Day: 24 June 2021

“The Vaccines Kill Two People for Every Three Lives They Save”, Says Peer-Reviewed Vaccine Study

A review of efficacy and safety data for the COVID-19 vaccines by three scientists has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccines and comes to the disturbing conclusion that for every three deaths the vaccines prevent, two people die from an adverse reaction, while another four suffer serious side effects. The authors conclude: “This lack of clear benefit should cause governments to rethink their vaccination policy.”

Here is the abstract:

Background: COVID-19 vaccines have had expedited reviews without sufficient safety data. We wanted to compare risks and benefits. 

Method: We calculated the number needed to vaccinate (NNTV) from a large Israeli field study to prevent one death. We accessed the Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) database of the European Medicines Agency and of the Dutch National Register (lareb.nl) to extract the number of cases reporting severe side effects and the number of cases with fatal side effects. 

Result: The NNTV is between 200–700 to prevent one case of COVID-19 for the mRNA vaccine marketed by Pfizer, while the NNTV to prevent one death is between 9,000 and 50,000 (95% confidence interval), with 16,000 as a point estimate. The number of cases experiencing adverse reactions has been reported to be 700 per 100,000 vaccinations. Currently, we see 16 serious side effects per 100,000 vaccinations, and the number of fatal side effects is at 4.11 per 100,000 vaccinations. For three deaths prevented by vaccination, we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination. 

Conclusions: This lack of clear benefit should cause governments to rethink their vaccination policy.

The authors note this conclusion is based on the reported adverse reactions, whereas the true number of adverse reactions may be considerably more.

Finally, we note that from experience with reporting side effects from other drugs, only a small fraction of side effects is reported to adverse events databases. The median underreporting can be as high as 95%. Given this fact and the high number of serious side effects already reported, the current political trend to vaccinate children who are at very low risk of suffering from COVID-19 in the first place must be reconsidered.

They note that the “risks and benefits” of the vaccines are “on the same order of magnitude” and suggest: “Perhaps it might be necessary to dampen the enthusiasm by sober facts?”

Handful of Countries Added to Government’s Travel “Green List”

Amid much pressure from travel industry leaders, the Government has added a handful of countries to its quarantine-free “Green List”. However, all but one of these countries have also been added to the “Green Watchlist”, meaning they are “at risk” of being pushed back onto the “Amber List”, making it difficult for Brits to confidently book holidays abroad. Sky News has more.

Spain’s Balearic Islands, Malta, Madeira, and some islands in the Caribbean – including Barbados – have been added to England’s travel Green List, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

The Balearic Islands are made up of Ibiza, Menorca, Majorca and Formentera.

The move means those heading to some popular holiday hotspots will not have to quarantine on their return following the latest review of the travel traffic light system.

However, all of the new additions to the quarantine-free travel list, with the exception of Malta, will also be added to the Government’s Green Watchlist, the Department for Transport said.

The “Watchlist” will also include Jerusalem and Israel.

It means these countries “are at risk of moving from Green to Amber”, the Department said, noting that “passengers are urged to take extra care when thinking about travelling to Green Watchlist countries”.

The changes come into effect at 4am on Wednesday, June 30th.

Six countries, including Tunisia and Haiti, have been added to the Government’s “Red List”. People returning to Britain from these countries must quarantine for 10 days in a Government-approved hotel – and pay £1,750 for the privilege. Meanwhile, Scotland has added 16 countries to its own Green List, with seven having been added to Northern Ireland’s.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

The Sceptics’ Case For Boris

We’re publishing an original article today by an academic economist writing under the name of John William O’Sullivan setting out the case for the defence of the Prime Minister. Inevitably, it begins with a bit of throat clearing in which the author shares his reservations about Boris.

I am as hardcore a lockdown sceptic as they come. I was early to the game, and I question quite literally everything about the Government response – from face masks to lockdowns to vaccines. Nor am I fan of Boris. I am pro-Brexit, but I suspected that Boris was probably more clown than effective leader – more Beppe Grillo than Winston Churchill.

When he was nominated, I had concerns not just about his public persona, but about his private life. I know that this is unfashionable in Britain, but it should not be. In our professional lives we all know that if someone’s private life is a car crash, this is usually reflected in their professional competencies. Based on this simple and obvious wisdom, the taboo in Britain about questioning public officials based on their private lives – which, so far as I can tell, is purely a post-Profumo phenomenon – should be re-examined. It seems to me that the refurbishment scandal hanging over Boris and his newly minted wife confirms this impression.

But having got that out of the way, he then comes to the nub of the argument.

So, why would I defend old Boris? For the simple reason that the revelations that have come from Dominic Cummings speak volumes. Prior to these revelations I bought into the predominant narrative: that Boris had been a sceptic but then he was hospitalised for COVID-19 and the experience left him lobotomised and compliant. But this view is no longer tenable.

Cummings’ accusations are credible because they come from a hostile source. Everything that he pumps into the media ecosystem is designed to harm Boris. These accusations have been confirmed by others involved. They meet, as the ancient historians say, the flipside of the ‘criteria of embarrassment’.

Yet the accusations paint a picture of a committed sceptic and social libertarian fighting against a mob of technocrats. Cummings, himself being a mediocre technocrat, cannot see that his accusations play in Boris’s favour – but they do. Boris’s Cabinet – a hot mess of career Tories, stuffed shirts, and closet authoritarians – appear to have bullied him into becoming the ‘lockdown-zealot Boris’ that we have all come to know and hate.

Worth reading in full.

Number of Children Taking Antidepressants Reaches Record High During Lockdown

Earlier this week, it was reported that children as young as five are having panic attacks over meeting their friends following almost 15 months of heavy Government restrictions on socialising. Now, data has shown that the use of antidepressants among British children has reached an all-time high over the past year of repeated lockdowns, with many children having been prescribed drugs because waiting times to see health professionals were too long. The Telegraph has the story.

More than 27,000 children were prescribed antidepressants last year, the figures show, with numbers peaking during the first lockdown, and two-thirds of cases involving girls.

Overall, the figure was 40% higher than five years ago, when 19,739 children were prescribed such drugs.

Experts said growing numbers of children were being medicated because waiting lists for help from psychologists and psychiatrists were too long. 

Earlier this week, the Telegraph revealed waits of up to four years in some parts of the country, amid warnings that 1.5 million children will need mental health treatment as a direct result of the pandemic [that is, lockdowns]. 

Experts said many children were suffering behavioural problems fuelled by lockdowns, social distancing and fear of infection, with many now anxious about everyday social activities…

The investigation by the Pharmaceutical Journal reveals that overall, the number of prescriptions of antidepressants to children rose by 26% between April 2015 and April 2020, from 19,739 to 24,957. The peak month was March 2020, when 27,757 prescriptions were issued – two-thirds of them to girls…

NHS figures show a 28% rise in children being referred to mental health services between April and December 2020, amounting to 80,000 more cases. 

The number in need of urgent or emergency crisis care, including checks to see if children were so unwell they were putting themselves at risk, rose by 18%, compared with 2019…

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says children should only be given antidepressants alongside talking therapies, following assessment by a mental health specialist. 

But earlier this year a survey of 32 mental health trusts with children’s services found that one in three had children waiting at least a year for their first appointment. 

The longest wait, in South London, amounted to 1,497 days – more than four years, with children in South Yorkshire waiting 872 days. 

The average waiting time was 58 days, across the country, the survey by ITV News found in March.

Worth reading in full.

U.S. Medicines Regulator to Add Warning to Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Over Link to Heart Inflammation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to add a warning to the Covid vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there is a “likely link” between them and cases of heart inflammation, particularly in children and young adults. The MailOnline has the story.

The CDC made the announcement Wednesday during a presentation. 

The Covid Vaccine Safety Technical (VaST) Work Group discussed nearly 500 reports of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in vaccinated adults under the age of 30.

The group of doctors said the risk of myocarditis or pericarditis following vaccination with the mRNA-based shots in adolescents and young adults is notably higher after the second dose and in males  

It comes as the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP) is set to meet this week to assess the possibility of a link between the heart condition and the mRNA vaccines. 

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses the more traditional virus-based technology. 

According to the presentation, there have been 484 preliminary reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in young people under age 30 as of June 11th.

So far, 323 have been confirmed by CDC and 148 are still under review.

In total, 309 patients were hospitalized, of which 295 were discharged and 79% have since recovered.

Nine patients are still hospitalized with two in intensive care units. There was no data available for five patients. 

Males were much more likely to report heart inflammation after receiving a second dose than women.

As of June 11th, there were 9.1 per million reported cases of myocarditis/pericarditis in females ages 12-to-17 compared to 66.7 per million in males of that age group.

What’s more, rates among females ages 18-to-24 and ages 25-to-29 were 5.5 per million and 2.6 per million respectively.

Ang [among] males, rates were 56.3 per million for the 18-to-24 age group and 20.4 per million in the 25-to-29 group.

In Australia, the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is facing further criticism over its links to a variety of side effects. The vaccine will have been almost completely phased out of the country’s roll-out by October.

Worth reading in full.

No “Legal Compulsion” to Wear Face Masks after July 19th, Says Minister

The Telegraph reports this morning that mask-wearing in indoor settings will continue to be advised by the Government even after we leave lockdown (whether that will be on July 19th or later). But there will be no “legal compulsion” to wear a mask once restrictions are lifted, according to Environment Secretary George Eustice, who says he will personally ditch his mask when the rules are changed.

Sky News has the story.

George Eustice said the Government wants “all of the legal requirements to do things to be taken away completely” at step four of its roadmap for lifting Covid measures, which is currently scheduled for July 19th.

“Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether it may be advisory in some settings, that’s a separate matter,” he said.

“But the objective of that final stage is to remove the legal requirement to do these things.”

Asked if he would continue to wear a face covering beyond that point, the minister replied: “I wouldn’t, no. I have to be honest, once I’m told it’s safe not to, I want to get back to normal.

“I think a lot of people will want to shed those masks.

“But while it’s contributing to controlling the pandemic, yes I will wear my mask like everybody else and do my bit.”

Recent polling from Ipsos MORI suggests that, whether we are legally required to wear masks after July 19th or not, a significant proportion of the population will continue to do so. It showed that more than one-fifth of British adults aren’t looking forward to “not wearing a mask in public places”. Continued “advice” on the matter will likely ensure that this figure does not significantly drop.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he will ditch his mask “as soon as possible” once the mandate is ended. The Telegraph reports:

Rishi Sunak has said he will ditch his face mask at the earliest opportunity when it ceases to be a legal requirement. 

Asked if he would stop wearing a face covering if it only becomes advisory after July 19th, the Chancellor told a summit: “Yes, as soon as possible.” …

Mr Sunak also stressed his “strong expectation” that coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in England on July 19th, adding “things are looking good” for getting back to normal. 

Why Hasn’t the Government Published a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Lockdown?

When considering a policy as unprecedented and far-reaching as a nationwide lockdown, you’d assume the Government would carry out a cost-benefit analysis. After all, such analyses are routine in policy-making. 

For example, the Treasury maintains a document called ‘The Green Book’, which gives detailed guidance on how to compute the costs and benefits of particular actions. It refers to concepts such as opportunity costdiscount factors and adjusting for inflation.

You might say there wasn’t much time to carry out a detailed cost-benefit analysis before the first lockdown last March. (Though the Government could have provided a few rough numbers for the public to scrutinise.) However, it’s now more than a year later, and there still hasn’t been any attempt to weigh the costs and benefits.

In a report for the Institute of Economic Affairs published last December, the economist Paul Ormerod argued that the Government’s refusal to crunch the numbers reflects a general overreliance on epidemiological expertise, at the expense of economic expertise. 

As Russ Roberts, another economist, has observed, “Knowing a lot about the human body does not make you an expert in risk analysis, tradeoffs, or unintended consequences.” Note: this is not to imply that all or even most economists are opposed to lockdowns, but simply that key insights from that discipline have been overlooked during the course of the pandemic. 

Several cost-benefit analyses of the UK lockdowns have been published by persons outside the Government, and each one has concluded that the costs almost certainly outweighed the benefits. 

Since the NHS typically pays up to £30,000 to extend a patient’s life by one quality-adjusted life-year, a reasonable estimate of the benefits of lockdown can be obtained by multiplying the expected number of life-years saved by 30,000. 

For example, if we assume (generously) that lockdowns saved 50,000 lives and prevented 500,000 people from getting long COVID, then the total benefits would be about £16.5 billion. This figure then has to be weighed against some measure of the costs (including effects on the economy, health, education and civil liberties). Given that the fall in GDP alone last year was over £220 billion, it seems very unlikely that lockdowns would pass a cost-benefit test.

The Government’s lack of interest in cost-benefit analysis was highlighted in a recent LinkedIn post by Daniel Fujiwara – an expert in policy evaluation. Fujiwara was apparently invited to “meet with senior Government officials to discuss the pros and cons of lockdown”. However, despite offering his advice and input pro-bono, he “never heard back from them”. 

In the post, Fujiwara goes on to say, “Lockdowns should have stopped at the point where an additional day of #lockdown causes more damage to our society than it benefits us… My analysis of the impacts of lockdown last year suggests that we have gone well beyond this threshold.” 

One can only assume that the Government’s failure to publish even basic estimates of the costs and benefits of lockdown is due to fear of what those estimates might show…

News Round-Up

The Imperial Graph that Shows Infections Declined Before Lockdown and Increased Under It

The above graph is the COVID-19 epidemic curve for England, reconstructed by Imperial College’s REACT antibody survey by asking those who tested positive in an antibody test when their symptoms began. I’ve added the start dates for lockdowns in red and the end dates in blue.

It’s a very useful graph because it does not involve any PCR tests at all, only lateral flow immunoassay tests, self-administered at home. This means it does not suffer from the problem of detecting non-infectious virus as it is not detecting virus at all but antibodies. (Its specificity is reported as 98.6%, giving it a 1.4% background false positive rate, which the researchers adjust for.) This means, for example, that the epidemic decline is much faster than in the familiar “case” curves, and the curves are more symmetrical.

What does it show? Here’s what I take from it. You might see more.

Firstly, it provides further evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating at low levels in England throughout December 2019 and to some degree also in November. This fits with widespread anecdotal evidence of people falling ill with Covid symptoms in December. It doesn’t fit with the original official timeline of an outbreak beginning in Wuhan in December.

Secondly, despite circulating widely during the winter of 2019-20, SARS-CoV-2 did not undergo fast spread in England until the end of February. Indeed, the winter of 2019-20 was the least deadly on record in terms of age-adjusted mortality, despite SARS-CoV-2 being around and infecting people.

Then, around February 25th 2020, it suddenly launches into a three-week long spike of extraordinary exponential growth. This abruptly comes to an end around March 17th, and after a short plateau till around March 21st it enters just as extreme a decline. This is all ahead of the first lockdown on March 23rd of course.

The mystery is: what happened on February 25th (or thereabouts – we don’t know whether Imperial’s assumptions about the incubation period are exactly right) to cause a virus that had been circulating for at least three months at a low level suddenly to go bang and spread like wildfire? It wasn’t panic – no one was panicking at the end of February. Mobility levels were still normal until around March 12th. There was nothing unusual about the weather. Suggestions on this welcome in the comments below.