Day: 26 September 2021

News Round-Up

Pfizer CEO Hints at Annual Covid Vaccine Booster Roll-Outs

The CEO of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says he believes life will return to normal “within a year” – but his vision of ‘normal’ involves “annual re-vaccinations” against Covid. MailOnline has the story.

“Finally, Moderna’s CEO said this week that the pandemic is on course to be over in about a year. Do you agree with that?” ABC This Week host George Stephanapoulos asked [Albert] Bourla on Sunday.

“I agree that, within a year, I think we will be able to come back to normal life,” he concurred.

“I don’t think that this means that variants will not be continuing coming,” Bourla countered. “And I don’t think that this means that we should be able to live our lives without having vaccinations, basically. But that’s – again, remains to be seen.”

He said that the most likely outcome is that people will need to continue to get Covid booster vaccines annually, similar to how people get the flu shot each year to protect against the most likely variant of the influenza virus that year.

“The most likely scenario for me, it is that, because the virus is spread all over the world, that we will continue seeing new variants that are coming out,” he said. “And, also, we will have vaccines that – they will last at least a year.”

“And I think the most likely scenario – it is annual re-vaccinations. But we don’t know, really. We need to wait and see the data,” the pharmaceutical company chief added.

Pfizer is the only company of the three who were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Covid vaccines in the U.S. that has also been approved for a booster.

The booster shot, however, was only permitted by the FDA to be distributed to elderly people – those 65 and older – and high-risk individuals, like those with autoimmune disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control overruled on Friday the advisory panel’s decision, allowing the booster to be distributed for other high-risk individuals, including those who live or work in high contact areas. …

Morningstar analyst Karen Andersen expects boosters alone to bring in about $26 billion in global sales next year for Pfizer and BioNTech and around $14 billion for Moderna if they’re endorsed for nearly all Americans.

Pfizer’s stock price shot up from $30.99 on March 8th, 2020 – days before the World Health Organisation declared Covid a global pandemic – to $43.94 today.

Worth reading in full.

Transport Department Finally Admits it Carried Out No Cost-Benefit Analysis Before Imposing Mask Mandates on Public Transport

Depending on how your lives have been affected by all the restrictions, July 2020 either feels like a lifetime ago or not. For Dr. Alan Black it is probably the former. This is because it took until June of this year for him to get an answer to a freedom of information request he submitted to the Department for Transport he submitted 11 months earlier. And no, it wasn’t because they were working from home…

The request? “Please can you provide me with the name and findings of the peer-reviewed study which led to the imposition of mandatory face coverings on public transport.”

The response? You guessed it, a refusal to comply. Worse still, when the Department finally did reply – having been forced to after Dr. Black complained to the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) – it admitted that it hadn’t bothered to undertake a study of the likely effect of mandatory masks on public transport when the measure was introduced on June 15th, 2020, and it still hasn’t bothered to this day.

The main issue here is not that the Government didn’t carry out any sort of cost-benefit analysis before imposing any of its restrictions – that’s not exactly newsworthy. The issue is the DfT’s heel-dragging. Dr. Black’s initial request was rejected by the Department for being “vexatious”. Well, I am not sure I can see anything vexatious about such a request. Neither did Dr. Black, which is why he persevered. He appealed the decision and asked for an internal review – and when that wasn’t successful he complained to the ICO.

Following the ICO’s intervention, the DfT claimed it didn’t respond to the request at the time because doing so would have caused “a disproportionate level of disruption” to the Department. That’s pretty weak. How about the disruption caused by issuing un-evidenced mask mandates on public transport?

The DfT’s response epitomises the Government’s reluctance to justify any of its Covid restrictions with hard evidence. Nowadays, anyone submitting an FOI request to a Government department not only has to wade through a forest of red tape, but as Dr. Black’s experience shows, Whitehall will use every trick in the book to conceal the fact that little or no thought went into the Government’s knee-jerk approach to managing the pandemic.

Biden Accuses 70 Million Unvaccinated Americans of Slowing Economic Recovery

President Joe Biden has doubled down on his claim that unvaccinated Americans are “creating unease in our economy and around our kitchen tables“, saying that the 70 million people who haven’t been ‘jabbed’ are slowing down the country’s economic recovery. To resolve this ‘problem’, he will “[move] forward with vaccination requirements wherever I can”. CNBC has the story.

Biden’s comments came hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved distributing Pfizer’s booster shots to roughly 60 million Americans.

“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing,” Biden said in addressing the nation, noting that three-fourths of those eligible have gotten at least one shot. He criticised the more than 70 million people who haven’t yet started the vaccination process. “And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine with false information the fight against Covid. This is totally unacceptable.”

Economists have lower expectations for the back half of the year following a string of disappointing economic reports. The U.S. economy added just 235,000 jobs in August, well short of expectations for a 720,000 gain from economists polled by Dow Jones. This week, the Federal Reserve forecast 2021 GDP to rise at a 5.9% annual pace, down from its previous forecast of 7% growth. …

Even though the CDC reports that 55% of the U.S. population has been fully immunised against Covid, Biden said the remaining unvaccinated people are hindering economic growth, costing jobs and putting unnecessary strain on the health-care system.

Biden issued sweeping new vaccine mandates on September 9th affecting private businesses and federal employees. Government staff and contractors are required to immunise against Covid with no alternative for testing, while any company with over 100 personnel must implement vaccine mandates that include medical and religious exemptions.

The requirements will cover two-thirds of all workers nationwide, Biden said, noting that 92% of the country’s active-duty service members have been inoculated. He mandated the shots for the military on August 9th.

Worth reading in full.

How Can a Book About Science Denialism Ignore the Most Pervasive Forms of Science Denialism?

We’re introducing a new section to the Daily Sceptic today: Reviews. (You can find it at the bottom of the right-hand menu.) We’re also publishing our first ever book review in which Bo Winegard, an American with a PhD in Psychology, writes about How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason by Lee McIntyre. The problem with the book, as Bo explains, is that McIntyre’s understanding of science is naive and idealistic and bears little relation to how actual science is practised. Not only that, but nearly all the examples McIntyre gives are of right-wing science denialism, not left-wing science denialism. Here is an extract:

McIntrye begins by contending that “for a number of years it has been fairly clear – at least in the United States – that truth is under assault. Our fellow citizens don’t seem to listen to facts anymore” (p.xi), an observation which motivated his previous work such as Post-Truth. This is a common claim, of course, and one that I have almost certainly made myself, but it’s not at all clear that it is accurate. Is the truth more under assault now than it was during the Vietnam War? During the era of pushback to claims about a causal link between smoking and cancer? During the rise and temporary triumph of Freudian psychology? I’m sceptical. Probably the claim that truth is uniquely under assault is like the claim that Western Civilisation is collapsing: it feels true to every generation because there are always challenges to truth, to science, to civilisation.

And there are always challenges because science, like civilisation, is very unnatural. This doesn’t mean that it requires completely suppressing human proclivities and, as it were, reshaping the human mind. Rather, it means that it requires the appropriate (and historically rare) norms and institutions to flourish. Like a diligent landscaper, science guides and disciplines nature. And its fruits should be as astonishing as Kew Gardens or green lawns in the desert of Arizona. Like those miracles of human attention and ingenuity, science requires constant vigilance lest the jungle of human impulses overtake the truth with a thicket of myth, superstition, and ideologically useful flapdoodle. Put shortly, the truth is always under assault, not just by liars, charlatans, cranks, and millionaire profiteers, but by human nature. The hackneyed movie line that the real enemy is inside is appropriate because the struggle for science is mostly a struggle against innate emotions and biases. And the surprising thing is not that many people misunderstand, misrepresent, and opportunistically attack the truth, but rather that we care about the truth at all.

This is important because to understand ‘science denialism’, we have to understand science. And this is a major problem with McIntyre’s book. His understanding of science seems simplistic and unrealistically unambiguous. I should confess that I have not read his earlier book, The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience, so it is quite possible that he has a more sophisticated and nuanced view of science than I can discern from How to Talk to a Science Denier. But if so, then I wish he had made those views more obvious in this book. After all, if one is going to call a person a “science denier”, then one should be clear about what the person is denying.

Instead, readers can find only hints and intimations of what science actually is (and thus what a science denier is denying). For example: “In my earlier book, The Scientific Attitude, I had argued that the primary thing that separates science from nonscience is that scientists embrace an attitude of willingness to change their hypothesis if it does not fit with the evidence.” (p.10.) And: “But this is quite simply not how science works. Scientists do not merely look for support for what they hope to be true; they design tests that can show whether their hypothesis might be false.” (p.35.) And: “Scientific consensus is the gold standard for rational belief.” (p.137.)

It’s laudable, of course, to be humble, skeptical, and willing to change one’s mind, but I don’t think that embracing these qualities is the sine qua non of science. I’ve met quite a few practicing scientists, and I’d wager their propensity for dogmatism is about the same as anybody else’s. And in fact, many revered and consequential scientists were dogmatic, arrogant, and steadfastly (and even irrationally) committed to proving their own theories despite strong evidence to the contrary.

Worth reading in full.

Lancet’s Panel Investigating Covid Origins Disbanded Because of Ties to Peter Daszak

The Chairman of a Lancet-affiliated panel of scientists looking into the origins of Covid says he has disbanded the commission because of its ties to Peter Daszak, the President of EcoHealth Alliance who proposed in 2018 to use U.S. money to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. MailOnline has the story.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that he was concerned with the links to Daszak, who led the task force until recusing himself from that role in June.

Daszak, who lives in New York, devoted his career to championing so-called ‘gain of function’ research to engineer coronavirus to be more deadly to humans, arguing that it was the best chance to detect and prevent a global pandemic.

Shocking documents released this week revealed his 2018 proposal to help the Wuhan Institute of Virology engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly, by inserting genetic features that are similar to those found in SARS-CoV-2.

There is still no conclusive proof as to whether Covid, a coronavirus linked to bats, first jumped to humans from a wild animal or in a lab setting.

But from the early days of the pandemic, Daszak has made every effort to paint the lab origin hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory”, including masterminding a letter in the Lancet that established a veneer of scientific consensus that natural origin was the only possibility. …

Several members of the disbanded Lancet task force have collaborated with Daszak or EcoHealth Alliance on projects in the past.

“I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance,” Dr. Sachs told the journal.

Sachs said a new Lancet Covid Commission would continue studying the origins for a report to be published in mid-2022, but broaden its scope to include input from other experts on biosafety concerns, including risky laboratory research.

It comes just days after the release of bombshell documents showing Daszak’s 2018 funding request to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeking $14.2 million to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab.

The proposal, titled Project DEFUSE, was leaked to independent researchers with the DRASTIC research team.

In it Daszak requests funding for an elaborate project to genetically enhance coronaviruses and inoculate bats in Yunnan, China in the hopes of stopping new viruses jumping from bats to humans.

The funding request was denied by DARPA, but the proposal reveals a shocking line of research that could have conceivably been carried out independently by Chinese members of Daszak’s team, who included the infamous ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: In a further blow to its reputation, the latest issue of the Lancet has a bizarre cover describing women as “bodies with vaginas”. Apparently, editor Richard Horton thought this would endear him to female scientists. MailOnline has more.

The Lancet was accused of sexism and dehumanising women after it editors used the term, which was written in an article titled ‘Periods on Display’, on the journal’s front cover in an attempt to be inclusive to trans people.

The article, which was published on September 1st, examines an exhibition exploring the taboos and history of periods at the Vagina Museum in London and sees the writer use the word “women” but also use the term “bodies with vaginas”.

The quote, which was then used on the journal’s front page, read: “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected.”

However the move to display the quote on the journal’s front cover has been met with criticism, with some academics calling it “insulting and abusive” and a “misguided pursuit of woke points”.

Meanwhile others said they had cancelled their subscriptions with the peer-reviewed medical journal – which was founded in 1823.

It comes just months after critics lambasted Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust after it told staff to use terms like “birthing parents” and “human milk” rather than referring to “mothers” and “breast milk”.

Worth reading in full.

Does COVID-19 Have a Hidden Helper That Sometimes Makes it Deadly?

I came across a site recently which aims to compile a record of all the confirmed vaccine-sceptics who have died of Covid. It’s a pretty depressing read, but I was at least reassured to see that it had only managed to find 148 (so far). It also assumes throughout that if the deceased had just been vaccinated they would not have died. While the vaccines do appear significantly to reduce risk of serious disease and death, it’s also the case that vaccinated people are dying from Covid in substantial numbers, and not only elderly people. Some vaccine side-effects can also be very serious or deadly, and there are a number of websites collecting these stories as well.

Anyhow, the big thing that stood out to me in the list of 148 vaccine-sceptic deaths was how many of them involved two people from the same family. Here they are (couples unless otherwise stated):

  • Brittany Bradford (33) and Joshua Turner (28)
  • Marcus (43) and Brenda (38) Smalls
  • Billy (50) and Shannon (50) Berardis
  • Chuck (50) and Diana (59) O’Steen
  • Heather Maddern (55) and Sammie-jo Forde (32) (mother and daughter)
  • Dustin (45) and Tristan (45) Graham
  • Nathaniel (33) and Mathew (39) Broussard (brothers)
  • Kenneth (73) and Kaye (66) Foote
  • Lawrence and Lydia Rodriguez
  • Robert (70) and Vi (70) Herring
  • Basil (73), Charmagne (65) and Shaun (40) Goncalves (husband, wife and son)
  • Alphonzo Cox (53) and Mary Knight (58) (colleagues)

So out of 148 deaths, 25 of them were connected to one (or in three cases, two) others. That’s 17%.

Now perhaps this is just the obvious sample bias that couples or family members dying of Covid is newsworthy, doubly so if they’re known to be vaccine sceptics.

But still, it seems a very high proportion of the sample, given how rare dying from Covid actually is (infection fatality rate of around 0.4% in the U.S. and Europe, much lower in the under-50s). Bear in mind that the site is aiming to be a comprehensive record of Covid deaths of confirmed ‘anti-vaxxers’, and is not short of people trawling social media looking for them.

Well, it may just be sample bias – but if it isn’t (and you’d need a study looking at whether the risk of dying from Covid rises when a family member also dies), then one possible explanation might lie in the role of secondary infections in worsening the course of the disease.

News Round-Up