Day: 23 May 2021

Vaccine Safety Update

This is the second of the weekly round-ups of Covid vaccine safety reports and news compiled by a group of medical doctors who are monitoring developments but prefer to remain anonymous in the current climate (find the first one here). By no means is this part of an effort to generate alarm about the vaccines or dissuade anyone from getting inoculated. It should be read in conjunction with Lockdown Sceptics‘ other posts on vaccines, which include both encouraging and not so encouraging developments. At Lockdown Sceptics we report all news about the vaccines whether positive or negative and give no one advice about whether they should or should not be taken. Unlike with lockdowns, we are neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine; we see our job as to report the facts, not advocate for or against a particular policy. The vaccine technology is novel and the vaccines have not yet fully completed their trials, which is why they’re in use under temporary and not full market authorisation. This has been done on account of the emergency situation and the trial data was largely encouraging on both efficacy and safety. For a summary of that data, see this preamble to the Government’s page on the Yellow Card reporting system. We publish information and opinion to inform public debate and help readers come to their own conclusions about what is best for them, based on the available data.

News Round-up

  • The U.S. CDC is investigating several dozen reports of heart inflammation in teenagers and young adults after receipt of the Covid mRNA vaccines, reports the New York Times
  • According to the India Times, heart attacks and strokes are the leading causes of death among vaccine recipients
  • A study in the journal Cureus claims there’s a link between receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine and the onset of Type 2 Diabetes
  • America’s Frontline Doctors has done a cost/benefit analysis of the Pfizer vaccine 
  • The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, The Society of Acute Medicine and Royal College of Physicians have released guidance on treating blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine
  • According to articles in the BMJ and the Telegraph, there are still concerns about giving the Covid vaccines to Children. The AstraZeneca trial involving children and teens has been suspended following fears of blood clots. HART has petitioned Parliament not to give Covid vaccines to children until Phase 3 Trials are complete
  • In the U.S., the FDA has given approval for children to receive the Pfizer vaccination following recommendations from the CDC ACIP Committee
  • An article in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Transplantation addresses key concerns about COVID-19 vaccines (pre-print)
  • Three people have died in Scotland from what are believed to be side effects of the vaccines, as reported by the BBC and Telegraph
  • The BMJ and the UN have both published advice about how to counteract “vaccine hesitancy”, acknowledging that “when you look at hesitancy and parental vaccine hesitancy in the U.S., the group who is most likely to purposefully choose to not vaccinate are highly educated. In speaking with them, these are people who have read the primary literature themselves, and they’re correctly interpreting it, so it’s not a misunderstanding.” (p.26 of the UN Guide to Covid Vaccine Communications)  
  • EudraVigilance – the equivalent of the Yellow Card reporting system in the EU – has logged reports claiming 10,570 people have died and 405,259 have suffered injuries following receipt of the vaccine in the EU up to May 8th
  • VAERS – the American version of the Yellow Card reporting system – has logged reports claiming 5,888 have died from vaccine side effects in the U.S. since 1990, of which 4,196 (71%) are linked to Covid vaccines administered in the last five months

Summary of Adverse Events UK

According to an updated report published on May 20th (covering the period up to May 12th), the MHRA Yellow Card reporting system has recorded a total of 822,078 events, based on 235,223 reports. The total number of fatalities reported is 1,178.

The Vaccine Passport Update to the NHS App Has Created a Honeypot For Hackers

There follows a guest post by Lockdown Sceptics’ technology correspondent about last week’s vaccine passport update to the NHS App which, according to this industry insider, has created a honeypot for hackers.

Back in March I warned that the government had plans to turn the previously unremarkable NHS App into a cyber bully and privacy blabbermouth. Last week, an update appeared that increased the app’s functionality to include a Covid status certificate, but it included a privacy notice that strongly implied it held an unbelievable range of information about us all: “Information relating to the family of the individual and the individual’s lifestyle and social circumstances; Information which relates to the ethnic origin of the individual; Information relating to genetic/biometric details (where processed to uniquely identify an individual) and criminal convictions or alleged criminal behaviour”.

We knew vaccine passports were going to be a threat to our liberties but what this implied was off the scale. It was soon picked up by security experts like Prof Eerke Boiten of De Montfort University who fired off a Twitter thread that got the attention of the Daily Express and Julia Hartley-Brewer’s morning TalkRADIO show.

The policy was quickly updated, and you can read the saner version here.

The app’s upgrade has given it a new section: “Share your COVID-19 status.” If you click on it you could be forgiven for thinking you are still within the NHS app, but in fact you are taken to this website which is run by NHSX. It might seem an irrelevant detail, but despite its name NHSX is not the NHS. What is going on here is that one arm of the state is hiding behind the more trusted brand of another arm to get its software into your pocket. That’s sneaky and it does not take much imagination to see how this trick might be repeated in the future, with the NHS App being the conduit for all sorts of intrusive government schemes. What’s more, this is happening in the NHS App, which will be around for as long as the government wants, not in the COVID-19 app which Hancock promised to withdraw when the pandemic was over. This makes the prospect more likely that long after the pandemic is over we will be sharing things like immigration status, outstanding criminal allegations or historic driving convictions alongside our COVID-19 status for any busybody who feels they are doing their bit to keep us all safe.

The implication of this new section being hosted by NHSX is that the data is not being drawn from your GP-held medical record as I speculated in my previous article, but from a single national database, the National Immunisation Management System, previously used to coordinate national flu vaccine programmes, but now also used in the rollout of the Covid jabs. As the NIMS site says:

The demographic details of everyone resident in England or registered with a GP in England are imported into the system from the Primary Care Registration Management Service… Further data such as lists of shielded patients, NHS staff, social care workers, unpaid carers and ethnic category information are also uploaded. This data can then be used for prioritising invitation for flu or COVID-19 vaccination, and for reporting purposes.

That is a lot of very sensitive data in a single central database. It is a high-risk design with a single point of failure, but even worse from a security point of view, it is a honeypot for hackers. Last year, when a similar centralised approach was considered for the COVID-19 app, the E.U. weighed in with a statement saying “data are not to be stored in a centralised database” and this was followed up with a letter from 300 security and privacy researchers from 27 countries repeating the warning. NHSX subsequently changed tack and went with the Apple/Google decentralised model instead. Now, with the NHS App, those lessons are being un-learned. There is a naturally decentralised database available in GP-held records, but it has been shunned – presumably in favour of speed of deployment. And yet there is no public outcry this time, no open letters from security professionals.

We are suffering an ultra-cautious approach when it comes to reopening, but a reckless approach when it comes to privacy. With Covid-related phishing attacks up 15-fold and hackers raking in over £35m in UK Covid-related online scams since the start of the pandemic, the motivation and resources are there to crack these databases. So long as the politicians see privacy as an afterthought, the scammers will be toasting every new version of the app.

New PHE Study Says AstraZeneca Vaccine is Just 66% Effective. What Happened to “90% in the Over-65s”?

On Thursday, Public Health England (PHE) released a surveillance report (criticised here) claiming that both Pfizer and AstraZeneca Covid vaccines are up to 90% effective in preventing symptomatic infection in the over-65s.

Two days later, on Saturday, PHE released a new study, the headline for which is the reassuring news that the vaccines appear to work almost as well against the Indian variant. Included in the report, however, are quite different effectiveness figures for the AstraZeneca vaccine. It states: “Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 60% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 [Indian] variant compared to 66% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 [British] variant.”

This 66% effectiveness against the British variant is much closer to the vaccine effectiveness reported in the AstraZeneca trial (70%) and is likely to be much closer to truth. The vaccine will be less effective still in the over-65s, and so the new figures are well below the 90% effectiveness in the over-65s claimed by Thursday’s PHE study. Much of the data from Thursday’s study also came from a period when the British variant was dominant.

Where, though, are the science journalists jumping on this blatant inconsistency in key data coming out of Government and asking probing questions? On Thursday, many outlets cheerfully reported a Government study showing 90% effectiveness in the over-65s for the AstraZeneca vaccine. On Saturday, the same outlets dutifully reported the next study from the same Government body showing the same vaccine is only 66% effective across all ages.

What has happened to journalism in this country, that this passes without question? What, for that matter, has happened to science? Does anyone care about getting to the truth, or is it just about conforming to the narrative? Is the country too invested in the vaccine-saviour narrative to be able to ask awkward questions about the inconsistent claims coming out of Government?

Stop Press: Ross Clark in the Spectator notes the disappointing effectiveness figures for the AstraZeneca jab and the worrying reports of severe side-effects and deaths and asks, is it time to retire the AstraZeneca vaccine?

If the Lab Leak Theory Turns Out to be True, Will China be Held to Account?

Given it’s topicality, I’m giving another plug to this original essay by a best-selling, prize-winning novelist (writing under a pseudonym) about the price we’d be willing to pay if the lab leak theory turns out to be true. Will we just shrug and continue to buy cheap Chinese goods? Here is an extract:

The Western world will have to weigh up what the damage would be to their economies and international relations if they accept the lab leak theory. Because if we do then we will also have to accept that the CCP was involved in a cover-up which turned the contagion in Wuhan from localised outbreak to global pandemic. It would follow from this that the CCP would have to be held responsible for three and a half million deaths worldwide, an act of mass-death, albeit one caused by the ineptitude of China’s bureaucracy and the breaking of scientific safety protocols in laboratories overseen by the CCP.

This would be another historical mass-death caused by the CCP, comparable to the Great Chinese Famine (1959-61) which to this day is still not recognised officially by the CCP as a man-made disaster, and which to this day is not marked by any public remembrance monument even though 10-47 million people died. The CCP has a long history of systemic planning errors and accidents that have a high human cost which the CCP, by use of its one-party state apparatuses, has hidden from the rest of the world.

So, if the lab leak origin hypothesis for SARS-CoV2 turns out to be true, the people of the Western world must then ask, “What is the price that must be paid, and who will pay it? Must CCP governed China be held accountable? Will China be forced to pay reparations for the trillions of dollars of damage done to the economies of other nations in the world, along with compensation for the families of the three and a half million who died from the pandemic. Will there have to be sanctions on CCP-governed China, or regime change in China brought about by the other nations of the world? Will the half a trillion ($) in imports from CCP-governed China have to cease until CCP-governed China admits its error and commits to paying reparations?”

It’s an interesting dilemma. Would Western governments, scientists, corporations, consumers, etc., be willing to boycott Chinese investments, grants, cheap goods, and so on, unless the Chinese authorities admitted liability and paid reparations, given that they’d all be worse off if they did that?

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Thomas Frank has written a very good piece in the Guardian asking, ‘What if the lab leak theory turns out to be true?’ He thinks it will fuel a populist revolt against scientific expertise.

If it does indeed turn out that the lab leak hypothesis is the right explanation for how it began – that the common people of the world have been forced into a real-life lab experiment, at tremendous cost – there is a moral earthquake on the way.

Because if the hypothesis is right, it will soon start to dawn on people that our mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, or not enough censorship on Facebook. It was a failure to think critically about all of the above, to understand that there is no such thing as absolute expertise. Think of all the disasters of recent years: economic neoliberalism, destructive trade policies, the Iraq War, the housing bubble, banks that are “too big to fail”, mortgage-backed securities, the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2016 – all of these disasters brought to you by the total, self-assured unanimity of the highly educated people who are supposed to know what they’re doing, plus the total complacency of the highly educated people who are supposed to be supervising them.

Worth reading in full.

The Numbers are “Looking Very Good” for June 21st Reopening, Say Health Chiefs

The line from health officials on the chance of lockdown ending on June 21st has shifted from “close to nil” to “looking very good” in less than a week. Dr Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, says she is “increasingly confident” about the effectiveness of vaccines against the Indian Covid variant. The Telegraph has the story.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the possibility of lifting all Covid restrictions next month was “looking good” as long as people acted with caution, particularly in areas battling new variants

Dr Harries said data up to May 19th showed that only six patients had died from the Indian variant, of whom “the vast majority” had not been vaccinated and were elderly. 

While the deaths were obviously sad for those involved, the data was “looking very good” in showing the impact of Britain’s vaccine rollout, she said.

“At the moment, we’re not seeing reductions in effectiveness in serious disease, or deaths, and in fact I think we’ve been increasingly confident that that will be the case,” she added.

Increases in hospitalisations normally follow around two weeks after surges in cases, with deaths two weeks later, but Dr Harries said that, while it was “early days”, the signs were encouraging.

Asked about hospitalisations, she said: “Fortunately we’re not seeing much” so far, stressing that this data would come through more slowly. 

Asked about the prospect of releasing restrictions next month, she said: “It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals, so we should not stop doing what we’re doing, particularly in areas where we have that variant of concern, the B1617.2, in the North-West and around London.

“It’s really important that people continue to do hands, face, space and work from home, have their jabs and go for tests as well.

“The cases of the B1617.2 variant are rising, they have risen very steeply and much of the media have reported a 160% rise in cases over the week period but they seem to be slightly levelling at the moment.”

The Prime Minister says he will announce whether or not lockdown will end on June 21st “by the end of the month”.

Worth reading in full.

“Covid Anxiety Syndrome” Preventing People from Returning to Normal Life, Says New Report

Fear whipped up over Covid by the Government and the media has resulted in millions of Brits struggling to return to normal life, according to a report which will warn that people are locking themselves down from within. Set to be published next month, the report identifies “Covid Anxiety Syndrome” as a condition which burdens many with a fear of public places and a need to maintain compulsive hygiene habits. Lucy Johnston in the Sunday Express has more.

Up to one in five is believed to have developed a “compulsive and disproportionate” fear of Covid, which would likely stay in place even if the virus disappeared completely. Warnings about the dangers of Covid have heightened the problem, and mixed messages about the level of danger have made it worse, said Marcantonio Spada, a Professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at London’s South Bank University, who co-authored the report.

He said: “Our research suggests a number of people may not be able to return to normality even if the pandemic disappeared altogether. Worrying, checking others for symptoms, and avoidance have, over the months, gradually cemented a state of fear about the virus. Life has become restricted, and many people are experiencing a ‘psychological lockdown’ even if we are coming out of the physical one.”

The recently identified condition – Covid Anxiety Syndrome – is characterised by fear of public places, compulsive hygiene habits, worrying about the virus and frequent symptom checking. 

The findings from the study, which was undertaken in March and April 2021, showed 46% of people feared returning to public transport, 44% feared touching things, while 35% were checking their family members and loved ones for signs of Covid on a regular basis.

Professor Spada and co-author Ana Nikčević, Professor of Psychology at Kingston University, compared these recent findings to those they had collected in May 2020. They found the patterns to be broadly unchanged.

Overall one in five was “struggling with marked levels of maladaptive behaviour” related to the syndrome. Vaccination status – with around 35% of respondents being vaccinated – and a previous diagnosis of mental health condition did not appear to play a role in the severity of the syndrome which affects people from all professions and educational backgrounds.

Those affected are likely to represent the tip of an iceberg with many others suffering less severe anxiety related to fear of the virus making them feel threatened or afraid of returning to normal.

Professor Spada and his colleague are analysing a sample of 6,000 adults across China, Europe and the U.S. in collaboration with researchers from Imperial College to assess the global prevalence and impact of the syndrome. Results will be published by the summer, but preliminary indications show the syndrome is present across all countries surveyed to varying degrees.

Professor Spada said: “Our research suggests many people may struggle or may not return to normal even if the pandemic disappeared altogether.

“Avoidance locks you into fear. People are now locked down within despite the fall in infection rates and vaccine rollout. It appears that the syndrome affects people from all professions and educational levels.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: New polling from Ipsos MORI suggests it may be more than 20% of the population that’s suffering from Covid Anxiety Syndrome. It shows that 28% of British adults aren’t looking forward to “Greeting people with handshake/hug/kiss”, 27% aren’t looking forward to “going to large public gatherings such as sport of music events” and 24% aren’t looking forward to “Going to parties (such as weddings or birthday parties)”.

Productivity Losses Caused by School Closures in the U.S. Will Lead to a 3.6% Decrease in GDP by 2050, According to a New Study

A new U.S. study provides insight into the long-term economic effects of school closures, showing that the costs of lockdowns will be felt long after they’ve ended. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School believe that productivity losses caused by school closures during lockdowns will lead to a 3.6% decrease in GDP and a 3.5% decrease in hourly wages by 2050, “relative to the counterfactual where there had been no disruption to learning”. Here are the key findings.

Studies have found that remote education reduces learning outcomes for students and infer that current students are likely to earn less in future wages as a result of lower labour productivity. Labour productivity is an integral component of the production of goods, services, and wealth in an economy. Current cohorts of students with reduced education and lower productivity will be a drag on the future GDP of the United States for decades in the future…

Table 1 shows projected economic effects of school closures relative to a counterfactual where learning was never disrupted by the pandemic. As the cohorts of affected students enter the workforce, average labour productivity decreases relative to the counterfactual. However, less productive workers are a small proportion of the economy’s labour supply and younger workers tend to be less productive, so the aggregate effect is muted initially, with labour productivity decreasing by 0.6% in 2030 relative to the counterfactual scenario. As the affected cohorts age, making up a larger proportion of the workforce and approaching their peak earning years, the relative drop in labour productivity increases to 2.4% in 2040 and 3.3% in 2050.

…Note that current primary schoolers will be aged 34 to 40 in 2050, so the drop in their productivity will continue to affect the economy for many years afterwards.

In an effort to stave off the damage caused by the loss of education, the researchers recommend that the next school year should be extended by one month. They project that this would lower the reduction in GDP from 3.6% to 3.1%.

Extending the 2021-22 school year by one month would cost about $75 billion nationally but would limit the reduction in GDP to 3.1%. This smaller reduction in GDP produces a net present value gain of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades, equal to about a $16 return for each $1 invested in extending the 2021-22 school year.

In Britain, where the impact of school closures is likely to be just as bad for the economy, the Chair of the Education Select Committee says that extending school days is “a serious solution for the Government to consider“. Others, including the Education Policy Institute, have proposed that some pupils should repeat the last school year completely.

The Wharton School study is worth reading in full.

CDC Investigating Reports of Heart Inflammation in Young Covid Vaccine Recipients

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating several dozen reports of heart inflammation in teenagers and young adults after Covid vaccination. These cases occurred in people days after receiving an mRNA vaccine, though the agency did not specify whether this was linked to the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine (or both). The New York Times has more.

The [agency’s vaccine safety] group’s statement was sparse in details, saying only that there were “relatively few” cases and that they may be entirely unrelated to vaccination. The condition, called myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart muscle, and can occur following certain infections.

The CDC’s review of the reports is in the early stages, and the agency has yet to determine whether there is any evidence that the vaccines caused the heart condition. It has posted some guidance on its website for doctors and clinicians to be alert to unusual heart symptoms among young people who had just received their shots.

“It may simply be a coincidence that some people are developing myocarditis after vaccination,” said Dr Celine Gounder, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “It’s more likely for something like that to happen by chance, because so many people are getting vaccinated right now.”

The cases seem to have occurred predominantly in adolescents and young adults about four days after their second dose of one of the mRNA vaccines, which are Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. And the cases were more common in males than in females.

“Most cases appear to be mild, and follow-up of cases is ongoing,” the vaccine safety group said…

“We look forward to seeing more data about these cases, so we can better understand if they are related to the vaccine or if they are coincidental,” said Dr Yvonne Maldonado, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases. “Meanwhile, it’s important for pediatricians and other clinicians to report any health concerns that arise after vaccination.” …

In the general population, about 10 to 20 of every 100,000 people each year develop myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart, experiencing symptoms ranging from fatigue and chest pain to arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. Many others likely have mild symptoms and are never diagnosed, according to researchers.

At the moment, the number of cases of myocarditis reported after vaccination does not appear to be greater than would normally be seen in young people, according to the CDC. But members of the agency’s vaccine safety group “felt that information about reports of myocarditis should be communicated to providers”, the report said.

Mancunian children as young as 16 are to be offered Covid mRNA vaccines due to fears about the Indian Covid variant. The CDC continues to recommend Covid vaccines for Americans aged 12 and over.

The New York Times report is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Why Are People Unwell with Symptomatic COVID-19 Being Vaccinated?

Yesterday I wrote about the latest study from Public Health England that claims to show the vaccines are up to 90% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid infection in the over-65s, highlighting some shortcomings.

There was one aspect of the data that I didn’t comment on that is worth flagging up. The authors presented graphs showing how many people were being tested and testing positive according to how many days before or after their jab their symptoms began (all the tests in this study were on people with symptoms, the symptoms likely having prompted them to get a Covid test).

There are a few notable points about these graphs. The steep drop-off in tests ahead of the jab may be due to people deferring their vaccination when they get symptoms (Government guidance is that you should not have the jab if you are unwell), or it may be people with symptoms not getting tested because they don’t want to have to cancel their jab.

The big spike in tests in the day or two after the AstraZeneca jab (ChAdOx1-S) is probably people being tested after getting Covid-like side-effects from the vaccination.

Note the high positivity rate (yellow bars) in the days after each jab. This confirms the post-vaccination infection spike (though some of it may be Covid caught prior to the injection that subsequently becomes symptomatic).

However, the main point I want to draw attention to here is how many people with symptomatic Covid are getting vaccinated. The bars in the seven days prior to vaccination represent thousands of people with Covid-like symptoms who go on to get vaccinated, many while still symptomatic. The orange bars represent hundreds of people with PCR-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19, many of them with symptoms beginning in the two days immediately prior to the jab, who go on to get vaccinated anyway. This is despite Government guidance that people who are unwell, particularly with COVID-19, should be deferring their vaccinations. In addition to this, some of those thousands of people whose Covid symptoms begin on the day of the jab or in the days immediately following might have been pre-symptomatically infectious.

It has been suggested that the post-vaccination infection spike may be driven by the vaccination programmes spreading the virus. (Another plausible mechanism is that the vaccines cause temporary immune suppression; these mechanisms are not mutually exclusive and both could be operating.)

Here, then, we have direct evidence that hundreds of people with symptomatic, test-positive Covid (plus potentially thousands in the infectious pre-symptomatic phase) were turning up and being vaccinated anyway. This reinforces the idea that the vaccination programmes could be spreading the virus.

It also prompts the question: why were vaccinators not following Government guidance and refusing to vaccinate those who are unwell, particularly those with symptomatic COVID-19? Could they not foresee that that would spread the virus to those being vaccinated and those doing the vaccinating?