Day: 23 June 2021

Ivermectin: Oxford University to Trial Promising, Easily Available Drug as Early Treatment for COVID-19

The Principle trial at the University of Oxford has selected Ivermectin for inclusion in its study of repurposed drugs for treatment of COVID-19. It will be given to people with Covid symptoms to see if it can keep them out of hospital. The BBC has the story.

The Principle study will compare those given the drug to patients receiving the usual NHS care.

The drug has become controversial after being promoted for use across Latin America and in South Africa, despite being so far unproven.

Previous studies of Ivermectin have generally been small or low quality.

Most commonly used to treat parasitic infections such as river blindness, spread by flies, Ivermectin has also been shown to kill viruses in petri dishes in the lab – although, at much higher doses than would usually be prescribed to people.

Ivermectin has been championed by many doctors and scientists since its apparent effectiveness as a Covid treatment emerged early in April 2020, but has been snubbed by mainstream health bodies for reasons that are unclear, leading some to suspect ulterior motives such as sustaining a vaccine narrative or prioritising newer and more profitable treatments. Merck, which manufactures Ivermectin but also recently signed a $356 million deal to supply the US with a much more expensive, experimental anti-Covid drug, went so far as to issue a statement casting doubt on the drug’s safety, even though its safety profile is well known and mild. Scientists trying to publish studies on the drug found the door being shut in their faces with apparent political motives for the refusal. Finally in May, the American Journal of Therapeutics published a peer-reviewed article by Dr Pierre Kory and colleagues entitled “Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19“. Dr Tess Lawrie and colleagues’ meta-analysis, finding a 62% reduction in risk of death among those infected or at high risk of Covid infection (on moderate-certainty evidence), was published in the same journal last week.

While, in a pandemic, the precautionary principle would seem to recommend authorising the use of safe, repurposed drugs that (small) trials have shown appear to work, health authorities apparently did not agree and said there must be higher quality evidence for Ivermectin before it can be approved. Yet because there is little profit in a cheap, out-of-patent drug these higher quality trials have not been done, leaving the drug still without approval or definitive evaluation over 14 months after its apparent efficacy against COVID-19 was discovered. If it does turn out to be as highly effective as the early studies suggest, this will mean the delay will have been responsible for failing to prevent many thousands of deaths around the world.

Still, better late than never, and credit to Oxford for including it in its study despite the politics around it. The Principle trial should provide the definitive answer as to whether Ivermectin is effective at preventing the progression to serious coronavirus disease when used at an early stage.

People aged 18-64 with an underlying health condition or experiencing breathlessness, and anyone aged 65 or over, can sign up to the Principle trial within 14 days of having Covid symptoms or receiving a positive test.

Vaccines Minister Makes Bizarre Claim That Postponing Freedom Day Has Saved “Thousands of Lives”

Nadhim Zahawi was in rare form at today’s Downing Street press conference, claiming the Prime Minister’s decision to “pause” the easing of lockdown restrictions had saved “thousands of lives”. Eh? The Telegraph has more on the bizarre reasoning behind the Vaccine Minister’s claim.

Nadhim Zahawi said the Government had been right to delay the lifting of all Covid restrictions by a month to allow more people to be fully vaccinated.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “Last week we took the difficult, but I think essential, decision to pause Step 4 in our roadmap for four weeks with a review of the data after two weeks.”

He said: “Two weeks ago there were over 2 million people aged over 50 in England who had a first dose, but not their second dose. Now that number, two weeks later, is 900,000.

“This pause has saved thousands of lives and will continue to do so by allowing us to get more of the second doses into arms of those most vulnerable to Covid before the restrictions are eased further.”

Mr Zahawi added: “We’re going to use these four weeks to give our NHS that bit more time so we can get those remaining jabs in arms of those who really do need them.”

He said that overall more than 14,000 lives had been saved by the vaccination programme so far, while 44,500 hospital admissions had also been averted in England, which is 2,500 in the past two weeks.

The underlying assumption behind Zahawi’s claim is that had Boris not pressed the “pause” button, the vaccine roll-out would have ground to an abrupt halt on June 21st. Eh? Surely, it would have continued on its current trajectory? In which case, it’s not clear that the pause should have saved a single life, let alone “thousands”.

Needless to say, not a single journalist in attendance picked up on the Vaccine Minister’s tortuous reasoning.

Chinese Scientists Deleted Almost 50 Test Samples from Covid Patients in Wuhan That Suggested Virus was Circulating Before Seafood Market Outbreak

The debate over the origins of Covid has moved in the direction of the lab leak theory today after it emerged that Chinese scientists deleted dozens of test samples from patients in Wuhan from an international database used to track the evolution of the virus. The files are said to include some data that suggest the virus was circulating in people before – possibly even months before – it was linked to wet markets. The MailOnline has more.

The American professor who spotted their deletion and managed to recover some of the data said they suggested Covid was circulating long before China’s official timeline.

He found the early samples of the virus were more evolved than would be expected of a pathogen that had recently jumped from animals to humans – but did not say it gave more weight to the “lab leak” theory.

Professor Jesse Bloom, a virologist from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said he believed China had removed the files to “obscure their existence”.

British scientists told MailOnline the findings confirm Covid was spreading in people before being linked to wet markets, “perhaps months before”.

The latest cover-up comes amid mounting suspicion the virus may have accidentally leaked from a high-level biosecurity laboratory in Wuhan…

The cover-up was detailed in a scientific paper titled “Recovery of deleted deep sequencing data sheds more light on the early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 epidemic” today.

45 positive samples had originally been uploaded to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Sequence Read Archive by the Wuhan University in early March 2020.

The NIH is a U.S. Government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research.

The samples were published as part of a study into diagnosing Covid patients using PCR tests – just days before the Chinese Government issued an order requiring approval of the publication of all coronavirus data. 

Professor Bloom noted all 45 samples have since been pulled from the database, with “no plausible scientific reason for the deletion”.

He said the most likely explanation was to “abuse” and “obscure” the truth about the origins of the pandemic.  

Worth reading in full.

Letter in Telegraph About the Damage Done By Imperial’s Alarmist Modelling

There was a good letter in the Telegraph today co-signed by Lockdown Sceptics contributor David Campbell and his colleague Kevin Dowd. It was a pithy summary of a piece they co-authored for Spectator Australia earlier this month.

SIR – Matt Ridley’s criticism (Comment, June 21st) of the distorted presentation of scientific predictions in order for those predictions to have political impact identifies the worst feature of current public policymaking.

Amazingly, however, in the case of Covid policymaking his criticism is insufficient. The crucial prediction was that of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, which said that 510,000 deaths would occur “in the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour”. This was misleading in the extreme, for there was absolutely no possibility that the outbreak of this disease would not be met by widespread spontaneous changes in behaviour, or that the Government would not take extensive measures to support them.

The world has been turned upside-down by an absurd, alarmist prediction of what was always a zero-probability event, as it was this prediction which panicked the Government into adopting a “suppression” policy.

Professor David Campbell
Lancaster University Law School
Professor Kevin Dowd
Durham University Business School

60% of Brits Fully Vaccinated Against Covid

More than 60% of U.K. adults have been given two doses of a Covid vaccine, but the Government’s view is that this isn’t enough to justify the easing of lockdown restrictions. The Prime Minister hopes that two-thirds of the adult population will be fully vaccinated by July 19th, creating a “wall of immunity“. Even then, he warns that “a proportion of the elderly and vulnerable may still succumb [to the virus] even if they have had two jabs”. The MailOnline has more on the latest milestone reached in the national vaccine roll-out.

More than 31.7 million over-18s have already had both doses, while 43.4 million – or 82.5% – have had their first jab, official statistics show. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the figures, claiming the U.K. was now “so close to ensuring the entire adult population is protected”.

Number 10’s Vaccine Chief Nadhim Zahawi – who will likely brag about the achievement at a 5pm Downing Street press conference tonight – hailed the “extraordinary feat”.

Ministers have once again urged Brits to come forward for their vaccines, with the roll-out now on the final phase with all over-18s able to book an appointment. 

Mr Zahawi said getting two doses was “absolutely vital” because of the rapid spread of the Indian variant, adding: “I urge everyone eligible to get their jab and help us get back to normality.” …

Number 10 has now pledged to offer a first dose of a jab to all over-18s by the new “terminus day” of July 19th, and have a separate goal of fully vaccinating two-thirds of adults by the same date.

Although the target is not a pre-requisite of easing lockdown, the Prime Minister stressed the urgent need to jab as many people as possible to finally end restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

New Variant Alert

Scientists in India have upgraded the ‘Nepal’ variant to a variant of concern which they’re calling ‘Delta-plus’, having detected nearly two dozen cases in three states. The Telegraph has more.

On Tuesday, the variant was found in 16 cases in the state of Maharashtra, according to the Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

The Ministry said Delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing.

India vaccinated a record 8.6 million people on Monday as it began offering free shots to all adults, but experts doubted it could maintain that pace.

“This is clearly not sustainable,” said Chandrakant Lahariya, an expert in public policy and health systems.

“With such one-day drives, many states have consumed most of their current vaccine stocks, which will affect the vaccination in days to follow.”

Under the projected vaccine supply for the next few months, the maximum daily achievable rate is four to five million doses, it is estimated. The effort has so far covered about 5.5 per cent of the 950 million people eligible, even though India is the world’s largest vaccine producer.

However, according to the MailOnline British scientists think ‘Delta plus’ is nothing to worry about.

Scientists today called for calm over the emergence of the potentially vaccine-resistant ‘Delta plus’ variant, claiming that there are no signs it will take off in the UK.

India upgraded the strain – sometimes known as AY.1, or the Nepal variant – to a “variant of concern” amid fears it is better at escaping jabs than the original Delta version.

But one of the UK’s top genetics experts said the development was not a “particular cause of concern” because the mutant strain has been in Britain for months and has shown no signs of outcompeting other strains.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, said: “Cases of Delta+ in the UK remain at a very low level.

“The first case was observed on April 28th 2021. The lineage has remained at very low frequency since with no sign of expansion.

“It has been found in several countries but has remained at extremely low frequency, with the exception of Nepal.”

He admitted that “nothing” is known about how transmissible, vaccine-resistant or deadly the new strain is.

Worth reading in full.

Australia to Phase Out the Use of the AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine Due to Safety Concerns

Australia will gradually phase out the use of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine in its national vaccine roll-out, with doses only to be given if requested from October onwards. The decision has been spurred by safety concerns and follows the development of a condition that can cause paralysis and can even be life-threatening shortly after taking the AZ vaccine in at least eight Australians. The Guardian has more.

The Government released a revised planning document on Wednesday outlining how it intended to direct supplies over the rest of the year…

The vaccination document, titled National Vaccination Allocation Horizons, suggests in July and August AstraZeneca will continue to dominate the vaccination program, with up to 2.6 million doses being administered each week, predominantly to those over the age of 60, through state and territory clinics and the primary care network.

But as the vaccination of this age group nears completion, it is anticipated AstraZeneca will be used only “subject to request” from October.

The commonwealth last week announced changed health advice for the AstraZeneca shot restricting it to over-60s because it has been linked to an extremely rare blood clotting condition.

In the “Horizon Two” phase in September, supplies of the Moderna vaccine come on stream, with up to 125,000 doses per week to be made available to the primary care network, the document foreshadows.

By this stage, Pfizer supplies will also be ramping up, with up to 1.3 million doses a week available, up from the 750,000 a week available in July and August.

The Pfizer supplies are expected to increase again by the end of the year to between 1.7 million and 2.3 million doses a week, as the Government races to meet its pledge to allow every Australian access to a vaccine by the end of 2021.

Worth reading in full.

Mask-Wearing and Social Distancing Rules Should Stay in Place Due to Covid Variants, Says WHO Official

Mask-wearing and social distancing should become part of “the life to come”, says a Special Envoy on Covid for the World Health Organisation (WHO). Dr David Nabarro told Sky News that restrictive measures should stay in place because it is “inevitable” that new Covid variants will be able to “break through the vaccine-related protection in a few people”.

Sky News has more.

[Dr Nabarro’s comments come] as India said on Tuesday that the new “Delta plus” variant recently discovered in the country is of concern and that nearly two dozen cases had been detected in three states.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Nabarro said the “issue of variants is what we are watching all over the world” and they “are going to go on coming”.

“We will go from Delta to Lambda and then on to the other Greek letters, that’s inevitable, and some of these variants will be troublesome,” he said.

“They will be able to break through the vaccine-related protection in a few people and that will cause problems.”

He added: “I’m basically saying variants are going to go on coming. That’s part of life, we need to pick them up fast, we need to move quickly if we see them in a certain location, we need to build the management of variants into what we call our Covid-ready strategy, which is going to be the pattern for the foreseeable future.”

Due to new strains, Mr Nabarro suggested that mask-wearing and keeping apart would still be necessary for areas of high infection.

He said there was a need to “maintain defences against the virus to stop it welling up more and more, and that’s going to be the life to come, at least until there’s enough vaccine, and enough certainty, to be sure that vaccination will protect us. Right now we can’t say that.”

Dr Nabarro said we will have to continue social distancing as well as using vaccines “as part of our defence” against Covid, particularly in virus hotspots.

Reports this morning suggest that guidelines on face masks and distancing could be dropped on July 19th because of the slowdown in Covid infections. Earlier this month, however, a top Government adviser and long-time member of the Communist Party of Britain said they should stay in place “forever”, not only for Covid but also “to reduce other [diseases]”.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

SAGE Models Wrong Already: Hospital Occupancy is HALF What they Predict. Here’s What they Get Wrong

The models the Government is relying on to justify continuing lockdown have not got off to a good start. The projections of the huge summer wave should “freedom day” not be delayed are, as of June 21st (so before any delay could make a difference), almost twice as high for hospital occupancy as the actual number of Covid patients in hospital (see graph above).

Here’s a similar graph from the Spectator with the hospital admissions data superimposed on various SAGE projections (keep track of it here).

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator seems to share our scepticism at Lockdown Sceptics about Government modelling, reminding readers of the notorious SAGE autumn projections that envisaged up to 4,000 deaths a day by early December, but which were inaccurate the day they were published.

However, he then endorses scarcely less pessimistic modelling from Bristol University, which predicts that “hospitalisations peak at just over 900 on August 20th”.

While he admits that “no scenario points to the NHS being overwhelmed” since “Covid patients would occupy 2.5% of hospital beds” (at most), nonetheless he thinks the Government was right to delay the end of restrictions. This is because: