Day: 6 October 2021

Welsh Government Pushing Ahead with Vaccine Passports despite Compromised Vote

Democracy is very much not in action in Wales, where the Labour Government has rejected calls for another vote on the introduction of vaccine passport checks at nightclubs and other ‘large’ venues after a Tory MS (opposed to the plans) was unable to vote because of a Zoom error. Had his vote been counted, the scheme would not have been able to pass through the Senedd.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has dismissed concerns regarding liberty, describing vaccine passports as nothing other than a “simple measure which will help to keep people safe from coronavirus”. The Guardian has the story.

The Conservative member Gareth Davies was trying to vote remotely against the scheme but failed to connect to the debating chamber in Cardiff via Zoom, allowing the Labour-led Government to win the vote 28-27.

Representatives of clubs and bars are calling for the vote to be re-run but the Government said the new law, which will make holding a Covid pass compulsory for people to get into venues including nightclubs and major sporting events, would come into force.

The Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said the vote was an “extraordinary” moment, but added: “The way the vote is conducted is not for the government, that is for the parliament. It is members’ responsibilities to make sure they are in the chamber or on Zoom.”

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “What was really extraordinary was the fact that opposition parties were not prepared to support this simple measure which will help to keep people safe from coronavirus.”

The Welsh Government says the measure, due to come into force on Monday, is needed because of rising Covid rates, especially among young people. …

None of the opposition parties have said they feel the vote ought to be re-run.

Worth reading in full.

Holidaymakers Could Be Forced to Film Themselves Taking LFTs

Concerned that British holidaymakers arriving back in the country may lie when submitting lateral flow test results, ministers are planning on requiring testing to be done during video calls with ‘health advisers’. The Mail has the story.

The Government is planning to replace the requirement for double-vaccinated travellers to take a PCR test on their return to Britain with a much cheaper lateral flow swab.

But the Health Secretary is said to be concerned that those taking the tests could lie about the results.

He is proposing travellers do their lateral flow test on video calls supervised by a health adviser from a private firm, the Times reported.

This is similar to the way some pre-departure tests which were scrapped last weekend were conducted.

No date has been set for the change but there is speculation among travel industry leaders that it will be around October 25th, the start of half term for many families. …

Airlines and tour operators have been hit hard during the pandemic, and have accused the Government of being too slow to relax and simplify the rules for international travel.

Worth reading in full.

Government Wants to Make Covid Vaccination Mandatory for All Frontline NHS Staff

Reports suggest that Sajid Javid, who recently expressed hesitancy about “taking away people’s freedom” with vaccine passports, is keen to force all frontline NHS staff to get vaccinated against Covid. A decision on whether NHS staff, like care home workers, should be told to “get jabbed or get another job” is expected to be made later this month. i news has the story.

A formal consultation on making Covid and flu vaccination a condition of employment in the NHS is due to end on October 22nd, and the Health Secretary is ready to act swiftly to implement the change, i has been told.

Following a change in the law enacted this summer, staff in care homes have until November 11th to get double jabbed for Covid, after which point they will be legally barred from work without vaccination.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has separate but similar plans to require all NHS frontline staff to be fully vaccinated – unless they have a medical exemption.

Javid is privately furious with the risk that unjabbed NHS staff pose to vulnerable patients when working in both hospital and in community settings. [Privatley? He seems to be fairly open about this.] …

He is understood to want to be “even more hardline” with health service staff than with care home staff, not least as they are directly employed by the state rather than by private providers.

While no one in Government wants to publicly pre-empt the consultation, it is understood that Boris Johnson is fully behind Javid’s belief that unjabbed health staff pose a risk to the most vulnerable

Javid also wants to offer extra reassurance to vulnerable patients that they can enter hospital and be sure that all those around them are double jabbed.

There is also a concern in government that unjabbed care home staff, who are barred from working with patients from next month, have been moving into the NHS.

The vast majority of NHS staff have been double jabbed. Latest weekly figures for England show 1,326,000 have had a first jab (92%), 1,277,000 (89%) have had a second jab. But 8% have not had any jab at all.

Worth reading in full.

More Evidence that Natural Immunity Beats Vaccine-Induced Immunity

I previously wrote about the Israeli study which found that natural immunity provides much better protection against infection than the Pfizer vaccine.

Sivan Gazit and colleagues tracked two groups of people over time: fully vaccinated people who’d never tested positive; and unvaccinated people who had tested positive. Of the 257 cases that were detected at follow-up, 93% occurred in the vaccinated group, and only 7% occurred in the previously infected group.

And indeed, a recent systematic review (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) confirms that natural immunity confers a very high degree of protection against infection. The researchers analysed 10 studies, and found that the “weighted average risk reduction against reinfection was 90.4%”.

Compare this to studies of the vaccines’ efficacy against infection. In July, the Israeli Ministry of Health reported that the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness had dropped to just 39%. And a pre-print study by Qatari researchers found that it fell to zero after six months. (Though the vaccines’ efficacy against severe diseases appears to hold up well.)

Adding to the evidence outlined above, there are now studies comparing natural and vaccine-induced immunity at the cellular level.

I should mention that I am not qualified to evaluate the methods used by these studies, so I will have to assume the authors have done things properly. With that qualification in mind, it’s worth briefly discussing what they found.

In a recent paper published in Cell Reports, researchers from Minneapolis compared the memory B cells generated after natural infection versus mRNA vaccination. Memory B cells (MBCs) are part of the adaptive immune system; they are responsible for recognising antigens, and triggering a secondary immune response.

The researchers found that “infection-induced primary MBCs have better antigen-binding capacity and generate more plasmablasts and secondary MBCs of the classical and atypical subsets than vaccine-induced primary MBCs”. As a result, infection-induced MBCs “produce more robust secondary responses”.

In a second study, published as a preprint, researchers from Boston compared the durability and breadth of antibodies after natural infection versus mRNA vaccination. They found that infection-induced antibodies “exhibited superior stability and cross-variant neutralisation breadth than antibodies induced by a two-dose mRNA regimen”.

In other words, individuals who’d already been infected had better immunity against the then-novel Delta variant, as compared to ‘naïve’ individuals who’d received an mRNA vaccine.

Taken together, the statistical and immunological evidence suggests that natural immunity provides better protection against infection than the mRNA vaccines. This does not mean that nobody stands to benefit from vaccination. The vaccines are still an important way of achieving focused protection for high-risk groups.

But it does undermine the case for vaccine passports, and for vaccinating 12-15 year-olds. As Jay Bhattacharya wrote back in July: “Any infection-blocking effects are probably short-term unless the vaccine does very much better than natural immunity, which is rare in medicine.”

New Lancet Study Confirms Plummeting Vaccine Effectiveness

A study appeared in the Lancet this week confirming that vaccine effectiveness against infection is fading fast.

The study involved 3,436,957 people over the age of 12 who are members of the healthcare organisation Kaiser Permanente Southern California. It sought to assess the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19-related hospital admissions for up to six months, with a study period covering December 14th, 2020, to August 8th, 2021.

Comparing fully vaccinated to unvaccinated, and controlling for confounders such as prior infection, the researchers found that effectiveness against infection plummeted from 88% (95% confidence interval 86-89%) during the first month after double-vaccination to 47% (43-51%) after five months. The variation by age (depicted above) was largely within the margins of error.

Among sequenced infections, the researchers found vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection was 93% (85-97%) during the first month after double-vaccination but dropped to 53% (39-65%) after four months. Effectiveness against infection from other variants the first month after double-vaccination was 97% (95-99%), but declined to 67% (45-80%) at 4-5 months.

Pfizer vaccine effectiveness by Covid variant