Day: 13 May 2021

The Latest Covid Scare Story: Virus Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction

Vaccine uptake among men must have been particularly low recently… The risk of developing erectile dysfunction is the latest reason that we should all do our best to avoid catching Covid, according to a medical student working on a new study of just four men (all over the age of 65). Sky News has the story.

A scientific research paper published in the World Journal of Men’s Health observed the difference in tissue composition between men who had contracted the disease and men who had not.

Covid can cause damage to blood vessels, which in turn can damage parts of the body the vessels supply, including the sponge-like tissue in the penis.

Ranjith Ramasamy, Associate Professor and Director of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Reproductive Urology Programme, led the study.

He said that erectile dysfunction “could be an adverse effect of the virus”.

The study focused on four men who were having penile prosthesis surgery for erectile dysfunction.

Two had suffered with Covid, and two had not. They were all aged between 65 and 71 and of Hispanic ethnicity.

The pair who had the coronavirus were infected six and eight months before the observations, with one hospitalised for the virus and the other not.

Neither had a history of erectile dysfunction.

Remnants of the virus were observed in the penis tissue of the two Covid-positive men…

Dr Ramasamy said: … “Our research shows that Covid can cause widespread endothelial dysfunction in organ systems beyond the lungs and kidneys.

“The underlying endothelial dysfunction that happens because of Covid can enter the endothelial cells and affect many organs, including the penis.”

Eliyahu Kresch, a medical student working with Dr Ramasamy, said: “These latest findings are yet another reason that we should all do our best to avoid Covid.”

Cue more Covid-safe sex advice from the BBC!

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “The scaremongers are trolling us now,” says Toby.

CDC Says Americans Can Stop Wearing Face Masks Inside – but Only if They’re Fully Vaccinated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that Americans can stop wearing face masks inside. The loosening of restrictions comes, as always, with a range of caveats – not least the fact that they only apply to those who are fully vaccinated against Covid. The New York Times has the story.

The advice from the CDC comes as welcome news to [fully vaccinated] Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolising a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation...

The new advice comes with caveats. Even vaccinated individuals must cover their faces and physically distance when going to doctors, hospitals or long-term care facilities like nursing homes; when travelling by bus, plane, train or other modes of public transportation, or while in transportation hubs like airports and bus stations; and when in prisons, jails or homeless shelters.

In deference to local authorities, the CDC said vaccinated Americans must continue to abide by existing state, local, or tribal laws and regulations, and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series…

The CDC has been under fire recently for moving too gingerly to lift restrictions on public activities for those who are vaccinated. Some critics have said the Agency’s caution may suggest to Americans that officials lack confidence in the vaccines…

Only half of Americans said that they had a “great deal” of trust in the CDC, according to a new survey conducted in February and March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Officials are worried that herd immunity may not be reached in the U.S., partly due to the decline of daily vaccination rates.

As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated.

But the pace has slowed: Providers are administering about 2.16 million doses per day on average, about a 36% decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported in mid-April.

As demand for the vaccine continues to wane, some states are requesting small fractions of their allotted doses from the Federal Government to save them from having to throw unused doses away. It is hoped that the change in mask-wearing guidelines for the vaccinated will push those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to get a move on.

The New York Times report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “The rule is now simple,” says Joe Biden: “Get vaccinated or wear a mask.”

27% Of Adults in the E.U. Unlikely to Accept a Covid Vaccine, According to a New Survey

More than a quarter of adults in the E.U. are either “very unlikely” or “rather unlikely” to accept a Covid vaccine, according to the results of a new survey conducted by the E.U. agency Eurofound. Here are the key findings.

The stated intention to get vaccinated varies considerably among Member States, with an important east-west divide discernible across the Union. With the notable exception of Austria and France, the intention to get vaccinated is over 60% for all western Member States – with Nordic and Mediterranean countries, Denmark and Ireland having even higher rates – while among eastern Member States the rate is dramatically lower, ranging from 59% in Romania to 33% in Bulgaria.

The report notes that people in the prime age group (aged 35-49 years) are more sceptical about vaccines (29%) than younger and older age groups (26% and 27%, respectively). Unemployed people (39%), those with a long-term illness or disability (39%) and full-time homemakers (33%) are more vaccine hesitant than people in employment (26%) or people who are retired (23%). The least vaccine averse are students (13%).

According to the survey, fielded in February and March 2021, the main reason for vaccine hesitancy is a lack of trust in the safety of the vaccine. Almost half of those who are unlikely to accept a Covid vaccine believe that the risks associated with the virus are exaggerated. Eight per cent believe that Covid doesn’t exist at all.

Trust in the news media, pharmaceutical companies, national government and national healthcare system is lower among the hesitant than the non-hesitant. Use of social media as a primary source of news and information is identified by the survey’s authors as bearing a “strong association [with] vaccine hesitancy”, despite the fact that the non-hesitant report as being more trustworthy of social media (albeit only marginally).

The survey does not distinguish between different Covid vaccines, though it is likely that hesitancy rates are greater for the AstraZeneca vaccine because of fears over its relationship with blood clotting. In Denmark, where the AstraZeneca vaccine has been dropped from the national rollout, a recent survey found that far more Danes would decline to get an AZ Covid vaccine (33%) than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether (7%).

The results from the Eurofound survey are worth reading in full.

Boris Confirms “Nothing” is Ruled Out in Responding to Indian Variant. How Worried Should We Be?

Boris Johnson confirmed today that “nothing” is ruled out in responding to the Indian variant. Asked if local lockdowns are possible, the Prime Minister told reporters:

There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it. Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing. If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out. We have always been clear we would be led by the data. At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21st, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.

Meanwhile, Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio 4 that local lockdowns will be ineffective at containing the variant and it should be viewed as a national problem.

I think we should view it as a countrywide problem. It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case. When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn’t really make any difference. So I don’t think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work.

An emergency meeting of Government scientific advisory group SAGE was convened this morning to address the rapid spread of the variant. One member reportedly warned that a delay to the June 21st lifting of restrictions is “possible”.

Is the Indian variant really something we should be afraid of? No doubt India is currently experiencing a surge in which the variant plays the dominant role. But that doesn’t mean the variant will pull the same trick everywhere – viruses aren’t as simple as that. There are all kinds of reasons one variant might come to dominate, and it isn’t necessarily accompanied by a surge in infections.

Italy is the European country currently most dominated by the Indian variant, having seen it quickly grow in the past few weeks (Indian variant in green).

Here’s what’s happened to the positive test rate in that time.

Clearly, the growth and dominance of the Indian variant does not necessarily lead to a new epidemic.

Meanwhile, in Spain (which has ended its state of emergency) the variant came and went very quickly.

‘Externality Argument’ for Lockdown Isn’t as Strong As It Seems, Argue Economists

Since the start of the pandemic, one of the main justifications for lockdowns – at least in democratic Western countries – has been the “externality argument”. This is the argument that government is justified in restricting our freedom in order to prevent us from harming others – which we might do by transmitting a deadly virus. 

As the scientist Richard Dawkins stated back in September:

You can argue over whether masks, handwashing, banning groups etc are effective. What you can NOT argue is that you are personally entitled to take the risk as a matter of individual liberty. You risk other lives as well as your own. It’s just elementary epidemiology.

Proponents of this argument sometimes appeal to John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, which states, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”. 

While the “externality argument” does have merit, the situation is more complicated than its proponents would have us believe. In a recent article for the Southern Economic Journal, the economists Peter Leeson and Louis Rouanet explain why.

Before getting to their arguments, it’s worth explaining what an “externality” actually is. In short, it’s a cost imposed on someone who did not agree to bear that cost. The classic example is pollution. When a factory releases toxic waste into a lake, this may poison the water, leading to illnesses or deaths among users of the lake. Since the lake users did not agree to be poisoned, the release of toxic waste is an externality. And most people would say it justifies government intervention.

However, the externalities associated with COVID-19 aren’t quite like this, as Leeson and Rouanet point out. First, when one individual transmits the virus to another, this has both negative and positive effects. It has a negative effect on the person who catches the virus. But it has a positive effect on vulnerable people who are self-isolating, since each infection reduces the time until herd immunity. And the sooner herd immunity is reached, the sooner those people can return to the community. 

Second, COVID-19 externalities are often self-limiting. Since most people would prefer not to catch the disease, they have an incentive to avoid behaviours that increase the risk of transmission (such as attending large gatherings). This is in contrast to the factory example, where the owners have an incentive to release as much waste into the lake as possible. And indeed, evidence suggests that voluntary social distancing has much more impact on the epidemic’s trajectory than mandatory lockdowns.

Third, many interactions that result in transmission occur on privately owned sites that individuals enter voluntarily (e.g., shops, restaurants, cinemas). Absent force or fraud, there is therefore no on-site externality. What’s more, since businesses compete for customers, they have an incentive to take measures that reduce customers’ risk of infection (e.g., increasing ventilation or imposing capacity limits). 

Fourth, the main externalities associated with COVID-19 are actions taken by individuals at one site that affect the infection risk of others at different sites. For example, if someone attends a party that results in a super-spreader event, he and all the other party-goers impose costs on society by increasing the general level of infection. This requires individuals and businesses to take measures to reduce the risk of infection they and their customers will face.

Almost Five Million People Waiting to Start NHS Hospital Treatment in England Alone

The number of people waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to 4.95 million in England alone, according to the latest NHS figures. “It’s the highest number since records began back in August 2007,” Sky News reports.

The Express and Star has more.

Data from NHS England also showed that the number of people having to wait more than a year to start hospital treatment stood at 436,127 in March.

This is the highest number for any calendar month since August 2007, when the figure was 578,682.

In March 2020, the number having to wait more than a year to start treatment was significantly lower at 3,097.

This record again highlights the disruption caused to the nation’s health by a year of lockdowns and the NHS’s focus on Covid. The number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was up 6% in March 2021 compared with a year earlier – but for many, lockdown has already taken its toll.

The Express and Star report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The NHS is to receive £160 million to help tackle this backlog. The Guardian has the story.

Hospitals will use the money to buy mobile CT and MRI scanning trucks, put on extra surgery in evenings and at weekends, and look after patients at home in “virtual wards”…

NHS England has designated groups of NHS trusts working together in 12 parts of the country as “elective accelerators”. They will be given up to £20 million each if they manage to carry out 20% more planned activity – diagnostic tests, operations and outpatient appointments – by July than they did at the same point in 2019-2020, before the pandemic struck.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press 2: NHS consultants are asking for a “minimum 5% pay rise” and have produced a glossy brochure setting out their case. “After a year in which the NHS has experienced its greatest crisis, and in which consultants have been leading on the frontline since day one in the fight against COVID-19, it is time that consultants were rewarded fairly for the vital clinical leadership they bring to the NHS,” it says. No mention of the ~20% of all people hospitalised with Covid having caught the disease in hospital.

Some Funeral Venues Still Imposing 30-Person Limits on Services After May 17th

The 30-person limit on the number of mourners who can attend funerals is set to end in England on May 17th, but some venues are still imposing this restriction beyond the next step of the “roadmap” out of lockdown, along with time restrictions on services. The Guardian has the story.

A grieving mother said she had “nowhere left to turn” after dozens of possible venues for a funeral service near London refused to let her invite more than 30 mourners, despite England’s coronavirus restrictions being about to change.

Stacey O’Donnell, whose 19 year-old son, Tai O’Donnell, was stabbed to death in his home in Croydon on March 3rd, said she was “shattered” by her attempts to find a venue for the service.

She had delayed the funeral until after May 17th, when the Government’s limit on mourners is to be lifted allowing any number of people to gather as long as venues can comply with social distancing. She wanted to invite 50-60 guests whose lives “had been touched by Tai”.

But dozens of sites in Croydon and the surrounding area in south London, including those with large indoor and outdoor areas that would make social distancing possible, were restricting mourners to a maximum of 30, with many also limiting the service to 30 minutes, O’Donnell said.

She said: “I have a young boy who was very much loved by a lot of people, and it just seems completely wrong that we can’t come together to remember him and give thanks for the moments we shared. I would understand if it was prior to restrictions being dropped… but vaccinations have gone out, the people who are most at risk are covered. So for people to choose to enforce these restrictions just feels wrong.”

O’Donnell had found a private venue in Surrey but it could accommodate only 30 mourners, and religious venues had also said numbers had to be limited and insisted on religious ceremonies. Many hotels, golf courses and other venues were shut until June 21st, she added.

She felt the search for a venue had taken a toll on her mental health. “It’s killing me, to be honest. It has taken so long to get him back, and now to have so many doors close in my face is just awful. I don’t feel like I’m asking for a great deal, just a space to be able to say goodbye to my baby.”

Deborah Smith, from the National Association of Funeral Directors, said the Association had received other reports that some councils were reluctant to allow more than 30 guests at funerals. “We urge funeral venues or councils that are taking this approach to think again,” she said.

Worth reading in full.

New York Times Fact Checks “Deceiving” CDC on Masks and Outdoor Transmission

When the New York Times weighs in to fact check the CDC, you know something is in the wind. On Tuesday, reporter David Leonhardt wrote a scathing criticism of the U.S. Federal Health Authority’s recent advice that “less than 10%” of COVID-19 transmission is occurring outdoors.

Leonhardt points out that while this is technically true, it is like saying “sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year” when the actual number is around 150 worldwide. “It’s both true and deceiving,” he says.

He calls this “an example of how the CDC is struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what’s truly risky”. The CDC places “such a high priority on caution that many Americans are bewildered by the agency’s long list of recommendations”.

They continue to treat outdoor transmission as a major risk. The CDC says that unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings and vaccinated people should wear them at “large public venues”; summer camps should require children to wear masks virtually “at all times”.

However, in reality, “there is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table”.

Leonhardt digs into the studies that supposedly underpin the CDC’s advice and finds layers of conservative over-caution.

Many of the instances of “outdoor transmission” in the literature turn out to be from construction sites in Singapore. This appears to be a classification issue.

The Singapore data originally comes from a Government database there. That database does not categorise the construction-site cases as outdoor transmission, Yap Wei Qiang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told my colleague Shashank Bengali. “We didn’t classify it according to outdoors or indoors,” Yap said. “It could have been workplace transmission where it happens outdoors at the site, or it could also have happened indoors within the construction site.”

The decision that they were outdoors was made by researchers making conservative assumptions.

“We had to settle on one classification for building sites,” Quentin Leclerc, a French researcher and co-author of one of the papers analysing Singapore, told me, “and ultimately decided on a conservative outdoor definition.” Another paper, published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health, counted only two settings as indoors: “mass accommodation and residential facilities.” It defined all of these settings as outdoors: “workplace, health care, education, social events, travel, catering, leisure and shopping.”

Even with this conservative definition, however, the studies still found only a maximum of 1% of infections were caught outdoors.

So where did the CDC get 10% from? Leonhardt enquired and received this statement:

News Round Up