Day: 6 August 2021

Devastating New Data From PHE Shows Vaccine Effectiveness Down to 17% and No Reduction in Infectiousness – But Mortality Cut by 77%

Public Health England yesterday released their latest technical briefing on the variants of concern, number 20, and it has some illuminating data.

It provides us with the infection, hospitalisation and death rates for the Delta variant, broken down by vaccination status and age. This allows us to do a calculation of the real-world vaccine effectiveness in the over-50s during the Delta surge, albeit a rough one without any adjustments.

The latest report has data up to August 2nd. If we substract from these values the data in Briefing 17 (up to June 21st) then we get the data covering the period June 22nd to August 2nd, which broadly corresponds to the bulk of the Delta surge in the U.K. The vaccine rollout to the over-50s was basically complete by this point, having stabilised according to PHE at around 88% double vaccinated and 10% unvaccinated (the other two per cent remaining single vaccinated, perhaps due to a bad reaction to the first dose).

In this period the PHE data tells us there were 2,464 Delta cases in the unvaccinated over-50s and 17,926 in the fully vaccinated over-50s. From this we can estimate the vaccine effectiveness against infection in the over-50s during the Delta surge as 17% (1-[(17,926/88%)/(2,464/10%)]). This confirms using additional data the estimate I made last week.

We can make a similarly rough calculation of the vaccine effectiveness against death. Between June 22nd and August 2nd, PHE reports that among the over-50s there were 339 deaths with the Delta variant in the double vaccinated and 167 in the unvaccinated. Using the same proportions vaccinated and unvaccinated as above, this gives a vaccine effectiveness against death in the over-50s during the Delta surge of 77% (1-[(339/88%)/(167/10%)]). Interestingly, this is very similar to the latest estimate of vaccine effectiveness against serious disease from Israel, which is around 80%. This is a decent level of protection and helps explain why the Delta surge had proportionally fewer hospitalisations and deaths, but it is well below the levels suggested by earlier studies and quoted by PHE, which are north of 95%.

Northern Ireland Begins Vaccinating Healthy 16 and 17 Year-Olds Against Covid

Just two days after England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer said all 16 and 17 year-olds will start being invited to get vaccinated against Covid “in a very short number of weeks”, Northern Ireland has become the first U.K. nation to extend its vaccine roll-out to healthy children. BBC News has the story.

The move follows a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

More than 180 vaccinations were administered to 16 and 17 year-olds at the SSE arena in Belfast on Friday morning.

Confirming the number, Lead Nurse at the regional vaccination centre Pauline Wilson said there was a sense of excitement among young people in line for their jab.

“The general feedback is that they’re pleased to be here and they’re looking forward to things opening up again,” she said.

“It’s their turn and they are keen to get their vaccinations.” …

Regional vaccination centres in Northern Ireland are providing a walk-in service for first doses of Pfizer vaccines for those aged 16 and 17.

For those who prefer to book, an online booking platform will be available in the coming days.

The first vaccination will also be available at pop-up walk-in clinics across Northern Ireland.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Young people are “excited” to get ‘jabbed’, according to the Evening Standard.

Elliot Aston, from Newtownards, Co Down, said he was “quite excited” to have received his first jab.

“It’s good that they’re finally offering it to us because we are probably the ones that are out and about the most so I think it’s about time,” he said.

“I have an introduction day back to school coming up so I’ll definitely feel safer now around my friends.

“Some of my friends were here today getting it too.” …

Georgia Johnston, from Carrickfergus, admitted she had worries about getting the vaccine, but after some thought decided she would.

“I was completely against it but decided I have to get it so I came up and got it,” she said.

“My mum persuaded me, she got her vaccine.”

Also worth reading in full.

Get ‘Jabbed’ or “Miss Out on the Good Times”, Government Tells Young in Latest Ad Campaign

If you don’t get vaccinated against Covid, you won’t be able to enjoy your life, young people are told in the latest Government ad campaign which will be shown on billboards, on television and on social media platforms. In a nod to the introduction of vaccine passports at nightclubs and other “large venues” later this year, the ad tells young Brits: “Don’t miss out on going clubbing” by not getting ‘jabbed’.

“It’s easy to get yours done quickly,” the ad says, “so you don’t miss out on anything.” The Times has more.

Boris Johnson is said to have been “raging” about relatively low youth uptake and had to be talked out of requiring vaccination for students returning to university in the autumn.

He has said proof of vaccination will be required for nightclubs from September, with officials suggesting this will probably be widened to other mass events. Although there is scepticism about whether the policy will ever be introduced, given opposition from Tory backbenchers, ministers are seeking to drive home the message that jabs will be required for many leisure activities.

Past efforts appear to have failed. Yesterday 33,334 people were vaccinated and the seven-day average is down to 32,550 daily doses, a fall of 85% since June. …

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, warned that proof of vaccination was likely to be a feature of international travel “for evermore” as most countries would demand it as a condition of entry. “It’s important to understand that there are simply going to be things that you will not be able to do unless you’re double-vaccinated or have a medical reason not to be, including going abroad,” he told LBC. “So actually there are good reasons if you’re perhaps in your twenties and you feel like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t really affect me’. Well, it is going to because you won’t be able to leave the country.”

Vaccination rates in the young are starting to plateau, with 68% of those aged 18 to 24 and 71% of those aged 25 to 29 having had a first jab, compared with at least 95% in the over-50s. …

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, told young people to be vaccinated “to make sure you can return to creating those special moments”.

DJs and nightclubs have been recruited to the campaign, with the NHS holding a pop-up jab unit in the London nightclub Heaven. The Gateways music festival in Skipton, North Yorkshire, and Birmingham New Street station will also host walk-in centres this weekend. …

Campaign images include young people frolicking on a beach under the slogan “don’t miss out on going travelling”, a music festival with the warning “don’t miss out on the big events” and a packed dancefloor with the legend “don’t miss out on going clubbing”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: You can see more of the posters that make up the Government’s “Don’t Miss Out” campaign here.

Brit Complains of Rodent Infestation at £1,750 Quarantine Hotel

There have been numerous reports of “prison-like” conditions at quarantine hotels, where travellers from Red List countries must self-isolate for 10 days, costing them £1,750. Despite this, conditions appear to have reached a new low, with one Brit staying in a Heathrow hotel saying he has had to move room twice due to a rodent infestation. Sky News has the story.

Anthony, 25, who did not want to give a surname, said he has seen an animal in his room on two occasions.

He told Sky News: “It’s hell. It’s shocking. It’s a health & safety hazard… The hotel has to be shut down.”

Anthony is paying £1,750 to stay at Government-approved Mercure Heathrow Hotel on his return from a visit to Brazil, a Red List country.

He claims staff have apologised, offered him free beer, but no refund.

In a statement, Mercure Hotels said: “An external pest control professional has checked the hotel and concluded no evidence of pest activity. We take complaints such as this very seriously.” …

Anthony said: “There would have been rats wandering around when I was sleeping, crawling on tables & cutlery, sniffing cups, in the bin… Rats carry diseases.”

“At 1.30am I saw a rat come from behind the fridge into view,” he added.

“I talked to security. They moved me into a new room.”

As he changed room, he said another guest asked: “Have you got one in your room as well?”

Anthony said hotel staff have admitted those in other rooms have had similar problems with rodents. There is no cleaning service for the full ten-day stay due to Covid measures.

Worth reading in full.

A Letter From Iceland

Tom Woods has published an excellent letter from a lockdown sceptic in Iceland on his blog. We are reprinting it in full below.

The Government of Iceland eased Covid restrictions progressively this spring until finally abolishing “all” of them on June 26th. (Border controls and test/trace program remained in place.) The Government had promised the easing of restrictions based on vaccination targets. At this time 85% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated and another 5% have received one dose.

Cases being approximately zero, the Government and public health establishment ran a victory lap this summer, having “defeated Covid.” (The second time, actually – they thought it had been defeated in the summer of 2020 and were awarded medals by the President for that.)

That lasted about a month. A few days ago cases started skyrocketing again. It looks like this will become the largest wave so far. The majority of cases are among the vaccinated.

Public health officials were not expecting this, and a frenzy ensued. Despite mortality/hospitalisation percentages being down markedly as compared to previous waves the chief epidemiologist demanded border controls be tightened. The official rationale is that “someone could still get sick”.

As usual the Government did as it was told. The epidemiologist announced that he believed this would be enough to stop the rise in cases. The next day cases rose further, and having decided now that border controls would not suffice he demanded the Government start reimposing restrictions, thereby breaking the promise they had made. The restrictions are somewhat mild as compared to before, a ban on gatherings larger than 200 persons, indoor mask mandate, early closure of bars and restaurants.

The Government approved and as of this writing these restrictions are coming into effect in Iceland. (At this time Iceland is pretty much a dictatorship run by the epidemiologist; no politician dares to challenge his “expertise”).

This turn of events is extremely demoralising. If past experience is any indicator, over the next couple of weeks we will experience increasingly harsh restrictions/lockdowns as the imposed restrictions fail to reduce case numbers. Furthermore, the epidemiologist announced that the failure of the vaccine to provide herd immunity means that restrictions will likely be in place for the next five to 15 years.

“The pandemic is not over,” he said, “until it is over everywhere in the world.” Given that the economy of tiny Iceland is extremely dependent on tourism, I can’t see how this “plan” will end in anything other than hyperinflation down the road.

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic public opinion is shifting slightly. It has been absolutely in favor of the restrictions so far but it seems that now a sizable minority does not support the imposed restrictions. I can’t say I’m very optimistic that we will see any real resistance, though. The political class seems paralysed by fear of the media/public health establishment.

I would very much appreciate if you can bring this to the attention of the world. It seems that at least in Iceland, high vaccination rates will not bring us back our freedom or save us from the dystopia of a permanent dictatorship run by the public health establishment.

Should We Be Surprised That Case Numbers Have Been Falling?

“Scientists are scratching their heads over the precipitous decline in daily COVID-19 infections”, says a recent article in the journal Nature. “A sharp fall in the number of people testing positive has surprised scientists”, says a piece in the FT. According to the epidemiologist John Edmunds, “Nobody really knows what’s going on.”

Should scientists really be surprised by the fall in case numbers? Yes, some remaining restrictions were lifted on July 19th – the U.K.’s supposed ‘Freedom Day’. But cases have fallen in the absence of restrictions many times before. It’s therefore hardly surprising they would do so again.

To identify previous examples where infections fell in the absence of restrictions, I utilised the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. Specifically, I looked for examples where cases fell from a peak at a time when there were no mandatory business closures in place, and there was no mandatory stay-at-home order.

I was able to identify nine examples. (And note: one’s ability to identify examples is limited by the fact that almost all countries have had either mandatory business closures or a mandatory stay-at-home order in place during each successive wave of the virus.)

The nine examples are as follows: Sweden in the spring of 2020; Japan in the spring, the summer and the winter of 2020; North Dakota in the winter of 2020; South Dakota in the winter of 2020; Wyoming in the winter of 2020; Utah in the winter of 2020; and Iowa in the winter of 2020.

In all nine cases, infections fell in the complete absence of either mandatory business closures or a mandatory stay-at-home order. (Though in some of the cases, there were restrictions on large gatherings, or other less intrusive measures in place.)

It should be noted that all these locations other than Japan have relatively low population densities – which presumably equates to lower transmission, all else being equal. (And Japan’s “success” in dealing with the virus may be due to some cultural or biological factor that is common to every country in South East Asia.) Nonetheless, differences in population density are of degree not of kind.

So what explains the declines – did people just change their behaviour voluntarily? Not necessarily, as I’ve noted before. In South Dakota, cases began falling rapidly in mid November, despite almost no government restrictions and little change in people’s overall mobility. How could this happen?

One possible explanation is super-spreaders. We know there is substantial variation in transmissibility across individuals. Most people don’t transmit the virus to anyone; but a few people spread it to many others. Perhaps cases start declining once enough of these super-spreaders have been infected.

Whatever the true explanation, lockdowns are not necessary for infections to start falling (even if they may cause this to happen slightly earlier or slightly faster than otherwise). Why, then, are the scientists so puzzled?

One reason, as Philippe Lemoine noted in our recent interview, is that some epidemiological models simply assume that only lockdowns can have a large effect on transmission. Not particularly scientific, you might say, but that’s modelling for you.

The fact that infections have been falling in the U.K. is actually even less surprising than I’ve suggested so far. That’s because over 93% of Britons now have Covid antibodies – acquired from either vaccines or natural infection (whereas in the examples listed above, the numbers were far lower).

In summary, a decline in case numbers is only surprising if you’re reasoning from a flawed model.

What the Modellers Still Don’t Understand About Herd Immunity

Bristol’s Professor Philip Thomas has a new piece in the Spectator this week. Readers may recall that I criticised his previous pieces for what seemed in my view to be wildly over-the-top predictions of the likely scale of the Delta surge.

In June, he predicted “an enormous final wave“, in which the virus “would quickly seek out the one-in-three Britons who are still susceptible: mainly the not-yet-vaccinated” and peak in the middle of July (the bit he got right) “at anywhere between two million and four million active infections“. According to the ONS, around 951,700 people in the U.K. were PCR positive in the week ending July 24th, and that appears to be the peak, which is less than half of Professor Thomas’s lower estimate.

He now admits: “The situation is better than I bargained for at the beginning of June and also better than my estimates a month later.” In fact, it’s so much better, that he thinks “the decline in active infections can only mean that England is about to reach the herd immunity threshold for the Delta variant”. By which he means that “around 86% of England’s adults and children must now be immune”. On this basis he argues that it is “extremely unlikely” that there will be a new Covid surge in the coming winter.

The problem with this analysis is it is still based on the SAGE assumption that herd immunity is a once-for-all-time thing, that was made harder to reach by the more transmissible Delta variant, but which we have now just achieved, mostly through vaccination, and it will now keep us safe.

News Round-Up