Day: 8 October 2021

Government Refuses to Release Minutes of Meeting in Which Vaccine Advisory Committee Decided Not to Recommend Jabbing Healthy Teens

The U.K. Health Security Agency has rejected a freedom of information request to release the minutes of the meeting in which the Government’s vaccine advisory committee decided not to recommend the jabbing of healthy 12-15 year-olds on the grounds that it intended to publish these “in due course”. The BMJ has the story.

The agency argued that it was in the public interest to withhold the information until it could be released in a “simultaneous, coordinated manner” and that disclosing the minutes before they were finalised could “result in a false impression of the contents of the meeting”. The decision is being appealed.

On September 3rd the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that it would not be recommending universal vaccination for 12-15 year-olds because although the health benefits of vaccination were “marginally greater than the potential known harms”, the margin of benefit was considered too small. The committee did not explain what factors its conclusion was based on, and neither the minutes nor the data behind the decision have been made public.

The JCVI asked ministers to seek further advice from the U.K.’s chief medical officers on the wider potential benefits of vaccination. The Government later accepted the chief medical officers’ recommendation to vaccinate all 12-15 year-olds on the basis of an assessment that included transmission in schools and the effect on children’s education.

In a letter dated October 5th academics from Independent SAGE wrote to the JCVI highlighting the fact that, despite the committee’s own policy stating that draft minutes would be published within six weeks of each meeting, the last publicly available minutes were from February 2021.

They urged the JCVI to “abide by its code of practice and be open and transparent through rapid publishing of all agendas, supporting papers and minutes”, arguing that “public confidence in vaccination programmes is assisted by clear and consistent processes and messaging”.

Worth reading in full.

Richest Man in World Leaves California, Describing Lockdown Restrictions as “Fascist”

Elon Musk is moving Tesla’s headquarters from Silicon Valley to Texas after criticising lockdown measures by local leaders as “fascist”. The Telegraph has more.

The electric car company will move from Palo Alto to the Texas capital, Austin, Mr. Musk told a meeting of Tesla shareholders, making it the biggest company to quit Silicon Valley for the Lone Star state yet. Tesla is also building a giant “gigafactory” in Austin.

Mr. Musk told investors: “I’m excited to announce that we’re moving our headquarters to Austin, Texas… Just to be clear, though, we will continue to expand our activities in California.”

The Tesla billionaire has been an outspoken critic of some of California’s coronavirus policies, at one stage calling them “fascist”, after they forced the car company to close its plant in Fremont due to lockdowns.

In May last year, Mr. Musk sued state officials, claimed Tesla would move its headquarters and threatened to shut down manufacturing in California. Mr. Musk moved his home to Texas last December.

But Texas has also looked to lure companies with lucrative tax breaks. This year, Texas will offer tax breaks totalling $44.5 billion (£33 billion), including $14 billion in property tax breaks and billions of dollars in breaks for car sales. The state has no income tax. It also has some of the lowest energy prices in the US and loose business regulations.

California has also proved prohibitively expensive for living costs, with soaring property prices.

Tesla is not the first technology company to abandon Silicon Valley. Palantir, a big data company founded by Republican supporter Peter Thiel, left California for Denver, Colorado. Others including HP and Oracle, which was founded by Republican Party donor Larry Ellison, have both also relocated.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Roll-Out for Healthy Teenagers Gets off to Bumpy Start

Nadhim Zahawi admits he has no idea how many healthy 12-15 year-olds have been ‘jabbed’ to date and it seems unlikely the Government’s vaccine targets in this age group will be reached following the launch of its “haphazard” roll-out. The Guardian has the story.

New data has shown that fewer than one in 10 (9%) in the age group had been vaccinated by last Sunday, but this includes those who are either clinically vulnerable or living with people who are vulnerable and who were prioritised for vaccination earlier in the summer.

The Government set half-term as a target for what ministers hoped would be a speedy roll-out in schools, but with just over two weeks to go until the autumn break, anxious parents have told the Guardian they are seeing Covid infections rise in their children’s school but have still not been given a vaccination date.

Others said vaccinations were not being done until after half-term in November, while there are also reports of sessions being cancelled at the last minute and “poorly prepared” vaccination teams overwhelmed by demand having to leave sites after vaccinating just a fraction of pupils with consent.

According to the latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data, published on Thursday, almost 260,000 12-15 year-olds – out of a total of just under 3 million – had received the jab by October 3rd. Of those, 94,000 have been vaccinated since the roll-out began in schools on September 20th.

NHS England, however, claimed its up-to-date figures suggested more vaccinations had taken place. “In just two weeks hundreds of schools have already held vaccination clinics, with more than 160,000 children getting protected,” a spokesperson said. “As the roll-out continues over the next few weeks, local providers will continue to contact schools and work with parents to agree consent so that they can organise a visit.”

Asked on Times Radio about the rates of vaccination in schools in England, Zahawi, who was previously the Vaccines Minister, said on Thursday he had not yet seen the vaccination data but was due to have a meeting with his former team.

Worth reading in full.

Fact-Checking the Fact Checkers

One of my recent posts on the Daily Sceptic was the subject of a ‘fact check‘ by Full Fact, which self-importantly describes itself as “the UK’s independent fact checking organisation” but is in fact funded by Google, Facebook and George Soros, among others, to help them suppress unapproved news and views. Even U.K. broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it relies on the organisation to tell it what to censor regarding COVID-19, so unfortunately the dog has teeth and can’t just be ignored as one more absurd website with excessive faith in its own infallibility.

The post in question, from September 10th, simply reported on Public Health England’s latest Vaccine Surveillance report, which included infection rates by vaccination status for the previous month so allowed the calculation of an unadjusted estimate of vaccine effectiveness. Full Fact, however, took exception to the idea that vaccine effectiveness can be estimated in this way, because it wasn’t adjusted for confounders. Or used the wrong population data. Or because the article included the (entirely accurate) claim that the PHE report showed higher infection rates in the vaccinated in some age groups. Or because the heading didn’t include ‘caveats’. Or something. In any case, it was ‘incorrect’.

Here follows my correspondence with them, attempting to explain that the factual errors lay entirely in their ‘fact check’, not in my piece.

Brit Thrown off Eurostar by Armed French Police for Wearing “Wrong Type of Mask”

A British man travelling back to England from France on Eurostar on Thursday was surrounded by armed French police and left stranded in Lille after being reported by the service’s manager for wearing the “wrong type of mask”. MailOnline has the story.

Eurostar requires all passengers to wear a mask onboard but a spokesman today said that there were no rules specifying what kind of masks must be worn. 

Other passengers on the service said that the female manager of the train took a dislike to the man after an exchange of words, and ordered the service to stop so he could be arrested.   

“I’ve done nothing wrong and respect all Coronavirus rules – this is absolutely outrageous,” he said, as he was led away in front of other stunned passengers on Thursday afternoon. …

Other passengers then complained about the unscheduled, unannounced stop in Lille that caused a 15 minutes delay.

“Why is Eurostar stopping its trains, and delaying hundreds of passengers, because of a petty dispute over one man’s mask?” said one.

The female Eurostar manager, who remained on the train after the man was taken into custody, confirmed she had reported him for wearing the “wrong type of mask” for preventing the spread of Coronavirus. …

Within minutes of departure [from Paris] the Eurostar manager was involved in a heated argument with the man.

She accused him of not complying with health and safety regulations, and said the black mask he was wearing was not appropriate.

All Eurostar passengers are expected to wear masks at all times, except for when they are eating or drinking.

There was a buffet on the train, and many of the passengers in Coach 13 – where the man was sitting alone by a window in a two-seat row – had removed their masks completely as they had sandwiches and drinks with them.

Despite this, the manager berated the man, and then used a radio to summon another member of staff. …

The businessman… replaced his black mask with a standard blue one provided by another passenger. He apologised, and appeared to have escaped any further action.

But when the train got to Lille it made an unscheduled stop, and three armed officers boarded, while the others waiting on the platform. …

[Another passenger said:] “The Eurostar woman was telling the police what to do, and insisting that the poor guy should be removed, like he was some kind of criminal.

“He was actually being very reasonable, and not swearing or acting in any kind of disruptive way at all – everybody else was on his side, but he was marched off and we didn’t see him again.”

Worth reading in full.

Flu Deaths Could Hit 60,000 this Winter Due to Lockdowns

Health chiefs have warned that lockdowns and social distancing could have led to a drop in immunity to seasonal influenza which could result in the highest number of flu deaths this winter in 50 years. The Telegraph has more.

More than 35 million people will be offered flu jabs this winter, amid concern that prolonged restrictions on social contact have left Britain with little immunity.

Officials fear that this winter could see up to 60,000 flu deaths – the worst figure in Britain since the 1968 Hong Kong Flu pandemic – without strong uptake of vaccines.

There is also concern about the effectiveness of this year’s jabs, because the lack of flu last year made it harder for scientists to sample the virus and predict the dominant strains.

Health chiefs said the measures introduced over the past 18 months to protect the country against coronavirus would now put the public at greater risk of flu.

The NHS has already begun the rollout of flu jabs and COVID-19 boosters. Health chiefs will urge everyone eligible to take up their chance, with the launch of a major campaign on Friday to drive take-up.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said: “Not many people got flu last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity in our communities as usual.

“We will see flu circulating this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern.”

Officials highlighted modelling from the Academy of Medical Sciences, which suggests this winter the UK could see between 15,000 and 60,000 flu deaths.

This compares with an average of 11,000 deaths a year in the five years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The modelling warns that this winter could be far worse than normal for flu, precisely because of the physical distancing measures implemented over the last 18 months.

Worth reading in full.

Is this going to be the excuse for another national lockdown next month? Not to prevent the NHS being ‘overwhelmed’ by Covid patients, but by flu patients? If lockdowns beget lockdowns, does that mean we’re trapped in a never-ending lockdown cycle?

Firing Nurses Who’ve Worked Through the Pandemic Is a Disgrace

Across the United States, nurses and other healthcare workers are being fired for not getting vaccinated. Is there any better illustration of the folly of our public health establishment?

These nurses have served on the frontline for more than eighteen months, helping to treat Covid patients day after day, while most of the people demanding vaccine mandates were sitting at home on their laptops.

“Thanks for all your hard work. Oh, you don’t want to get the vaccine? Well in that case, sayonara.” In addition to being mean-spirited, the policy of firing unvaccinated healthcare workers doesn’t really make any practical sense. And that’s putting it charitably.

A large percentage of frontline healthcare workers have already been infected. This means the protection they have against reinfection is actually better than what the vaccines provide.

I reviewed some of the evidence in a recent post. But don’t take my word for it. New undercover footage shows Pfizer scientists saying that natural immunity is “probably” better than immunity from the vaccines.

As I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean that nobody stands to benefit from vaccination. But it does undermine the case for making those who’ve already been infected get the jab. Their natural immunity works just fine.

This point has been made eloquently by the Great Barrington author Martin Kulldorff. In a recent article, he argued that hospitals “should hire, not fire, nurses with natural immunity”. Yet within a matter of hours, Kulldorff’s article had been censored by LinkedIn. (Such petty interference in the scientific debate is now routine on social media.)

So there’s absolutely no case for firing healthcare workers who have natural immunity. What about those who haven’t been previously infected?

Even here, the case for mandates is weak at best. We know that vaccine-induced immunity against infection wanes over time. Six months after vaccination, you’re not that much less likely to become infected than someone who’s never been vaccinated.  

This means that mandating vaccines for healthcare workers is no guarantee of safety. If there’s a ward full of vulnerable patients, ensuring that every nurse is vaccinated won’t necessarily prevent someone from catching Covid, and then spreading it to the rest.

The only surefire way of protecting vulnerable patients is testing everyone before they go into the ward. Positive test? Well, you’ll have to stay at home or work in another part of the hospital for the next few weeks.

There are also the rights of workers themselves to consider. If the vaccines had no side effects and offered lasting protection against infection, the case for mandates would be strong. But the vaccines do have side effects (albeit rare ones) and they don’t provide lasting protection against infection.   

As Oxford philosopher Julian Savulescu argues, autonomy is a core principle of medical ethics, so any policy that violates autonomy (such as mandatory vaccination) can only be justified if it confers substantial third-party benefits. Yet it’s not clear that Covid vaccines do confer such benefits.

What’s more, getting vaccinated isn’t the only way to reduce one’s risk of infection. Avoiding large gatherings is another. Should hospitals be able to require that their staff avoid large gatherings, so as to reduce the risk of infection even further? Most of us would say “no” because it violates individual autonomy.

Of course, keeping Covid out of high-risk hospital wards is an important goal. And although mandatory vaccination is no guarantee of safety, it probably does have some effect, at least for the first few months.

Surely there’s a workaround for nurses who opt against vaccination? For example, they could be tested three times a week until they acquire natural immunity. The costs of such testing could even be deducted from their pay checks (although given the number of unused tests lying around, I don’t see the need).  

Firing healthcare workers who haven’t been infected is mean-spirited and unnecessary. Firing those who have been infected makes no sense at all. Never mind vaccine mandates; we need mandatory training for bureaucrats to make them understand natural immunity.

Nailed It! Daily Sceptic Accurately Predicts the Delta Surge in Seven Countries

Two months ago Anthony Brookes, Professor of Genomics and Health Data Science at the University of Leicester, wrote an important piece for the Daily Sceptic in which he assembled the “Covid jigsaw pieces into a complete pandemic picture”.

To recap, this was his summary of his argument:

  • A series of SARS-CoV-2 variants have arisen, many of which possessed a transient selective advantage that led to a wave of infection that peaked some three-to-four months later. Several such variants have spread globally, though different successful variants have arisen simultaneously in a number of countries. The result is a three-to-four month wave pattern per country, which is also apparent globally.
  • Seasonality affects variant transmissibility. Colder seasons accelerate the growth and increase the size of waves, but the continually changing environment may also differentially affect the relative transmissibility of competing variants (i.e., negatively as well as positively), thereby helping to terminate previously dominant variants and promote the growth of new ones. 
  • Overall there is a minimal positive impact from quarantine policy, isolation requirements, Test and Trace regimes, social distancing, masking or other non-pharmaceutical interventions. Initially, these were the only tools in the tool-box of interventionist politicians and scientists. At best they slightly delayed the inevitable, but they also caused considerable collateral harms.  
  • Immunity created by SARS-CoV-2 infection, layered on top of pre-existing immunity due to cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, provides good protection against infection, severe disease/death, and being infectious. Immunity created by vaccination also helps protect against serious disease and death, but does little or nothing to provide protection against infection or being infectious (which completely negates the case for vaccine ID cards). 
  • Population immunity stems mainly from natural infections, with vaccines adding only slightly to this (and only in recent months). Population immunity is created by societal waves of infection and is somewhat variant-specific. An emerging new variant is able to infect (or re-infect) some fraction of individuals and this serves to top up and broaden the scope of our population immunity to also protect against the new variant. 
  • This empirical and data-driven understanding of the pandemic allows us to make predictions. Such predictions don’t look good for some of the U.K.’s new Green List countries. But in these and all other places the ongoing arms-race between viral mutations and growing human immunity will always eventually be won by the human immune system. The virus then becomes a low-level endemic pathogen in equilibrium with its human host species. If this were not the case all humans would have been wiped out by viruses eons ago!

In the piece he made some very specific predictions about what would happen over the following months, and we’re now in a position to see how close he got to the target. He wrote:

With an essentially complete Covid jigsaw picture now assembled using an empirical data-driven approach, we can offer up some testable predictions. The first is that current Delta waves unfolding in different countries will reach natural peaks around three-to-four months after this variant arrived in each location. For example, considering countries recently added to the U.K.’s Green List, we would expect: Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania (where Delta arrived little more than one month ago) will see their nascent summer waves grow further and peak in about two months’ time; Latvia (where Delta has only just arrived) will face a multi-month wave starting very soon; and Austria, Germany and Norway (where Delta has already been present for several months) will likely see their summer waves peak around the end of August. NPIs will do little to change this, and neither will vaccines (see Israel for evidence of this).

So the specific predictions were:

  • Reported cases in Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania peaking around about now.
  • Latvia to currently be on the up-slope.
  • Germany, Austria and Norway to peak around the end of August.

Let’s have a look.

News Round-Up