools reopening in England.

But attendance in primary schools fell to 93% on Thursday last week from 95% the previous week, the figures show.

Perhaps most shocking is that 200,000+ were self-isolating last week even though just 0.067% of the millions of tests carried out came back positive. Given that this is below the estimated false positive rate of the lateral flow tests of 0.32% (the FPR can differ by age group and is thought to be lower in younger people), this suggests almost all of the positives are not real infections, or at least not contagious.

The Government’s refusal to allow confirmatory testing, either by PCR or by a second lateral flow test, prevents many of these false positives being identified and the needless harm of self-isolation being avoided.

If the Government is going to insist on continuing the pandemic-perpetuating practice of mass testing, the least it can do is allow the escape route of a second test for the victims of the imperfect tests.

The Mail report is worth reading in full.

The Darkness and the Light

I initially created Lockdown Sceptics – with the help of Ian Rons, co-founder of the Free Speech Union and computer whizz – in March of last year as an aide-mémoire for personal use. I was writing a lot about the new and still largely unknown virus and wanted to create a kind of online reference library, collating all the articles and papers and interviews about different aspects of the pandemic under separate headings. Then, when I’d created it, I decided to make it public in case anyone else would find it useful. I got into the habit of constantly updating it because so much new information about the virus was being published every day and, to do that, I found myself spending the best part of the the evening looking through news sites and blogs and medical journals. That, in turn, led to the daily update – I had gathered all this information, so why not publish it in one place? And so Lockdown Sceptics, as a daily news blog, was born.

Many readers have contacted me in the past 12 months to say that reading the blog has kept them sane because, until they discovered it, they thought they were the only ones who weren’t buying into the official narrative. Compiling it has also been therapeutic for me, although in a slightly different way, which I’ll try and explain.

First, the darkling plain.

For me, the most depressing thing about the past 12 months is that it’s destroyed my faith in so many of the people and institutions that I used to have some respect for – Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, the Conservative Party, the judiciary, the police, the BBC, Sky News, the Civil Service, Imperial College, the Lancet, Nature, the Royal Society… the list goes on. I’ve always been alive to the risk that crowds are susceptible to collective hysteria and I’ve witnessed a few manias and moral panics first hand, but I hoped that Britain’s elites, particularly those who bear responsibility for steering the ship of state, would be immune to such madness. And it seemed they would be for a few weeks, which made their eventual surrender to a global psychosis that much harder to witness. To see them not only succumb to mass hysteria but consciously whip it up, using sophisticated psychological techniques, has been a shock. (I blame that, in part, for the British public’s willingness to surrender their liberty and hope they will recover their good sense once the propaganda ceases.) I won’t say this has been a deep shock because I’ve always been pretty cynical, but I used to have a sliver of confidence in Britain’s elites and I have struggled to hold on to that. It’s not an exaggeration to say my belief in Britain has been knocked for six.

But what has kept me from slipping into the slough of despond has been all the thoughtful, intelligent people who’ve contacted me, offering not only to help put out Lockdown Sceptics, but to contribute to it, too. They’ve come from all walks of life, different sides of the political spectrum and from a wide range of academic fields, all united in doubt about the wisdom of the Government’s approach to managing the pandemic. Some of them have been based overseas, but most have been my fellow countrymen and their presence and willingness to help has gone some way to restoring my faith in Britain. I often think, when reading a submission from a retired professor of economics or a lecturer in philosophy just starting out on her career, that here is the best of Britain – the heirs of Isaac Newton and David Hume and Rosalind Franklin. Like Orwell, writing in the Lion and the Unicorn during another crisis in our history when the people at the helm seemed to be steering us towards the rocks, I have persuaded myself that the problem isn’t with the country, just the people at the top. As he wrote: “A family with the wrong members in control; that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.”

The wrong people have been in charge during this crisis in almost every sphere of public life. But there are good people out there – still – and not a few of them have been involved in this website – above and below the line. And the fact that Lockdown Sceptics has become such a thing – a kind of focal point for dissent from the official narrative, with an average of 1.25 million page views a month and – even more heartening – attacked and ridiculed almost daily by the lackeys of the Establishment is also a source of hope. And a tribute to the talent and energy of all those who’ve helped and contributed.

As a country, this has not been our finest hour. But I still believe in Britain – just.

Common Cold Suppresses COVID-19 Infection

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics’ regular Guy de la Bédoyère.

Just when you thought the Covid madness couldn’t take any more twists, here comes another one but you’d better brace yourself. The BBC’s Science Correspondent James Gallagher has a startling revelation that the common cold (the rhinovirus) can suppress COVID-19 because it’s so tough the SARS-CoV-2 virus gets pushed out of the way to make room for it. The news comes from the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Here’s the summary:

Human rhinovirus triggers an innate immune response that blocks SARS-CoV-2 replication within the human respiratory epithelium. Given the high prevalence of human rhinovirus, this interference effect might cause a population-wide reduction in the number of new COVID-19 infections.

From a host’s perspective, HRV [Human Rhinovirus] infections, which are usually associated with mild disease, stimulate an antiviral response that prevents infections by more severe (and sometimes lethal) viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

UK Faces Decades of Misery Due to Lockdown

The Guardian published a story this morning about the huge collateral damage caused by the cack-handed response of the UK Government to the coronavirus crisis, although, typically, it attributes this damage to to the pandemic rather than the lockdowns. If you can overcome your irritation about this basic journalistic failure – why not look at how much less damage the “pandemic” has caused in Sweden, for Christ’s sake? – the story is helpful to the sceptics’ cause. It’s based on a new report by the Royal Academy.

Britain faces a “Covid decade” of social and cultural upheaval marked by growing inequality and deepening economic deprivation, a landmark review has concluded.

Major changes to the way society is run in the wake of the pandemic are needed to mitigate the impact of the “long shadow” cast by the virus, including declining public trust and an explosion in mental illness, the British Academy report found.

Published on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, the report brings together more than 200 academic social science and humanities experts and hundreds of research projects. It was set up last year at the behest of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Ironic that Sir Patrick initiated an inquiry into the colossal harms that, in part at least, have been caused by his own mishandling of this crisis. If only he’d stuck to his guns and continued to follow the sensible course set out in the UK’s Pandemic Preparedness Strategy.

Given that the focus of the Royal Academy’s report – which you can read here – is the increase in inequality over the past year caused by the pandemic lockdowns, it will be interesting to see whether there’s a link between the rise in the Gini coefficient in different regions and the stringency of NPIs. Overwhelmingly likely I’d say, given that we already know there’s a link between the stringency of NPIs and economic damage – and the burden of that damage has already fallen on the least well off and will continue to do so over the next decade.

Worth reading in full.

The Government’s Campaign of Fear

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr James Moreton Wakeley, a former Parliamentary researcher, about the Government’s shameful use of behavioural science to terrify people into complying with its draconian lockdown edicts. James is involved in Time For Recovery, the group led by Jon Dobinson, which is launching a new campaign later this week to bring greater attention to the Government’s deliberate use of fear and the campaign’s disastrous consequences. One of these consequences is highlighted in HSJ today – NHS hospitals are unable to cope with the surge in admissions of children with mental health problems. Here’s an extract from James’s piece:

Manufacturing and stoking fear to influence behaviour is recognised as deeply unethical. The Covid campaign of fear flies in the face of the British Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, which is based in part on the values of respecting the patient and being honest with them. In January, 47 health professionals wrote to the British Psychological Society to express their concern at the way in which the Government has manipulated behavioural science to inculcate lockdown compliance. Other scientists and psychologists have written stinging polemics against the Government’s approach, grounded in the most cutting-edge research on the mind.

There is, however, tragically, now ample evidence of the impact of the campaign of fear that shows the concerns aren’t merely theoretical. The campaign of fear has caused nothing short of a wholly-avoidable physical and mental health crisis. In the first lockdown, over 6,000 people died at home from non-Covid diseases, being too scared to go to hospital. Visits to Accident & Emergency departments collapsed. Over 44,000 fewer people started cancer treatment than in the previous year, with 4.4 million fewer diagnostic tests being carried out: figures that cancer specialists like Professor Karol Sikora have linked to undue fear.

Demand for mental health support has sky-rocketed. An additional 27,000 adults sought support last year and it is now understood that one in six of 5-16 year olds have a mental health condition. The continuing and wholly un-justified face mask mandate in schools is likely to compound this, as well as leading to additional physical ailments. Overall, the Centre for Mental Health has warned that 20% of all adults and 15% of all children will need help dealing with conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder over the coming years.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The illustration accompanying this story is a poster Recovery is using to promote its latest campaign, but said poster has been banned by JC Decaux, the world’s largest poster company, because it supposedly contains “political undertones”. Needless to say, JC Decaux hasn’t refused to run any of the Government’s pro-lockdown propaganda. Guido has the story.

Excess Deaths Fall Below Zero

The number of excess deaths in England and Wales has fallen below zero for the first time in six months, according to ONS data.

The ONS reports:

The provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales decreased from 11,592 in Week 9 (week ending March 5th 2021) to 10,987 in Week 10 (week ending March 12th 2021). The number of deaths was 4.4% below the five-year average (511 deaths fewer). 

In England, the number of deaths decreased from 10,882 in Week 9 to 10,277 in Week 10, which was 468 deaths (4.4%) fewer than the Week 10 five-year average. This is the first time that deaths have been lower than the five-year average in England since the week ending September 4th 2020 (Week 36).

In Wales, the number of deaths decreased from 689 in Week 9 to 685 in Week 10, which was 35 deaths (4.9%) fewer than the Week 10 five-year average. This is the second consecutive week deaths have been lower than the five-year average in Wales.

Given this data, and the fact that half of all UK adults have received a Covid vaccine, is it not about time that Britain unlocks?

The ONS’ findings are worth reading in full.

AstraZeneca May Have Used “Outdated Information” on Efficacy in US Trial

Results from a US trial of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine may have used “outdated information” on its efficacy, according to a US health agency. Reuters has the story.

The concerns throw into question whether the British drugmaker can seek US emergency use authorisation for the vaccine in the coming weeks as planned, and come just one day after interim data from the trial had shown better-than-expected results.

The vaccine developed with Oxford University was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in the large trial that also took place in Chile and Peru, according to the data. It was also 100% effective against severe or critical forms of the disease and hospitalisation and posed no increased risk of blood clots.

The Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), an independent committee overseeing the trial, has “expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data”, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said in a statement.

“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible,” it said, adding that the DSMB had informed AstraZeneca of its concerns.

The NIAID did not specify what outdated information AstraZeneca relied on from its trial. In Europe, the AZ Covid vaccine has been at the centre of fears relating to side effects from the jab, such as blood clots. This latest development in the US could, if found to be true, see the country refusing to grant emergency use authorisation as planned.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: AstraZeneca has responded to concerns over its vaccine from the DSMB, saying that the numbers it published yesterday were “pre-specified” and that more detailed information would be sent to US health officials within 48 hours.

News Round Up