Day: 5 July 2021

Vaccine Safety Update

This is the eighth 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 seventh 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 the news about the vaccines whether positive or negative and give no one advice about whether they should or should not take them. Unlike with lockdowns, we are neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine; we see our job as reporting the facts, not advocating 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. (Dr Tess Lawrie recently wrote an open letter to Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, arguing that: “The MHRA now has more than enough evidence on the Yellow Card system to declare the COVID-19 vaccines unsafe for use in humans,” a claim that has been “fact checked” here.) We publish information and opinion to inform public debate and help readers reach their own conclusions about what is best for them, based on the available data.

  • Correspondence in the BMJ from nurse Marco T. Suadoni calculating that, as far as vaccinating the under-25s is concerned, “for every single prevention of a hospital admission, at least 22 to 23 individuals will experience at least one serious adverse event”.
  • Article in the Telegraph quoting JCVI member Professor Robert Dingwall suggesting that it is safer to let children catch COVID-19 than vaccinate them.
  • UKMFA has written an open letter requesting that informed consent be properly addressed at vaccination centres.
  • The peer-reviewed paper in Vaccines that we mentioned recently claiming that two deaths result from COVID-19 vaccinations for every three deaths prevented has been retracted by the journal, citing serious concerns with the use of adverse event data. The paper’s authors have issued a statement in which they say: “The true reason seems to have been pressure on the part of some editors of the journal,” and “The timeline suggests that the journal was not really interested in our response and that our response was irrelevant to the retraction”.
  • Report of a blood clotting death following Moderna vaccination.
  • Newsweek reports that the CDC is investigating the death of a 13 year-old Michigan boy in his sleep days after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
  • EudraVigilance – the equivalent of the Yellow Card reporting system in the EU – has logged reports claiming 16,535 people have died and 1,750,275 have suffered injuries following receipt of the Covid vaccines in the EU.
  • VAERS – the American version of the Yellow Card reporting system – released new data bringing the total to 441,931 reports of adverse events following Covid vaccines, including 6,985 deaths and 34,065 serious injuries between December 14th 2020 and June 25th 2021.

Summary of Adverse Events in the U.K.

According to an updated report published on July 1st (covering the period up to June 23rd), the MHRA Yellow Card reporting system has recorded a total of 1,007,253 events, based on 298,081 reports. The total number of fatalities reported is 1,403.

  • Pfizer: 18 million first doses, 11 million second doses.
  • AstraZeneca: 24.5 million first doses, 20.7 million second doses.
  • Moderna: 0.88 million first doses.

Row Breaks Out After Richard Madeley Asks Susan Michie About Communist Beliefs

A row has broken out over a question Richard Madeley asked Professor Susan Michie on Good Morning Britain. After she’d questioned the wisdom of lifting the mask mandate on July 19th, he asked her whether her judgment might be influenced by her membership of the Communist Party, given the top-down, big state authoritarianism of Communist regimes, or whether her views were purely based on “the science”. An excellent question, but she rather testily refused to answer, saying she’d been invited on to the programme in her capacity as a professor of psychology and wasn’t there to talk about politics.

You can watch the exchange on YouTube from the 14m 29s moment, but here is a transcript:

Richard Madeley: There’s a point I really have to put to you and you’ll be aware of this because there’s been a lot of commentary about this in the British media about you and it’s to do with your politics and you know what I’m going to ask you. You’ve been a member of the Communist Party for about 40 years now, you’re still a member, and we know that they’re statist. We look at Communist countries around the world and we see that they are tremendously top down dominant and controlled societies that they rule over. I just wonder – and I’m putting this question on behalf of those who wonder about your politics – if your politics actually informs your sense of control? It’s not just the medical arguments, but you have a kind of a political bent to want the state to tell people what to do?

Susan Michie: I’ve come on your programme as a scientist, as do all people who come on to your programme as scientists. They come on to talk about the evidence, relevant theories, how we approach our scientific disciplines, and you don’t ask other scientists about politics so I’m very happy to speak about science which is what my job is and to limit it to that.

RM: So you’re saying that your politics doesn’t inform your opinion on this subject?

SM: I’m saying that I agreed to come on this programme as a scientist and I’m very happy to talk to you about the issues that you’re raising as a scientist which is the same for other scientists that you invite on to the programme.

Madeleley moved on at that point, letting Michie wriggle off the hook, but good on him for asking the question. He’s been one of the few journalists in the mainstream media to ask tough questions of Government ministers and advisors about their management of the coronavirus crisis.

Needless to say, not everyone saw it that way. According to the Independent, Twitter users strongly disapproved.

Viewers of the show were unimpressed by Madeley’s line of questioning, accusing the presenter of taking “cheap shots” at Michie.

“If you missed Richard Madeley’s McCarthyite questioning of Professor Susan Michie, around 7.25am, do try to find it on catch up TV. It may scare the hell out of you,” one viewer commented.

“I try not to use profanity on here, struggling now as I have just witnessed the most pompous pathetic & rude Richard Madeley talking to a medical expert & equate her science knowledge with her politics,” another wrote.

One Twitter user posted: “That ‘question’ from Richard Madeley was basically to challenge Susan Michie’s scientific credentials and accuse her of wanting to live in a dictatorship, she put him in his place, he is a dangerous man.”

But my Twitter feed told a different story. Michael Senger, a longstanding lockdown sceptic, tweeted: “Susan Michie expresses outrage when asked if her 40-year membership in the Community Party might inform her policies. Apparently, it’s ok to be a communist, but not to ask if this migth be connected to her open endorsement of communist China’s policies.”

Tracey Follows then came up with an amusing reply to Michael’s tweet: “Well that’s the first psychologist/behavioural scientist I’ve heard not wanting to promote the notion of (unconscious bias) on the media for a very long time.”

The row rumbled on, with another “scientific expert” and masking zealot – Deepti Gurdasani – claiming it was “misogynistic” of Madeley to ask Michie about her politics – eh? – and demanding GMB issue an apology as a condition of her ever appearing on the programme again.

I really don’t get why it was “misogynistic” of Madeley to ask Susan Michie whether her hard left politics have affected her position on mask mandates. Of course they have! After all, forcing people to wear masks as a condition of participating in certain activities is a flagrant breach of their liberty and the reason Michie doesn’t care about that and thinks public health concerns should take priority (even though there’s precious little evidence that masks reduce transmission of the virus) must in part be because she’s a communist, who famously don’t put much value on individual freedom. And the reason Madeley hasn’t put the same question to other members of SAGE is not because Miche’s a woman, but because she’s the only one who’s been a member of the Communist Party for the past 40 years.

Wales Will Not “Rush” into Ending Lockdown Restrictions

The Welsh Health Minister says that, after 15 long months of lockdown, the country will not rush out of lockdown because “this [may not be] the end of the road”. Sky News has the story.

Eluned Morgan said Wales will not be rushed into making a decision about scrapping its coronavirus restrictions despite England’s plan to do so on July 19th.

She told a news conference in Cardiff: “We will have to learn to live with this virus and what I won’t give you is any assurances that this is the end of the road.

“We don’t know. There may be a new variant that escapes our vaccines, so I can’t make those kind of predictions.”

Boris Johnson [has announced] that face masks will no longer be required in many settings and social distancing restrictions will be removed in pubs and restaurants in England from July 19th.

Baroness Morgan said she was “surprised” that the U.K. Government was able to make such predictions and that the Welsh Government will be “following the data rather than following the politics” when it considers whether measures can be eased over the next few weeks.

Ministers in Cardiff Bay have so far refused to follow the U.K. and Scottish Governments in setting a date when they will ease restrictions.

Despite Wales having the best vaccination rates in the U.K., they argue that experts need more time to analyse the extent vaccinations have broken the link between infections and hospital cases.

When asked whether the majority of Covid restrictions should be lifted, Baroness Morgan replied: “We are very clear that we are still in a very difficult situation because the case numbers are increasing exponentially still in Wales.”

She told the reporters the emergence of the Delta variant “has sent cases rising again”, especially in North Wales where there are “very high” levels of infection in the community.

But she said ministers would need to consider the consequences of extending restrictions, such as the impact on mental health and the economy, especially given the reduced number of people being hospitalised with Covid.

Worth reading in full.

Cry Freedom: Nearly All Covid Rules to be Ditched on July 19th

Almost all Coronavirus rules – including limits on the number of people who can meet together, the wearing of face masks, and social distancing in pubs and bars – will be ditched as part of step four of the roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions in England. Sky News has more.

The Government expects to push ahead with step four of its lockdown-lifting roadmap on July 19th, when Boris Johnson wants to move away from ministerial edicts for managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, people in England will be encouraged to use their personal judgement on the risks of infection – with the Prime Minister wishing to see a new way of living with the virus.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with the last phase of the roadmap will be taken in a week’s time, following a review of the latest data and if the government’s tests for removing restrictions are being met.

Should step four proceed on 19 July, it will see:

• No more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size

• The removal of the “one metre-plus” rule in almost all settings, apart from specific places such as airports

• All remaining businesses, including nightclubs, able to re-open

• No capacity caps on large scale events, such as sports matches or concerts

• No more regulations on wearing face masks in shops or on public transport

• The Government will no longer require people to work from home

• No more limits on the number of people who are able to visit care home residents

The Government has also chosen not to impose the use of domestic COVID “passports” for people to demonstrate their vaccination or testing status when attending pubs, bars and restaurants or other venues.

There will be further announcements this week on whether schools and colleges will continue to have to “bubble” pupils, as well as on whether double-jabbed people will still have to self-isolate after contact with an infected person or on their return from an “amber list” country.

However, under those rules being retained, it will still be a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, the one-metre plus rule will continue in specific places such as airports to prevent passengers from different destinations from mixing, and infection control measures will remain in place in care homes.

Worth reading in full.

Pro-Lockdown SAGE Advisor Stephen Reicher Thinks Caring about Freedom is Selfish and Wants Us to Surrender to the Supreme Authority of the State For Ever in the Name of Compassion

We’re publishing a guest post today by Professor David McGrogan, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Business at Northumbria University, about the recent twitter rant of Stephen Reicher, a lockdown zealot who sits on SAGE. Reicher was absolutely horrified by Sajid Javid’s suggestion that we have to learn to live with the virus and that means taking personal responsibility for managing our own behaviour. He is one of many so-called experts who are ranting and raving about the lifting of restrictions on July 19th – out in force on the airwaves today –  believing its a terrible dereliction of duty on the Government’s part.

Stephen Reicher, a psychologist who sits on SAGE, recently made headlines with a twitter rant against Sajid Javid. It is full of bluster, bombast and keyboard-warrior aggression like twitter rants always are, but also contains one tweet that is highly revealing about the pro-lockdown mindset.

“Above all,” Reicher tells us, “it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ [sic] Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.’”

We’ve heard this kind of thing a lot, of course: one of the chief rhetorical devices of the pro-lockdown movement is the depiction of anybody who dissents as selfish. Those of us who are sceptical can only possibly be that way because we just want to go to the pub and everybody’s grannies can simply go hang. But it is worth dwelling on certain assumptions underlying the tweet, because they help us to understand a little bit more about the worldview upon which people like Stephen Reicher base their views and advice.

The first is the elision between ‘we’ and the state, which has characterised support for lockdown since the very beginning, and which suggests both a disregard for the distinction between the public and private spheres and a lack of concern for, or appreciation of, the existence of a society as a thing independent from the realm of politics. No sceptic I am aware of has ever taken the position that life should have continued completely as normal during the pandemic period. Our position has been that it is up to us (or the ‘”we” concept’ as Reicher might put it) to make those decisions for ourselves in consideration of those around us, rather than to have the State impose them on us from above. It is not about anarchic libertarianism sticking two fingers up to authority. It is about taking responsibility for our own actions, like adults.

There is something deeply Hobbesian about the view to which Reicher subscribes: the idea that the leviathan must take responsibility for every aspect of our lives, since left to our own devices we’re simply incapable of making sensible decisions. The difficulty that somebody in his position faces, of course, is that once that logical leap has been made, everything is up for grabs – the state might as well make all significant decisions for everybody for ever, since it alone possesses the advice of the ‘experts’, and since we’re so damned untrustworthy and stupid. Perhaps he finds that idea appealing, but if he does, he is in a tiny minority.

The second is the unstated rejection of individual rights. As Ronald Dworkin, probably the most important legal philosopher of the latter part of the 20th century, was wont to emphasise, individual rights have no meaning unless they trump considerations of the general welfare. If individual rights (to free expression, conscience, assembly, liberty, etc.) have to give way if it is for the good of the ‘general welfare’, then that means individual rights do not exist. Whenever politicians deem it important to override them, then they can, because it will always be possible to declare a policy to be in the ‘general welfare’. Civil liberties are only worth more than the paper they are written on if they protect individual freedom even though it is not in the general welfare. There may be circumstances in which a serious public emergency will trump even that consideration (and one individual’s rights can be limited by another individual’s competing rights, of course). But that situation has to be extremely rare. And we are certainly not in such a situation now that all of the vulnerable have been double-jabbed and almost all other adults at least partially vaccinated. Stephen Reicher may not deem it important to live in a rights-respecting democracy, but he should say so if that is his opinion.

The third, and in my view most troubling, is the implication that freedom itself is selfish. Public health may be a “we” thing, but that does not mean that freedom is an “I” thing. No sensible liberal thinker has ever argued anything other than that individual freedom comes with, and is contingent upon, responsibility, self-control, discipline, restraint, and community-mindedness. To live as a free individual means to live in a dense network of mutual respect, protection, cooperation and compassion, because otherwise one cannot live at all. To be free means to live with the consequences of one’s actions – and that means to act at every turn in the awareness that there are other people around oneself, whose needs and desires are to be respected and mutually bolstered with one’s own. Freedom is a “we” thing – it is probably the most important “we” thing of all. This is to be contrasted with the alienating, atomised, individualised world of the lockdown advocates: no socialising, schooling, community activities or even sex except where mediated by the authority and permission of the state. No society, no family, no friends – unless the state lets you.

I know who needs to get his head around the “we” concept – and it isn’t Sajid Javid.

Pfizer Vaccine Effectiveness Drops to 64% in Israel

As infections have surged in Israel in the last few weeks, the Israeli Government reports that the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against infection has dropped to 64% from 94% the previous month. However, its effectiveness against serious disease is holding up. The Telegraph has more.

The vaccine had a 64% efficacy rate from early June until early July, the latest figures show, down from 94% a month earlier. The decrease coincides with a period in which the government reversed coronavirus restrictions and the delta variant spread through the country.

But the vaccine is still conferring strong protection against severe symptoms of the virus, with hospitalisation rates remaining low. The ministry’s data shows the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing hospitalisation was 93% from June 6th to July 3rd, compared to a 98% rate in the previous period.

On Monday, Israel reported the highest rate of new infections since the start of its most recent outbreaks, with the ministry recording 343 new cases over the past 24 hours.

Over half (55%) of the new infections are in fully vaccinated people, according to recent data. Since the country has fully vaccinated about 60% of the population, this suggests the vaccine is not protecting from infection very much at all (less even than the new stated efficacy figure of 64%). This is particularly so given that most of the infections are likely to be in socially and economically active younger people (like they are in the U.K.) who have lower vaccination rates, so that the vaccinated may even be suffering disproportionately more infections than the unvaccinated (the data is currently unavailable to confirm this).

The pattern of outbreaks in highly vaccinated countries such as Bahrain, Seychelles, Maldives and Chile and the fact that the vaccines don’t produce mucosal IgA antibodies has suggested for a while that their effectiveness against infection may have been exaggerated in studies. The idea that the IgG antibodies they produce in the blood should protect against progression to serious illness makes more sense and it is reassuring to see this data holding up.

The Israeli Government is now discussing the need for a third booster shot, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said people will “likely” need a third dose within 12 months of getting “fully vaccinated”. The Government may also consider limiting gathering sizes and reintroducing the controversial “Green Pass” vaccine apartheid system.

However, if a highly vaccinated country like Israel cannot return to normal without constant threat of new restrictions you have to wonder if anyone can. At some point leaders will need to accept that they have done all they can to guard the vulnerable against serious illness and death and remember that there is more to life than avoiding COVID-19.

Stop Press: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now investigating the death of a 13 year-old American boy who died a few days after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.

Mask-Wearing to Stay in Many Settings after July 19th as Businesses Set Own Rules

Boris Johnson is due to announce the end of face masks laws from July 19th later today but will continue to advise mask-wearing in crowded and enclosed spaces. Businesses will be allowed to set their own rules, and it is expected that Brits will have to carry on wearing face masks in shops, pubs, buses and trains after “Freedom Day”, according to the Telegraph.

“We will still be encouraging people that it is probably sensible to wear a mask in a busy enclosed space,” said a source. “Although it is not legally required, it doesn’t mean people should not strongly consider doing it.

“You don’t have to wear them but if shops, pubs or restaurants demand that you do, we will advise people to be mindful of that and stick to it because it is their premises.”

Hospitality chiefs said masks, table service and the rule of six would continue in some venues after July 19th, as Covid risk assessments, enforced by councils, are left to individual businesses.

Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality, an industry body, said: “There’s going to be customers who are expecting everything to fall away and there’s going to be places that they won’t be able to do that.”

Millions of commuters on London’s Tube are also likely to be told they must continue wearing masks after July 19th, as well as Tube buskers, who must even wear a mask when they sing.

This is exactly what Conservative MP and Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group Steve Baker warned would happen last week when he said that Sajid Javid had “worsened” the prospect of all restrictions being lifted on July 19th. “Voluntary measures will be interpreted by the Health and Safety Executive and businesses and could effectively be compulsory,” Baker said. “So until the Government stops recommending these things, too many businesses will become unviable.”

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

Ugandans Told to Lock Down or Get Locked Up

Ugandans, whose Ministry of Health preaches the idea of “fighting the virus not the people”, have been told that they could be thrown into prison if they break lockdown rules by operating banned businesses or even by not wearing a face mask when outside. BBC News has the story.

According to new rules released by the Health Ministry in a statutory document, those found operating banned businesses such as bars, nightclubs, cinemas and shops selling non-food items face time in prison.

Current lockdown measures also restrict cultural ceremonies like weddings to only 20 people, and anyone found hosting a larger number might be jailed.

Heads of households or owners of premises or property who fail to report people infected with Covid to health officials may be imprisoned as well.

Not wearing a mask outside of one’s residence or assisting someone to escape from quarantine, could land one in jail.

Since the country first went into lockdown in March 2020, security forces have in some cases meted out violence on the public while enforcing control measures and several people have been killed.

Officials warn that Uganda is currently going through a second wave of Covid infections which should have peaked by early August.

Graphic from Reuters.

Lockdown rule-breaking – which also includes praying in open places – could land Ugandans in prison for two months, according to Voice of America. State Minister for Health Anifa Kawooya says the new measures are necessary. “These penalties are not punishments. In one way, it is to instil attitude change… That the moment that you know that if I don’t observe these [standard operating procedures], this will happen.”

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Up to 350,000 Young People Could Lose Their Jobs as Furlough Comes to an End

Young people have been the most reliant on furlough and will likely be the hardest hit as the scheme comes to an end, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). There are already 50,000 more unemployed people aged 19 to 24 compared to pre-lockdown levels, and the IFS says in a new report that a further 350,000 people in this age bracket may lose their jobs in the coming months as job support money dries up. The Telegraph has the story.

In a new research report, the IFS says the age group saw the biggest increase of any age group in the numbers not working any hours, including those who are furloughed. 

The number rose by 25%, or around 400,000 people, from the last quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2021 – a significantly higher increase than those seen in older age groups.

The vast majority of those jobs have, so far, been saved by the furlough scheme, with only 50,000 additional 19 to 24 year-olds without any job at all in early 2021 compared with pre-pandemic.

But this means the 19 to 24 year-old age group is especially vulnerable as the furlough scheme is wound down.

At the same time, unlike for older workers, earnings growth among younger employees (aged 19 to 34) who have continued to work has been lower than prior to the pandemic. 

This may not have large immediate consequences, but if this ground is not regained then the longer-term effects on their incomes will be significant, said the IFS.

Xiaowei Xu, a Senior Research Economist at IFS and co-author of the report, said: “Young adults have been especially likely to be furloughed during the crisis, though relatively few have completely lost their job.

“Many have responded to this by staying or moving back in with their parents – providing temporary protection for their living standards. 

“But we know that shocks early on in people’s careers can have negative effects on their future job prospects. Without effective support, there is a risk that young people today will bear the scars of the recession for years to come.”

It follows previous research by the IFS which found that young workers are twice as likely as older colleagues to have lost their jobs, although graduates were less than half as likely as those without degrees to have fallen out of work. 

By the autumn, the number of graduates in paid work had fallen seven per cent, a drop of about 800,000 people, but the number of non-graduates was down by 17%, or 1.5 million, showing the much more severe impact on those with less education.

Worth reading in full.

Stringency Index Is Not Associated With COVID-19 Death Rate Across U.S. States, but IS Associated With Higher Unemployment

Some people oppose lockdown on principle, arguing that the government should never infringe on fundamental liberties like the freedom to leave our home or open our business, regardless of the impact this may have on disease transmission.

It’s a reasonable position, but I’m more drawn to the consequentialist case against lockdowns. This can be summed up as “benefits small, costs large”. In other words, even if lockdowns do reduce mortality from COVID-19 (under some circumstances), they don’t do so by anywhere near enough to justify their costs.

As I noted recently, several cost-benefit analyses of the U.K.’s lockdowns have been published, and each one concluded that the costs almost certainly outweighed the benefits. (Which may explain why the Government has thus far refrained from publishing any estimates itself.)

A rather elegant demonstration of the consequentialist case against lockdown was provided back in May, in the form of a Twitter thread by the data scientist Youyang Gu.

Comparing the 50 U.S. states, Gu obtained data on the COVID-19 death rate, the change in unemployment rate, and the average Government Stringency Index. The latter is a measure of the number and severity of restrictions imposed during the course of the pandemic (school closures, stay-at-home orders, etc.). Gu’s two main charts are shown below:

He found that the Stringency Index was not associated with the COVID-19 death rate (left-hand chart), but was strongly associated with an increase in unemployment (right-hand chart). In other words, U.S. states with longer and more stringent lockdowns haven’t had fewer COVID-19 deaths, but they have seen higher unemployment.

In the replies to Gu’s thread, some critics argued that restrictions were often imposed in response to large outbreaks, so you can’t assume that causation only goes from restrictions to deaths and unemployment. However, Gu points out that the relative ordering of restriction levels is fairly constant over time, so this is unlikely to be a major issue.

His analysis adds to a large body of evidence indicating that – for the vast majority of Western states – the benefits of lockdown were small, but the costs were very large. Gu’s thread is worth reading in full.