Day: 10 September 2021

Backbench Rebellion Brewing Over Plans to Vaccinate Kids

Ministers faced a backbench rebellion on Friday night over plans to vaccinate healthy 12-15 year-olds after 26 Tory MPs warned the Government that overruling expert advice risks “dissolving the bond of trust” between the public and the Government. The Telegraph has more.

In a letter to Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, MPs said that the Government’s willingness to “ignore” the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is a cause for “serious concern”.

Their intervention comes as Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, prepares to advise ministers on whether there is a wider benefit to society from vaccinating children.

In the letter, MPs pointed out that a “large part” of the UK’s inoculation programme success stems from the work of the JCVI which had “successfully determined the priorities for the vaccination rollout since January”.

They added: “As a result of their leadership, the UK has one of the lowest levels of vaccine hesitancy in the world, and so far over 90 per cent of the adult population has felt enough trust in its analysis to confidently have at least one vaccine dose.

“Every step of the way, from the first jab administered back in December, to three quarters of us now being fully vaccinated, the JCVI has brought the country along with it.”

Signatories of the letter include Esther McVey, the former secretary of state, Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs, and William Wragg, the chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee.

MPs said they are concerned that any attempt by the Government to “overrule” the advice now risks “dissolving the bond of trust that has grown between state and public”.

Last week, the JCVI delivered its long-awaited verdict, saying the “margin of benefit” of jabbing 12-15 year-olds was “considered too small” and citing the low risk to healthy children from the virus.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

We Should Have Trusted Our Immune Systems

There follows a guest post by retired dentist and Daily Sceptic contributor Dr. Mark Shaw, who says that just as dentists are taught to intervene as little as possible and trust the human body, public health experts should heed the same lesson.

As well as dentistry, sport has played a big, happy part of my life. Athletics, cross country and squash mainly but also many other competitive sports. So I was relieved to find that, following a long spell on the NHS waiting list, I wouldn’t need a hip replacement after all. I’d used the waiting time to do as much research on hip physio as possible and found that my mobility was improving steadily and significantly. My experience and knowledge of sports injuries through intense training and competing for my country had definitely helped.

When I sat down with the consultant for the assessment of my hip I described the progress made and how keen I was to avoid, or at least put off, an operation. The consultant orthopaedic surgeon seemed happy with my attitude and said that nothing would improve on my original hip and that, no matter how bad the hip looked on the X-ray, as long as I could function and manage the pain, I should avoid surgical treatment and continue with my physio and general health measures. Happy days!

This experience reminded me of my own profession (including its history) and the training involved and how medical science has responded to Covid.

In the early years of training we were taught about the ‘old’ treatments and how advances in technology had changed the way we removed decay and designed restorative work (fillings, crowns and bridges etc.). After qualifying and through the years this theme continued. Restorative work involves working out how little, if any, healthy tooth tissue you can get away with removing. All our technology and materials still can’t beat the real thing.

Prevention of the causes of gum disease and tooth decay through education is therefore the most important aspect of dentistry in my opinion. Appropriately frequent monitoring (check-ups) – and treatment as a last resort.

Robin Hoodwinked

We’re publishing another guest post by Charlotte Niemiec, a freelance journalist. This one is about the unseemly haste with which the Government raised National Insurance earlier this week and the flimsy rationale for doing so. How can the Government ask us to fund a financial shortfall in the NHS when it has wasted so many billions of taxpayers’ money through its mismanagement of the pandemic?

Earlier this week, the U.K. Government voted to increase national insurance contributions by 1.25% from April 2022 – a “fair and reasonable” amount that will raise £12 billion a year in extra funding for the health and social care sector, according to PM Boris Johnson. It is hardly unexpected.

I suspect many of us would willingly contribute what we could to the public purse in the face of a serious humanitarian crisis. Most stoically accept year-on-year rises that reflect inflation and population growth, especially when that money is invested in services we or those we love use now or will one day. We’re told the hike is a regrettable consequence of an unforeseen pandemic that has served to reveal cracks in the system, most notably a lack of resources in our ‘world-beating’ NHS. This should sound perfectly reasonable.

Why then, if Twitter is anything to judge by, do so many people on both sides of the political divide feel totally shafted? Perhaps it’s because we don’t have bottomless pockets and altruism only goes so far when we see our money being wasted. Forcing us to pay more to deal with a backlog that is a direct result of the government’s own poor decision-making feels like something of a cheek. The NHS needs extra funds primarily because it chose multiple, short-term, ineffective lockdown policies instead of strategies that safeguarded public health, the NHS and the economy in the long-term. Alternatives, such as the Great Barrington Declaration or the Swedish model, have always been available, but never considered.

Pfizer Preparing to Seek Approval for Its Covid Vaccine in 5-11 Year-Olds

Not content with the ‘jabbing’ of children over the age of 12 with their Covid vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech are now preparing to seek approval from U.S. and European medicines agencies for their vaccine in 5-11 year-olds. MailOnline has the story.

Dr. Özlem Türeci, Chief Physician for BioNTech, told German news site Der Spiegel that the companies are set to shortly release results from their study in kids under age 12 and will ask for the shot to be approved for emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies.

“In the coming weeks, we will present the results of our study on the 5-11 year-olds worldwide to the authorities and apply for approval of the vaccine for this age group,'”Türeci said.

She added that the vaccine formula is the same as that approved for adolescents and adults, but that the dose size is smaller. 

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is only approved for children aged 12 and older in both the U.S. and the European Union.

Parents and doctors have been debating about whether or not to inoculate children because they make up 0.1% of all Covid deaths in the U.S. 

A few hours after the new from Pfizer and BioNTech, the FDA said that clinical trial data submitted by vaccine manufacturers must include a monitoring period of at least two months after the final dose to ensure safety. …

Around 4,500 younger kids have been enrolled at nearly 100 clinical trial sites in 26 U.S. states, Finland, Poland and Spain. …

If the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, the trial will be unblinded at the six-month follow-up, meaning those who received [a] placebo will be allowed to get the inoculation. 

Trials for kids as young as six months to four years old are still in early stages and will expand once the researchers can determine safety.

Worth reading in full.

Children Should Be Vaccinated to Benefit Their Mental Health, Chris Whitty to Say

After months and months of recommending lockdown policies that damaged the mental health, education and social development of young people, Chris Whitty is now set to recommend that children aged 12 and over should be vaccinated against Covid “to benefit their mental health, education and social development”, according to the Times.

The Chief Medical Officer for England is set to conclude a review of medical evidence early next week, with ministers promising that the first younger teenagers will be jabbed within five working days. …

Whitty and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are finalising a review into the wider benefits of child vaccination after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation gave them responsibility for making a decision. [Or, rather, after the Government chose to ignore the JCVI.]

The committee concluded last week that although the benefits of vaccinating healthy children aged 12 to 15 slightly outweighed the risk, the balance in favour was too small to justify mass immunisation on health grounds alone. They said Whitty should be tasked with considering the broader benefits to children and his review has been holding discussions this week.

The Times understands that talks with senior doctors and other experts reached the conclusion that vaccination should go ahead.

The desire to stop children taking time off school sick, and to help them avoid worrying about the pandemic and learning to get on with their peer group were together judged to tip the balance in favour of vaccination.

Sources close to Whitty stressed that he was still holding discussions and was yet to finalise his recommendations, but the backing of his top advisers means that vaccination of children is in effect agreed.

Worth reading in full.

By Last Spring, “A Large Swath of the Government” Already Believed Lab Leak Theory, Says Reporter

Last April, Josh Rogin – a reporter for the Washington Post – published an explosive article that lent substantial new credibility to the lab leak theory.

Rogin had acquired cables sent in January of 2018 by U.S. diplomats working in China. Those diplomats had recently visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), and the cables they sent warned of safety issues at the lab, as well as the work being done there on bat coronaviruses.

One described a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory”. The diplomats asked for support from the U.S. Government to help the lab fix its problems. However, their requests went unanswered.

Rogin has now published an essay (adapted from his latest book) which provides additional context for his article on the diplomatic cables.

He begins by noting that, contrary to what many in the mainstream media had assumed, the cables were not leaked to him by someone in the Trump administration. Rogin’s story had actually irked Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who’d been trying to “keep up the veneer of good relations” with China.

The author then reveals that, when he called around to get reactions from officials he trusted, he discovered that “a large swath of the government already believed the virus had escaped from the WIV lab”.

As Rogin notes, any theory of the pandemic’s origin has to account for the location of the original outbreak – a large, dense city far away from the bat caves of Southern China. Yet when Dr Shi (the ‘Batwoman’) was interviewed in March, she said she’d “never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan”.

This rather undermines the claim made by critics of the lab leak theory that the location of the original outbreak doesn’t constitute an important piece of evidence in its own right.

As Alina Chan notes, the population of Wuhan was used as a control group in a 2015 serological survey of coronavirus spillover events in China. Among 240 blood donors from Wuhan, precisely zero had antibodies against SARS-related coronaviruses.

Returning to Rogin’s essay, he says that “large parts of the scientific community” criticised his story in the Post, insisting that most viral outbreaks are caused by natural spillovers, not lab accidents. However, many of the scientists who spoke out to defend the Wuhan lab, it transpired, were “Shi’s research partners and funders”.  

What about the claim that WIV researchers had done their work out in the open, so we ought to just trust them that there wasn’t any leak? Rogin was apparently told that many U.S. officials came to believe that “these researchers had not been as forthcoming as had been claimed”. (Which makes sense in light of what the ‘internet sleuths’ have turned up.)

He quotes one U.S. official as saying, “We’ll probably never be able to prove it one way or the other”. Whether this is true or not, the debate is still interesting, and Rogin’s essay is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A Telegraph investigation has revealed that all but one of the scientists who penned a letter in the Lancet dismissing the lab leak as a ‘conspiracy theory’ were linked to the Wuhan researchers, their colleagues or funders.

The Bots That Are Not

Since 2016 automated Twitter accounts have been blamed for Donald Trump and Brexit (many times), Brazilian politics, Venezuelan politics, skepticism of climatology, cannabis misinformation, anti-immigration sentiment, vaping, and, inevitably, distrust of COVID vaccines. News articles about bots are backed by a surprisingly large amount of academic research. Google Scholar alone indexes nearly 10,000 papers on the topic. Some of these papers received widespread coverage:

Unfortunately there’s a problem with this narrative: it is itself misinformation. Bizarrely and ironically, universities are propagating an untrue conspiracy theory while simultaneously claiming to be defending the world from the very same.

The visualization above comes from “The Rise and Fall of Social Bot Research” (also available in talk form). It was quietly uploaded to a preprint server in March by Gallwitz and Kreil, two German investigators, and has received little attention since. Yet their work completely destroys the academic field of bot research to such an extreme extent that it’s possible there are no true scientific papers on the topic at all.

The authors identify a simple problem that crops up in every study they looked at. Unable to directly detect bots because they don’t work for Twitter, academics come up with proxy signals that are asserted to imply automation but which actually don’t. For example, Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project – responsible for the first paper in the diagram above – defined a bot as any account that tweets more than 50 times per day. That’s a lot of tweeting but easily achieved by heavy users, like the famous journalist Glenn Greenwald, the slightly less famous member of German Parliament Johannes Kahrs – who has in the past managed to rack up an astounding 300 tweets per day – or indeed Donald Trump, who exceeded this threshold on six different days during 2020. Bot papers typically don’t provide examples of the bot accounts they claimed to identify, but in this case four were presented. Of those, three were trivially identifiable as (legitimate) bots because they actually said they were bots in their account metadata, and one was an apparently human account claimed to be a bot with no evidence. On this basis the authors generated 27 news stories and 323 citations, although the paper was never peer reviewed.

In 2017 I investigated the Berkley/Swansea paper and found that it was doing something very similar, but using an even laxer definition. Any account that regularly tweeted more than five times after midnight from a smartphone was classed as a bot. Obviously, this is not a valid way to detect automation. Despite being built on nonsensical premises, invalid modelling, mis-characterisations of its own data and once again not being peer reviewed, the authors were able to successfully influence the British Parliament. Damian Collins, the Tory MP who chaired the DCMS Select Committee at the time, said: “This is the most significant evidence yet of interference by Russian-backed social media accounts around the Brexit referendum. The content published and promoted by these accounts is clearly designed to increase tensions throughout the country and undermine our democratic process. I fear that this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”

But since 2019 the vast majority of papers about social bots rely on a machine learning model called ‘Botometer’. The Botometer is available online and claims to measure the probability of any Twitter account being a bot. Created by a pair of academics in the USA, it has been cited nearly 700 times and generates a continual stream of news stories. The model is frequently described as a “state of the art bot detection method” with “95% accuracy”.

That claim is false. The Botometer’s false positive rate is so high it is practically a random number generator. A simple demonstration of the problem was the distribution of scores given to verified members of U.S. Congress:

Teenage Boys Six Times More Likely to Suffer Heart Problems from Vaccine Than to Be Hospitalised from Covid, According to New Study

As the Government tries to push on with the vaccination of healthy children against Covid, despite warnings from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a major new U.S. study has found that teenage boys are six times more likely to suffer from heart problems due to the vaccine than to be hospitalised from Covid. This should force ministers to think twice. The Telegraph has the story.

Children who face the highest risk of a “cardiac adverse event” are boys aged between 12 and 15 following two doses of a vaccine, according to new research from the U.S. 

The findings come as Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, prepares to advise ministers on whether there is a wider benefit to society from vaccinating children.

Last week, the JCVI delivered its long-awaited verdict, saying the “margin of benefit” of jabbing 12 to 15 year-olds was “considered too small” and citing the low risk to healthy children from the virus.

However, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said he wanted Prof Whitty and the Chief Medical Officers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to “consider the vaccination of 12 to 15 year-olds from a broader perspective”. …

Research published on Thursday will prompt fresh concerns about whether the risk of the vaccine outweighs the benefits for otherwise healthy children.

A team led by Dr. Tracy Hoeg at the University of California investigated the rate of cardiac myocarditis – heart inflammation – and chest pain in children aged 12-17 following their second dose of the vaccine.

They then compared this with the likelihood of children needing hospital treatment owing to Covid, at times of low, moderate and high rates of hospitalisation.

Researchers found that the risk of heart complications for boys aged 12-15 following the vaccine was 162.2 per million, which was the highest out of all the groups they looked at.

Evidence from studies show it is unlikely for boys to suffer either heart problems from the vaccine or be hospitalised by Covid.

The second highest rate was among boys aged 16-17 (94.0 per million) followed by girls aged 16-17 (13.4 per million) and girls aged 12-15 (13.0 per million).

Meanwhile, the risk of a healthy boy needing hospital treatment owing to Covid in the next 120 days is 26.7 per million. This means the risk they face from heart complications is 6.1 times higher than that of hospitalisation.

This is based on current rates of hospitalisations from Covid-19, which are judged to be “moderate”. During a period of low risk of hospitalisation, such as June 2021, the likelihood of heart complications rises to 22.8 times higher, and during a period of high risk, such as January 2021, the likelihood of heart complications is still 4.3 times higher.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, analysed reports of adverse effects children have suffered from the vaccine between January and June of this year.

The study looked at MRNA vaccines – such as Pfizer and Moderna – which will be particularly relevant for Britain because youngsters will not be given the AstraZeneca jab because of the increased risk of dangerous blood clots.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ross Clark has written about the risk mRNA vaccines pose to young boys in the Spectator.

Stop Press 2: Dame Sarah Gilbert, the driving force behind the AstraZeneca vaccine, has told the Telegraph there’s no need to vaccinate healthy 12-15 year-olds and we’d be better off exporting any spare vaccines we have to low income countries.

Vaccines Have NEGATIVE Effectiveness in the Over-40s, as Low as MINUS 38%, Shows New PHE Report

Public Health England (PHE) published their latest weekly vaccine surveillance report on Thursday. Usually these just summarise other studies so are not particularly interesting, but this week something new appeared that has been widely asked for but elusive: data on cases, hospitalisations and deaths broken down by age and vaccination status.

Although the fortnightly technical briefings on the variants of concern have a breakdown of sequenced Delta cases broken down by vaccination status and into the over-50s and under-50s, this is the first time PHE has published general data on all cases (not just sequenced ones) split up by age and vaccination status.

The data comes from the Second Generation Surveillance System (SGSS), the relationship of which to the Government dashboard data is unclear, though the figures are similar. It reports 722,728 cases in the reporting period, compared to the dashboard figure of 727,010 by specimen date, so this seems comprehensive. On the other hand, it includes 6,605 hospitalisations, whereas the dashboard has 21,242, more than three times as many, though this may be due to how it counts hospitalisations (“Cases whom [sic] presented to emergency care (within 28 days of a positive specimen), resulting in overnight inpatient admission”). It has 2,381 deaths, against the dashboard’s 2,496, so again this is most of them.

It is just data for the past month, August 9th to September 5th. We can use it to calculate a rough estimate of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness in different age cohorts for this four-week period.