Day: 12 May 2021

CDC Finds More Clotting Cases After Johnson & Johnson Covid Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said there is a “plausible causal association” between the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid vaccine and blood clotting after finding more U.S. cases of the condition among people who received the vaccine. Reuters has the story.

The CDC said in a presentation the Agency has now identified 28 cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) among the more than 8.7 million people who had received the J&J vaccine. TTS involves blood clots accompanied by a low level of platelets – the cells in the blood that help it to clot.

So far, three of the 28 have died. Previously, as of April 25th, the CDC had reported 17 cases of clotting among nearly eight million people given vaccines.

The Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP), which advises the U.S. CDC, recommended on April 23rd that the U.S. lift a 10-day pause on the J&J vaccinations imposed to review safety data on the clotting issue. The panel will review the new data later on Wednesday…

Scientists are working to find the potential mechanism that would explain the blood clots. A leading hypothesis appears to be that the vaccines are triggering a rare immune response that could be related to these viral vectors.

The syndrome does not appear to be associated with either of the Covid vaccines produced by Pfizer or Moderna.

Most of the cases were among women aged 18 to 49, the CDC said, with rates among women aged 30-39 at 12.4 cases per million and those aged 40-49 at 9.4 cases per million…

Symptoms typically occur several days after vaccination to up to two weeks.

Norway, which has stopped using the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine because of fears over blood clotting, has delayed a decision on whether to include vaccines made by J&J in its national rollout efforts. A Government-appointed commission recently recommended that neither vaccine should be used in the country due to their harmful side effects.

The Reuters report is worth reading in full.

“He Had Won the Victory Over Himself. He Loved the Lockdown.”

We’re publishing an original piece tonight by Dr Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about why it is the public have put up so little resistance to lockdowns. She was prompted to wonder about this by recent pieces on why the Conservatives did so well in last week’s election, from Freddie Sayers’s piece in UnHerd attributing it to Stockholm Syndrome to Noah Carl’s piece in Lockdown Sceptics discussing status quo bias. Dr Murphy thinks it is something more sinister – and deeper – than that.

In an essay from 25 years ago on contemporary conditions of work, the Italian philosopher Paulo Virno identified the phenomenon of uprooting as increasingly operative in societies like his own. Not a once-off uprooting, such as moving from one job or career to another, but an unending process of uprooting, the effect of precarious employment and its continual auditing, in which workers must always be ready to move onwards or upwards and to cultivate the commensurate skills of adaptability and virtuosic sociability.

Most pertinent in Virno’s analysis is the alliance it indicated between this endless uprooting and a certain brand of gullibility. The erosion of stability gives rise to a hyperbolic and free-floating feeling of belonging, even though occasions for it are slight or implausible.

“The impossibility of securing ourselves within any durable context,” Virno wrote, “disproportionately increases our adherence to the most fragile instances of the here and now… to every present order, to all rules, to all games.”

Does the phenomenon of uprooting that Virno described apply to our situation now? Does it explain the curious adherence of so many in our society to the present Covid order and to those who dictate it, no matter how fragile it, and they, have become?

Worth reading in full.

Not So SAGE After All: A Review of the Latest Models

Glen Bishop, the second year maths student at Nottingham who was the first to spot that none of the modelling teams feeding into SAGE had taken seasonality into account last February, has taken a look at the new, improved models from Imperial, Warwick and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that led to headlines earlier this week saying SAGE was no longer predicting an apocalyptic ‘third wave’. (Yipee!) The good news is, the teams have corrected their seasonality mistake when modelling the likely impact of the lifting of restrictions and now graciously allow that summer sunshine will ameliorate the spread of the virus – one of the reasons their latest projections are less gloomy. But there’s also plenty of bad news, as you’d expect.

Here is an extract:

A rational group of scientists would advise that risks are now within the normal accepted range and thus the end of restrictions is nigh and normal life will return. Unsurprisingly, that is not what these three modelling teams have done. Their models have failed to deliver the pessimism and danger craved by scientists clinging on to power, but a new obsession is taking over – the danger of variants. Imperial elaborates: “preventing the importation of variants of concerns (VOC) with moderate to high immune escape properties will be critical as these could lead to future waves orders of magnitude larger than the ones experienced so far.”

Previous Imperial models have made only passing reference to new variants and never tried to model them, yet Imperial’s latest paper, which shows (even with their modelling) the risk from covid to now be incredibly low, is half filled with predictions of theoretical super variants. The most pessimistic of the predictions entails an imaginary ‘high escape’ variant, which, if we stick to the current roadmap, would lead to a peak of over 4,500 deaths per day and a total of 225,000 deaths this summer. To put this into perspective, it would mean a death rate this summer of 3,300 per million, that is double the death rate in Florida since the pandemic began of 1,669 per million despite Florida being near fully open for the last eight months. It’s a higher total than anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. This is void of reality, but even if it weren’t, what is the proposal? Lockdown for another year until a vaccine for this new variant can be distributed, by which time even more variants will have appeared? One might as well include in the modelling a super infectious variant of Ebola or a new improved laboratory leak from our friends in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Worth reading in full.

Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines to Be Offered to Under-40s From Thursday

The Covid vaccine rollout is set to extend to those below the age of 40 from Thursday, with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being offered as alternatives to that made by AstraZeneca “where possible”. MailOnline has the story.

An NHS bulletin showed adults aged 38 and 39 will be invited to come forward for their jab from Thursday morning.

They will be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on the back of guidance from medical regulators last week.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said under-40s should be given an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab due to its link to rare blood clots.

The NHS Digital bulletin said 38 and 39 year-olds already booked in for a first dose of the British vaccine will have their appointment cancelled…

The vaccine rollout is currently in phase two – which includes people between 20 to 49 – and is moving down by age. 

The Government says it is on track to fully vaccinate every adult in Britain by the end of July.

Everyone in phase one of the scheme, which included elderly people and patients with underlying health conditions, has already been offered a vaccine.

Uptake is thought to be around 90% in the over-60s U.K.-wide, while coverage in the over-50s is above 50% and still climbing. Over-50s only started to be invited last month…

The JCVI – which advises the Government on how best to vaccinate the population – said younger people should be offered an alternative to the AZ jab because of its link to blood clots. 

So far regulators have spotted major blood clots in 242 people given the AZ vaccine, of whom 49 died. But they are occurring more in younger adults, with a rate of around one in 60,000 under-40s.

Experts said the infection rate in the U.K. is now so low that the risk of the rare clots outweighs that of Covid in younger adults, who often only suffer mild illness. 

They will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead, so long as there is enough supply and it won’t delay the rollout.

Given that the risk of blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine outweighs the risk of Covid in younger adults, it is strange that the JCVI has only advised for alternatives to be given “where possible and only where no substantial delay would arise“. Why not just restrict its use for those below the age of 40 altogether?

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

Boris Tells Commons that Pandemic is Currently at Peak and U.K. Should Expect New Surge in Autumn

Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Indian coronavirus variant is of “increasing concern” as outbreaks have been detected across the country. 

He said that despite increasingly encouraging data in the U.K, the threat of the virus remains “real” and new variants “pose a potential lethal danger”.

The end of lockdown is not the end of the pandemic. The World Health Organisation has said the pandemic has reached its global peak and will last throughout this year. The persistent threat of new variants, should these prove highly transmissible and elude the protection of vaccines, would have the potential to cause greater suffering than we had in January.

He added there is “high likelihood” of a new surge in infections and hospitalisations this autumn when “the weather helps the transmission of respiratory diseases, when pressure on the NHS is at its highest”.

Earlier today, junior minister George Eustice said that local lockdowns and tiers could make a comeback in response to local outbreaks.

What happened to the lifting of restrictions being irreversible? Wasn’t that supposed to be the reason it was happening so cautiously and slowly?

Despite the fast vaccine rollout and the example of states like Florida and Spain that have ended the state of emergency, the noises coming from the U.K. Government increasingly suggest they have no intention of returning the country to a normal footing any time soon. Perhaps a permanent state of emergency, and a posture as saviour, is good for elections?

Telegraph’s Global Security Correspondents Claim No Trade Off Between Lockdowns and the Economy

The Telegraph‘s Global Health Security correspondents Paul Nuki and Sarah Newey claimed this morning that there is “no trade off” between the economy and public health when it comes to COVID-19 and lockdowns.

Writing in the newspaper, the correspondents (whose coverage is partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) write that the “‘health v economy’ trade-off” is “false” because “countries where the virus was swiftly contained – such as Vietnam – have seen less economic damage, plus far fewer deaths”.

This claim, based on one country, fails to acknowledge that the entire South East Asian region, regardless of the measures taken, has had a much milder experience of COVID-19 than some other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the Americas. Furthermore, while it may be true that Vietnam’s early border closures produced better outcomes (there is some evidence of this), that bird has well and truly flown for most of the world so the example of Vietnam is now irrelevant as far as this pandemic is concerned.

Perhaps, though, they have a future pandemic in mind. In fact, the peer-reviewed evidence is that lockdowns have no impact on the epidemic death toll (although it’s worth noting that Vietnam, which Nuki and Newey hold up as an example we should follow in future, has never imposed a full, country-wide lockdown). It’s also not clear how countries which close their borders to an endemic virus can ever hope to open them again – a problem Vietnam is currently experiencing. Vietnam is also not exactly an international global hub.

The article is part of the Global Health Security team’s promotion of an agenda to give the World Health Organisation more funding and more power to declare pandemics faster and be more proactive in ensuring compliance amongst states with public health edicts. They note approvingly that the pandemic has “thrust health to the centre stage, and may be an opportunity to promote a ‘green and healthy recovery'”. They appear to like the idea of a fast-acting global government imposing lockdowns so we can all be like Vietnam and “contain” the virus quickly, supposedly without suffering economic damage despite the vast disruption to the global economy this would bring.

Nuki and Newey highlight the problem of “viral misinformation” as one of 13 “mistakes” made early in the pandemic, though they blame the internet and social media rather than the WHO, despite its part in promoting myths about the virus such as that it doesn’t spread between humans and it doesn’t spread via aerosols.

But are Nuki and Newey engaging in disseminating misinformation of their own, making the bizarre claim that public health containment strategies have no trade-off with the economy based on a single unrepresentative country? When the U.K. economy shrank by a record 9.9% in 2020, this claim is frankly ridiculous and such claims are at odds with the Telegraph‘s overall coverage of the way different countries have managed the pandemic, which has been quite balanced. Should the paper really be allowing a team of journalists whose work is partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use its platform to promote an agenda of enhanced global control in the name of public health?

Vaccine Refusal Higher Among Health Workers Who Feel Pressured by Employers, According to New Research

New research suggests that health and social care workers who feel greater pressure from their employers to receive Covid vaccination are more likely to decline it. The study, not yet peer reviewed, was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and “emphasise[s] the importance of Covid vaccination remaining voluntary”, according to its primary author. Here are the key findings.

In a survey of nearly 2,000 [health and social care workers], participants were asked for their level of agreement with the statement “I feel/felt under pressure from my employer to get a Covid vaccine”. This was asked on a four-point scale from (one) strongly disagree to (four) strongly agree. For each additional point of agreement on the scale, participants were 75% more likely to have declined Covid vaccination.

Among unvaccinated participants, worrying concerns were raised about how their vaccination decision might impact their job security. For social care workers, pressure was exacerbated by hearing of care sector employers making Covid vaccination mandatory for staff, and the vulnerability of social care worker positions (e.g. employment on zero-hours contracts).

Feeling pressurised had damaging effects, eroding trust and negatively affecting relationships at work, and often exacerbated Covid vaccination concerns and hardened stances on declining vaccination…

Dr Sadie Bell, Research Fellow at LSHTM and lead author, said: “Our findings emphasise the importance of Covid vaccination remaining voluntary. Organisational factors and workplace culture play an important role in the likelihood of both being offered and getting vaccinated. Health and social care providers need to offer a space for their staff to have ‘conversations’ where they feel safe to ask about Covid vaccination, and not feel judged and stigmatised for having questions and/or concerns.”

The research team used a mixed-methods approach – involving an online cross-sectional survey and interviews – to find out U.K. health and social care workers’ views on Covid vaccination.  1,917 health and social care workers – 1658 healthcare workers and 261 social care workers – completed the survey. Twenty survey participants were interviewed…

The survey revealed common reasons for declining the vaccine were concerns about side effects and a lack of research on the vaccine. It revealed the main motivation for vaccine acceptance was protecting family members and friends, and self-protection from Covid…

Sandra Mounier-Jack, an Associate Professor in Health Policy at LSHTM and study author, said: “Our work shows a move towards mandating Covid vaccination is likely to harden stances and negatively affect trust in the vaccination, provider, and policymakers. Health and social care employers are in a pivotal position to facilitate Covid vaccination access, ensuring staff are aware of how to get vaccinated and promoting a workplace environment in which vaccination decisions are informed and voluntary.”

These findings echo SAGE member Stephen Reicher’s recent warning that the introduction of vaccine passports (that is, a step towards mandatory vaccination) could lead to people refusing to get vaccinated against Covid. If the Government’s aim really is to increase vaccine uptake among health workers (and in the general population) it should abandon any plans for mandatory vaccination.

The LSHTM report is worth reading in full.

Ministers “Can’t Rule Out” the Return of Tiered Lockdowns

Ministers have recently been treading very lightly when discussing the final stages of the “roadmap” out of lockdown. Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that the Government hasn’t ruled out ending the mask mandate on June 21st, adding that both the introduction of Covid vaccine passports and the continuation of “social” distancing beyond this date also remain on the table. The latest suggestion comes from the Environment Secretary George Eustice, who says we could see a return of tiered lockdown restrictions. When such a system was last imposed, 99% of the population in England lived under the toughest two tiers, with just 714,000 people living under “tier one” restrictions. Eustice now says that tiered restrictions could be used to combat “local outbreaks” of Covid in areas where people might have become “too lax” about the rules. MailOnline has the story.

Environment Secretary George Eustice revealed Number 10 was “closely monitoring” several localised coronavirus outbreaks that have cropped up in recent weeks.

Analysis shows that while national infections have continued to plunge, there are 34 areas across Britain where cases have spiked in the past fortnight and are now recording rates twice as high as the U.K. average.

Mr Eustice said scientists were unsure what was driving the flare-ups – predominantly in the North of England – but suggested people may have become “too lax” with Covid rules, or the highly infectious Indian variant could be driving cases. 

Asked if local restrictions could be reimposed to squash local outbreaks during a round of interviews today, he said: “We can’t rule anything out.”

He told Sky News: “But our plan that’s been set out by the Prime Minister, the reason we’re being incredibly cautious about exiting lockdown, is we want this to be the last. We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation. We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown.”

Most social distancing restrictions in England are to be lifted on June 21st as part of the final step in Number 10’s roadmap out of lockdown. Boris Johnson this week raised hopes that an end to Covid measures may be in sight, suggesting social distancing could be scrapped completely by next month. 

The tiered system last summer was heavily criticised for being too convoluted, with people in neighbouring streets often living by a completely different set of rules.

The Prime Minister himself admitted they were “confusing” as he struggled to explain the difference between restrictions imposed in the North East in September. 

The average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15% to 40.1 per 100,000 people in the fortnight up to May 4th, according to the latest statistics.

But analysis shows that 28 local authorities in England, four in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland are recording double the national case rate.

Quizzed about the hotspots this morning, Mr Eustice told Sky News: “We are not sure what could be driving it, whether it’s particular variants that have taken hold or people being a bit too lax about restrictions that are in place… but we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Worth reading in full.

MIT Researchers Find That ‘Skeptics’ Value Data Literacy and Scientific Rigour

Throughout the pandemic, governments have claimed to be following “the science”. But of course, many aspects of “the science” were never settled. 

The WHO, as well as the UK Government, initially told us not to wear face masks. They then decided that face masks were essential. Countries like Australia and New Zealand introduced border controls in early February. Meanwhile, UK scientists were advising against port-of-entry screening. Researchers predicted there would be 96,000 deaths in Sweden by July. But as it turned out, there were fewer than 6,000. 

Of course, many people have been sceptical of “the science” (by which I mean the officially endorsed science) from the very beginning. And of course, they’ve formed communities online with other like-minded persons. (Lockdown Sceptics would be one example of such a community.) 

In an unpublished paper, researchers from MIT sought to understand how the users of these communities obtain, analyse, share and curate information. Surprisingly (to them), they found that users place a premium on data literacy and scientific rigour. 

The researchers used a mixed methods design. First, they analysed a large sample of pandemic-related tweets sent between January and July 2020. Second, they employed ethnographic methods to study users on “anti-mask” Facebook groups. (Note that they use “anti-mask” as a “synecdoche for a broad spectrum of beliefs: that the pandemic is exaggerated, schools should be reopening, etc.”)

In their analysis of Twitter data, the researchers found that sceptics “share the second-highest number of charts across the top six communities”, and that they are “the most prolific producers of area/line charts”, while sharing “the fewest number of photos”. They also found that such individuals “often create polished counter-visualizations that would not be out of place in scientific papers”.  

In their study of “anti-mask” Facebook groups, the researchers found that users “value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over “expert interpretations”, and that “their approach to the pandemic is grounded in more scientific rigour, not less”. 

“Most fundamentally,” the researchers write, “the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution”. They note:

While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist.

According to the researchers, “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries”, and data literacy is a “quintessential criterion for membership within the community they have created”.

Based on these descriptions, one might assume the paper was written by a cadre of undercover sceptics. But the researchers make clear they are “not promoting these views”. Overall, it’s a fascinating study which is worth reading in full

News Round Up