Day: 12 September 2021

Boris Due to Announce End of Lockdowns

According to the Telegraph, Boris is about to announce a new policy: no more national lockdowns. Yet another tease of Tuesday’s speech, but who’s complaining? They’ve all been good so far, save for the determination to press on with vaccinating healthy 12-15 year-olds. Although, as with the other “announcements”, Boris is hedging, leaving the door open to doing a reverse ferret.

Boris Johnson will make clear this week he is “dead set” against another national lockdown as he rips up the old system of Covid rules and adopts a new approach for winter.

The Prime Minister is expected to argue to Parliament and in a press conference that the UK must learn to live with Covid-19 now that all adults have been offered a vaccine.

Covid laws that are no longer required will be ditched and plans for vaccine passports for nightclubs and other large crowd venues have been shelved.

The travel traffic lights system will be scrapped, PCR tests will not be required for fully vaccinated travellers and, The Telegraph understands, the red list will be significantly reduced.

In a sign of the importance placed on the jabs program, vaccinations for children aged 12 to 15 and autumn boosters for scores of adults will also be rolled out, pending approval from scientific advisers.

But some restrictions, such as new face mask mandates and guidance urging people to once again work from home, will remain as options should the virus surge in the months ahead.

Discussing Mr Johnson’s new approach, sources in his inner circle said it would reflect both the success of the vaccine rollout and the continued threat from Covid.

A senior Government source told The Telegraph of the argument Mr Johnson would make: “This is the new normal. We need to learn to live with Covid.

“The vaccines are a wall of defence. The autumn and the winter do offer some uncertainty, but the Prime Minister is dead set against another lockdown.”

Worth reading in full.

The Telegraph describes this as a “major pivot” in the Government’s approach to COVID-19. (Polite term for U-turn?) Time will tell.

The End Is Not Nigh: Tory MPs Fear Return of Plans for Vaccine Passports

For some Tory MPs, the scrapping of plans for vaccine passports does not go far enough. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Andrew Marr on the BBC this morning that while the Government will not be going ahead with its plans this month, it will “keep [vaccine passports] in reserve as a potential option”. Some backbenchers have pointed out that this leaves the door open for the introduction of vaccination checks a little further down the line (potentially this winter). The Guardian has the story.

Some Tory MPs had assumed it was an empty threat, designed to drive up levels of vaccination uptake among young people. More than 40 of Johnson’s own backbenchers had publicly vowed to vote against making such documents a condition of entry to some venues – enough to wipe out the Conservatives’ substantial Commons majority. …

Industry figures also welcomed the news. Sacha Lord, the founder of Parklife festival and Night-Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, called vaccine passports “untenable and illogical”, while the Music Venues Trust said there were serious issues of “deliverability, practicality, equality and potential discrimination”.

However, Conservative MPs remained wary that the Government was simply pausing its introduction of vaccine passports. Mark Harper, the Chair of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “They shouldn’t be kept in reserve – they are pointless, damaging and discriminatory.” Another backbencher said: “The very concept of vaccine passports needs to be ruled out for good, as they are fundamentally unconservative, discriminatory and would lead to a two-tier society that I am confident no one actually wants to see.”

Stephen Reicher, who advises the Government on behavioural science, told the Guardian he hoped ministers had shelved the vaccine passports plan based on the scientific arguments against it, but admitted: “I don’t believe that, sadly it’s probably politics.” 

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Government should go even further than taking vaccine passports out of their “reserves” by banning them altogether, says Telegraph cartoonist Bob Moran, because “so many businesses and events are going to impose them regardless [of today’s roll back]”.

Collateral Global Launches Crowdfunder to Pay For Independent Research

Collateral Global, a newly formed U.K.-based charity dedicated to researching, understanding, and communicating the effectiveness and collateral damage of the lockdowns and associated restrictions, has launched a crowdfunder to help pay for its research.

Collateral Global is already funded entirely by public and charitable sector donations, conferring an independence which the organisation believes is vital to conducting high-quality, unbiased research. The pioneering research programme will require a full-time commitment from a highly qualified team, whose work will be made possible through Collateral Global’s crowdfunding efforts.

Key questions to be addressed by the research programme will include:

• Were the assumptions behind the response to the pandemic correct?
• Was the response proportionate?
• How effective have the responses been in achieving their objectives?
• What have the costs and knock-on effects been across the world?

The funds raised from this campaign will be spent directly on research by academics and professionals from across the world.

Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University and advisor to Collateral Global, said: “Projects like Collateral Global will not receive funding from traditional research councils, which are looking to make discoveries. Collateral Global is seeking to create understanding, collate evidence and understand the wider impacts of the restrictions.”

Alex Caccia, Collateral Global CEO, who anticipates the research programme will take several years, commented: “Everyone across the world has been impacted by the pandemic, and by the global response; now is the time to analyse and understand so that we can make sense of what has happened and ensure that future responses are informed by this understanding.”

The first research paper published on the charity’s website covered the impact of the lockdown measures on cancer treatment. Future studies will cover diabetes, children’s mental health and elderly care.

You can contribute to the fundraiser here.

Pfizer Initially Turned Down Offer to Develop Covid Vaccine, Believing Virus Would Be “Controlled”

Millions of doses have been administered across the world, but it has been revealed today that Pfizer initially turned down the offer to develop its Covid vaccine because executives believed the virus could be “controlled” and that mRNA technology was too experimental. The Telegraph has the story.

Dr. Ugur Sahin and his wife, Dr. Özlem Türeci, the founders of BioNTech, were told “guys, this is not going to work” by the pharmaceutical giant as the virus was starting to sweep the globe in January 2020.

The mRNA technology, which has proved so crucial to the vaccine breakthroughs, was, at the time, also considered too experimental by Dr. Phil Dormitzer, Pfizer’s Vice-President and Chief Scientific Officer for Viral Vaccines.

“My working assumption was that it [Covid] would be controlled” like the SARS and MERS outbreaks, Dr. Dormitzer admits.

The initial rejection, revealed in a new book, came just days after the Turkish-born couple decided to dedicate BionNTech to creating an mRNA based Covid jab, effectively gambling the business on something that had never been done before. Their company is now worth $85 billion.

Yet Drs. Sahin and Türeci remain close to Pfizer and Dr. Dormitzer, or “Phil” as they know him.

Dr Sahin had a detailed image in his mind of how the pandemic would unfold but also thought the Pfizer man’s assessment “completely rational”.

“After the phone call with Phil, I just thought for a second and said ‘we will call him again in a few weeks,’” Dr. Sahin told the Telegraph.

The couple thought it only a “matter of time” before the drugs giant changed its mind – and they were right. A deal was announced between the two companies a month later.

Worth reading in full.

Robert Peston Shocked by Lack of Debate on Vaccine Effectiveness – Before Caving to Critics and Apologising for Questioning Vaccine Effectiveness

I wrote earlier in the week about the latest vaccine data from Public Health England (PHE) and how it shows that in the last month reported infection rates have been higher in the double vaccinated than in the unvaccinated for those aged 40-79 – up to 38% higher in some age bands.

Usually, data like this that casts the vaccines in a bad light is not reported by major media outlets – they tend to stick only to reporting on the press releases from actual studies rather than presenting implications from real-world data, which means they typically include whatever spin and ‘adjustments’ the researchers have added.

Unusually, this time Robert Peston decided to report on the new PHE data for ITV News. Inspired it seems by the fact that he has just had Covid despite being double-vaccinated, he wondered how many others had experienced similar, and was surprised to find in the data that it was actually very common.

He remarks: “I am surprised these statistics have received so little attention and have occasioned so little debate.”

Why is he surprised, though, when the fact is PHE has been publishing statistics like these for months showing that the infection rate in the vaccinated has been rising. Most journalists haven’t reported on them before, including Peston (who seems unaware of them, given that he is discovering this data for the first time), so why would they start now? Particularly when the vaccine surveillance report they come from specifically warns readers against using the raw data to estimate vaccine effectiveness and refers them to the published studies summarised higher up. Nothing to see here, is the message.

If Peston was unsure why other journalists weren’t reporting on this data, he soon found out, as the Twitterati piled on him for daring to cast the vaccines in a negative light. Many accused him of failing to recognise that this was just because the large majority of people over 40 were vaccinated, so of course they had more infections – which only made themselves look foolish as Peston was clearly quoting rates by vaccination status (the proportions of the vaccinated and unvaccinated who were infected), so this was accounted for. The statistics show the double vaccinated have higher rates of infection than the unvaccinated – that was his point.

Vaccine Roll-Out for Healthy 12-15 Year-Olds Could Begin as Soon as September 22nd

The Government may have rolled back on vaccine passports and a few other measures today but it seems determined to push ahead with the vaccination of healthy children against Covid. Following reports that Chris Whitty will advise the ‘jabbing’ of 12-15 year-olds to benefit their mental health, it has emerged that the roll-out could begin as soon as September 22nd. The Observer has the story.

It is believed that vaccinations for children will begin on September 22nd. NHS leaders are understood to have been briefed on the plans after schools were told to be ready to introduce the programme.

The move follows the conclusion of a review by the chief medical officers (CMOs) of all four nations, led by Chris Whitty.

When asked to confirm the plan, a Department of Health source said ministers had not received final advice from the CMOs and did not want to prejudge them.

Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said children would receive only marginal health benefits from a mass vaccination campaign but did not consider the potential benefits to children’s education.

Some Tory MPs had said they would oppose vaccinations for children without definite medical and scientific evidence in favour and a green light from the CMOs.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Scraps Plans For Vaccine Passports

According to today’s Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will announce this week that he’s scrapping plans to bring in vaccine passports for nightclubs, cinemas and sports grounds at the end of this month.

On Tuesday, the prime minister will announce plans to try to keep Covid under control over the winter. He will say that he has abandoned the proposed compulsory certification scheme, which would have forced venues to check people’s vaccine status.

Johnson tore up the proposals after scientists said vaccinations would be an effective first line of defence against a winter wave of the pandemic. But the move also represents a significant concession to Tory backbench rebels who had complained that enforcing vaccine passports would create a group of second-class citizens.

Companies that already demand proof of vaccination will be able to continue but the new “toolbox” of measures will introduce masks and home-working only if rates soar.

The announcement will also mark the start of the government’s booster programme, with millions set to get a third jab this autumn.

The full details will be decided when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reports to ministers tomorrow, but the timetable is expected to mirror that for first injections, with the elderly and vulnerable jabbed first.

The four chief medical officers will also unveil plans to start vaccinations for 12 to 15 year-olds, with parental consent, beginning on September 22nd.

Worth reading in full.

This story should be treated with some caution, given how prone to changing his mind Boris is. But it’s of a piece with a story in the Sun on Sunday, clearly briefed out by Number 10, which says the Prime Minister will announce the end of numerous Covid regulations later this week.

Boris Johnson will this week light the touch paper to start a bonfire of Covid regulations.

Powers held to shut down swathes of the economy and impose limits on gatherings and events will be repealed.

The red tape roll-back is part of a masterplan from the PM, who is desperate to avoid any further lockdowns.

The temporary closing or limiting access to schools and powers to detain infectious people under the Coronavirus Act — called draconian by some Tory MPs — are no longer seen as necessary.

Downing Street views vaccines as the country’s “first line of defence” as we enter autumn and look to winter.

But there are still fears across Whitehall of Covid circulating alongside flu – while the threat of a new variant concerns ministers.

The PM, to unveil the strategy this week, last night said: “Thanks to the efforts of the public, the NHS and our phenomenal vaccination programme, we reached Step 4 in our roadmap and life has a sense of normality.

“These extraordinary times required necessary but intrusive measures.

“But I’m determined to get rid of any powers we no longer need.”

In addition, MailOnline is reporting that the requirement that returning travellers have to get two PCR tests – one just before they board an incoming flight, the second two days after arrival – is due to be scrapped in England in time for the half term holidays if you’ve been double jabbed.

Stop Press: Appearing on Trevor Philips’ Live on Sky News, Sajid Javid more or less confirmed the stories. He said he did not “like the idea” of vaccine passports and hoped to “avoid” introducing them, but didn’t rule it out.

He also said he did not want PCR tests for returning travellers to remain mandatory “for a second longer than is absolutely necessary”.

Stop Press 2: The Health Secretary went further in a subsequent interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC, confirming that vaccine passports will be scrapped. “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead,” he said.

Stop Press 3: Nicola Sturgeon is coming under pressure to scrap her own plans for Vaccine passports following the decision of the British Government, according to the Telegraph.

The Sharp Decline in Infections in Florida and the Southern U.S. Shows Once More That Covid Surges Peak and Decline Naturally Without Interventions

The Delta surge in England has remained muted, even as restrictions have been lifted and schools have returned. In Florida and other Southern U.S. states it has been more severe, but it is now clear that it peaked in mid to late August and is now in many places in steep decline. Florida, Mississippi and Georgia are famous for having lifted restrictions either last autumn or in the spring and not imposing new ones in response to the arrival of Delta. In Florida the Governor actively opposed the imposition of mask mandates by school districts. Yet new daily reported infections in the Sunshine State have been in steep decline for weeks – see the positivity graph above. Declining daily reported infections for the three southern states are shown below.

These states show what an unmitigated surge of the Delta variant can look like. They demonstrate, once again, that the epidemic peaks and declines naturally with no need for interventions.

The big question now is, is Delta the last variant, does it represent a kind of evolutionary endpoint for SARS-CoV-2, or will another variant capable of partial immune evasion and thus causing a surge emerge in the coming months?

The worldwide graph of reported infections (below) clearly shows the three variant-based waves since autumn 2020 – B.1.177 (20A.EU1, the ‘Spanish’ variant) in autumn 2020, Alpha in spring 2021 and Delta in the summer.