Day: 24 September 2021

News Round-Up

U.K. Set to Join E.U.’s Covid Vaccine Passport Scheme – Would Make Launching Domestic Passport Scheme Quicker

The Government has applied to link the U.K. to the E.U.’s Covid vaccine passport scheme – “to make journeys easier”, according to officials. More significant is the fact that joining it would enable ministers to launch a domestic vaccine passport scheme more quickly. The Telegraph has the story.

The Telegraph has been told by the E.U. that integration of the U.K.’s vaccine database into the E.U. system is at an advanced stage.

“­­Significant progress was made on a technical front, namely when it comes to the connection to the gateway, with aim of going live [testing] soon,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.

The U.K. Foreign Office and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have joint responsibility for the project in the U.K. They formally applied to join the E.U. scheme on July 28th, and technical work has been carrying on behind the scenes ever since. 

“We have applied to link into the E.U.’s Digital Covid Certificate scheme,” said a Foreign office spokesman. “Linking up to the E.U.’s Digital Covid Certificate scheme will enable us to digitally verify each other’s Covid certificates to make journeys easier.”

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate has quickly become the biggest vaccine passport scheme in the world and covers more than 40 countries, including all 27 E.U. states and others as far afield as Israel and Panama.

The system is effectively a giant digital platform or “gateway” through which different countries’ vaccine certificates and test results can be scanned and verified as legitimate by others quickly and easily.

It is is used on all external EU borders and also for domestic vaccine passports schemes operating in countries including France, Holland and Portugal.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From the Rhine

We’re publishing a new Postcard today from a Daily Sceptic reader – this one about a trip he and his wife made to the Rhine in Germany and Switzerland. Sounds pretty nice – if you don’t mind complying with all the testing rigmarole. Here is an extract:

Originally my wife and I were due to go on a Rhine Cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, but due to the ban on even doubly vaccinated travellers from the U.K. from entering the Netherlands without undergoing a 10 day quarantine on arrival this was cancelled with only two weeks notice. We were only due to spend less than two days there before our next port of call at Cologne to which we could fly very easily and enquired whether it would be possible to join the cruise there instead. Apparently not. No explanation has yet been given. So being keen continental rail travellers we arranged our own itinerary instead, along with all the testing rigmarole.

We flew to Cologne from Stansted and then took a local train to the main station in the City. The weather was perfect and we had a pleasant meal outside in one of the many restaurants beside the Rhine. Being outside meant no mask wearing and no signing in anywhere. Even in the hotel there was no compulsion to wear masks.

Worth reading in full.

According to ONS, No. of Infected Shrunk by 11% Last Week and R Rate Dropped to Below One – and SAGE Wildly Over-Estimated Hospital Admissions

Good news. According to the ONS’s latest infection survey, the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the w/e September 18th was 11% lower than the previous week. MailOnline has more.

The Office for National Statistics’ weekly surveillance report estimated 620,100 people had the virus on any given day in the week to September 18th, down 11% from the previous seven-day spell.

And No 10’s top scientists claimed the R rate has dipped below one for the first time since March and could be as low as 0.8.

In addition – and you won’t believe this – SAGE’s latest projections about Covid hospital admissions were wildly over-pessimistic.

Hospital admissions for COVID-19 have fallen to the lowest level for two months as bleak warnings from government scientists once again failed to materialise.

Latest data shows Britain is ‘over the worst’ of the pandemic after the number of virus patients admitted to hospital fell by 15% in a week.

So far this week, just 557 patients a day have been admitted to English hospitals, despite the Sage committee’s dire warnings of a devastating autumn surge.

Only last week, Sage published modelling warning there could be 7,000 hospitalisations a day within weeks.

But current admissions are half the level of even its ‘best-case scenario’.

Worth reading in full.

NHS Cancer Patient Backlog Could Take Over a Decade to Clear

Almost every day brings more bad news on the cancer patient backlog in the NHS, caused in large part by the “stay at home, protect the NHS” drive. New research suggests that the waiting list could take more than a decade to clear, and backs up a study released earlier this week showing that thousands more will die along the way because of delayed treatment. The Telegraph has the story.

The analysis of NHS statistics by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimates that around 20,000 cancer diagnoses have been missed during the pandemic.

Waiting lists have reached a record high of 5.5 million, with fears they could reach 13 million, as patients come forward after struggling to access services, or from fear of being a burden on the NHS during the pandemic.

It comes amid growing concern about access to face-to-face appointments with GPs.

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that patients were entitled to see their doctor in person, raising concerns that without the option, deadly symptoms could be missed. 

Before the pandemic, around 80% of consultations took place in a doctor’s surgery – but in July the figure was just 57%.

The new study by the IPPR and CF, a data analytics consultancy, says it could take until 2033 to clear the backlog – and come too late for many of those whose diagnosis was missed or delayed. 

Even this timetable would require a 5% increase in cancer care activity levels above pre-pandemic levels, it says.

However, boosting this to 15%, with a major expansion in diagnostics and staffing, could clear the backlog by next year, the analysis suggests. …

The research shows that in the year following the first lockdown, 369,000 fewer people than expected were referred to a specialist with suspected cancer. …

Concerns about the spread of Covid, and efforts to free hospitals for patients with the virus, resulted in a major reduction in access to diagnostic tests. …

The report said: “Behind these statistics are thousands of people for whom it will now be too late to cure their cancer.”

Worth reading in full.

Jedi Cancelled by Scientific American For Being ‘White Saviours’

There’s a wonderfully bonkers article in Scientific American entitled “Why the Term ‘JEDI’ Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion“.

On the face of it, the authors say, using the word “Jedi” to describe Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion programmes seems like a good thing.

At first glance, JEDI may simply appear to be an elegant way to explicitly build “justice” into the more common formula of “DEI” (an abbreviation for “diversity, equity and inclusion”), productively shifting our ethical focus in the process. JEDI has these important affordances but also inherits another notable set of meanings: It shares a name with the superheroic protagonists of the science fiction Star Wars franchise, the “Jedi.” Within the narrative world of Star Wars, to be a member of the Jedi is seemingly to be a paragon of goodness, a principled guardian of order and protector of the innocent. This set of pop cultural associations is one that some JEDI initiatives and advocates explicitly allude to.

However, dig beneath the surface and you realise that the Jedi are deeply problematic.

Although they’re ostensibly heroes within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work. They are a religious order of intergalactic police-monks, prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting by means of “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.). The Jedi are also an exclusionary cult, membership to which is partly predicated on the possession of heightened psychic and physical abilities (or “Force-sensitivity”). Strikingly, Force-wielding talents are narratively explained in Star Wars not merely in spiritual terms but also in ableist and eugenic ones: These supernatural powers are naturalized as biological, hereditary attributes. So it is that Force potential is framed as a dynastic property of noble bloodlines (for example, the Skywalker dynasty), and Force disparities are rendered innate physical properties, measurable via “midi-chlorian” counts (not unlike a “Force genetics” test) and augmentable via human(oid) engineering. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions. Sending the message that justice work is akin to cosplay is bad enough; dressing up our initiatives in the symbolic garb of the Jedi is worse.

There’s more in this vein – much, much more.

Is Scientific American the victim of a Sokal Squared-style hoax? Impossible to say for sure, but I think not. If you Google the names of the authors they appear to be who they say they are – and the descriptions of them and their research interests at their universities make them sound like bona fide wokesters.

The same could not be said of this spoof Star Wars paper which was accepted by three medical journals. The prankster on that occasion listed the paper’s authors as Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin.

Stop Press: Helen Pluckrose, one of the architects of the Sokal Squared hoax, has weighed in on Twitter. She thinks the paper is genuine.

CDC Ignores Advisory Panel and Backs Booster Jabs for Under-65s in ‘High-Risk’ Work Settings, Including Teachers

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that Covid booster vaccines should be given not only to the over-65s and to those with underlying medical conditions but also to adults who work in ‘high-risk’ settings, such as teachers. The recommendation comes in spite of the red light given on additional doses for people in more ‘risky’ settings by the centre’s own Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices. Reuters has the story.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said her agency had to make recommendations based on complex, often imperfect data.

“In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” she said in a statement. …

The CDC recommendation follows U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorisation and clears the way for a booster roll-out to begin as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second dose of the Pfizer shot at least six months ago.

The CDC said that people 65 years and older should get a booster. Beyond older Americans, the CDC also recommended the shots for all adults over 50 with underlying conditions.

It said that, based on individual benefits and risks, 18 to 49 year-olds with underlying medical conditions may get a booster, and people 18-64 at increased risk of exposure and transmission due to occupational or institutional setting may get a shot. …

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices on Thursday gave the thumbs down to additional doses for groups including healthcare workers, teachers and residents of homeless shelters and prisons.

Panel member Lynn Bahta, who works with the Minnesota Department of Health, voted against that measure. She said the data does not support boosters in that group yet. “The science shows that we have a really effective vaccine,” she said.

The committee had said it could revisit the guidance later. …

Vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit said he believed the CDC advisers were worried that recommending boosters based on employment would allow overly broad use, especially in younger people for whom the health benefits of a booster shot are still unclear.

“That was a hole that you could drive a truck through, that essentially what we were doing was basically what the (Biden) administration initially asked – to just have a vaccine for the general population, because obviously the pharmacists aren’t going to figure out whether you’re working in a grocery store or hospital,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

August’s Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Was 2.5% Higher Than the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced on Tuesday that there were 40,460 deaths registered in England in August, which is approximately the same number as in July, and 9.9% more than the five-year average.

As you can see on this chart, weekly deaths remained above the five-year average for most of the month. Then in week 35, the August bank holiday artificially lowered death registrations:

Deaths being roughly 10% higher than the five-year average sounds like quite a lot. And in fact, the number of deaths registered in August of 2020 was 5.6% less than the five-year average.

Of course, infections were at a local minimum last August, and some of the deaths that would have occurred then had been brought forward by the pandemic. By contrast, August of 2021 coincided with the tail end of the Delta wave, and infections remained elevated throughout the month.

Consistent with this interpretation, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in August (a month when mortality is usually low) and deaths from eight of the nine other leading causes were below their five-year averages.

But as I always note in these updates, age-adjusted measures provide a much better guide to changes in mortality than the absolute number of deaths. In August, the age-standardised mortality rate was about the same as in July, and was only 2.5% higher than the five-year average.

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first eight months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

As in the preceding two months, cumulative mortality to date was lower than the corresponding figures for both 2015 and 2018. In other words, the first eight months of 2018 – a year with no pandemic – were more deadly than the first eight months of 2021.

Overall then, 2021 is still a fairly normal year for mortality in England. As a matter of fact, it’s the sixth least deadly year on record! This could change, however, if the winter brings a particularly large wave of COVID-19 or seasonal flu.

This post has been updated.

The Plastic Health Crisis

We’re publishing an original essay today by Dr. Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University and Daily Sceptic regular. She writes about how ‘health’ has become a plastic word, over-used and meaningless. Here is an extract:

In his book Plastic Words, Uwe Pörksen described how certain concepts come to acquire infinite flexibility and dominance, enveloping our powers of describing and understanding in their apparently profound ubiquity.

Plastic words are not technical words, Pörksen advised, which are often strictly limited to contexts and therefore of more or less restricted relevance. Plastic words are ordinary words, which have been taken from common parlance, refracted through one or other field of science, and returned to everyday talk with a new, broadened application and a new, somewhat ambiguous, authority.

Examples of plastic words are: “development”, “progress” and “communication”. Banal terms plucked from their historical parameters of use and conferred with a quasi-technicality that is not the less effective for being vague and accommodating.

Unlike jargon words, we can and do use plastic words freely and easily, Pörksen argues. We say that “progress in strategies of communication supports social development”, or that “development of communication styles is linked to progress”. In so saying, we have said very little – these statements do not mean anything, really. But we have also said very much, tapping into a seam of apparently scientific understanding that is sophisticated and worthy of being considered. We have given our talk a modern aura, and availed ourselves simultaneously of the unobjectionableness of common sense and the force of expertise.

Plastic words denote nothing, as Pörksen expresses it – the statement “progress in communication aids development” is nonsense. But plastic words are richly connotative. So much so that they suck the life from more specific, more nuanced, vernacular words, which are overshadowed by the apparent sophistication of plastic words and gradually fall out of favour.

There is an underbelly to using plastic words, however. The air of modern sophistication with which they infuse our descriptions is a thin one. Having revelled in its effect, we are bereft of any real appreciation of the stakes in whatever it is we have used them to describe, and must rely on professional analysis and advice for any substantial judgment. Using plastic words remakes us into clients of experts, Pörksen observes.

For this reason, the more we have recourse to plastic words, the less we are able to accurately describe and understand ourselves, each other and the world around us. Until at last we are at the mercy of expert analysis and advice, even for understanding events and negotiating situations that are quite concrete and personal.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Effectiveness Drops Further in the Over-40s, To as Low as Minus 53%, New PHE Report Shows – And That’s a Fact

It’s official: I am spouting misinformation about the Covid vaccines. Full Fact – the Google, Facebook and George Soros-funded outfit that Ofcom has said it relies on to tell it what to censor regarding COVID-19 – has ‘fact checked‘ my recent piece on PHE data showing negative vaccine effectiveness in August and branded it “incorrect”.

Writer Leo Benedictus – henceforth to be known as the Oracle – takes particular issue with the headline, which he says “falsely claims that a report from Public Health England (PHE) shows the COVID-19 vaccines having ‘negative effectiveness’ in the over-40s”.

“This is not true about the COVID-19 vaccines – nor is it true that the PHE report shows this,” the Oracle declares. Except it is. The data contained in the report is completely clear, and the calculation of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness from that data is straightforward.

According to the Oracle, however, this is not a valid way of estimating vaccine effectiveness. Benedictus quotes the PHE report stating as much – “The vaccination status of cases, inpatients and deaths is not the most appropriate method to assess vaccine effectiveness and there is a high risk of misinterpretation” – and notes that I too quote this. What he fails to acknowledge, though, is that I also examine the reason PHE gives for this claim and counter it.

The only substantive reason PHE gives that vaccine effectiveness might be underestimated in its data is that “vaccination has been prioritised in individuals who are more susceptible or more at risk of severe disease”. In other words, the high-risk are over-represented in the vaccinated and this skews the sample. I countered that the large majority of the older age groups are now vaccinated so this bias should be very much reduced. Of course, we also need to ask why, if this is supposedly the key confounder of the data presented, we are not also provided with the necessary data on risk categories so that it can be duly quantified and accounted for.

Benedictus reiterates PHE’s claim that vaccine effectiveness should only be estimated via the published studies. However, as I noted in my article, these studies are riddled with serious problems and inconsistencies that bring their findings into question. They are also out of date since they don’t cover the Delta surge, which is the first time the vaccines have really been stress-tested in the U.K.

Benedictus spends half the ‘fact check’ in a bizarre attempt to argue that my vaccine effectiveness calculation is wrong because I used the data PHE itself used for the size of the unvaccinated population. He points out it is different to the ONS figures on this. Er, take that one up with PHE, Leo.

It does seem at times that Benedictus is fact-checking the PHE report rather than my article. At one point he takes the report to task because one of its charts sowed confusion as it “seemed to show for the month in question (August 9th to September 5th) that people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s were more likely to test positive for Covid if they had been vaccinated than if they hadn’t”.

Except the chart didn’t ‘seem’ to show that; it did show that. Again though we are told that this data does “not give a reliable estimate of vaccine effectiveness” because of biases in the samples.