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.
Latvia is currently on the up-slope, as predicted, while Slovenia peaked on September 18th, a little early but close enough. Slovakia and Romania haven’t yet peaked but presumably will soon; in any case their nascent summer waves have certainly grown as predicted.
Norway peaked on September 5th and Germany on September 4th, right on cue. Austria was a little late on September 15th, but not far off.
These are some of the most accurate predictions made by anyone in the pandemic to date, and underline the accuracy of the jigsaw pieces Prof Brookes has assembled to explain the inner dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On noting the success of his predictions, Prof Brookes commented:
The basis for the growth and decline of waves of Covid infection now seems clear and predictable. But not by computer modelling! Instead, the main pre-requisite seems to be the emergence of a new variant that partially evades existing immunity against infection. The resulting wave then (re)infects about 10-15% of the population and thereby restores sufficient herd immunity to stop the wave growing. A degree of fading of population immunity, along with some mechanism(s) by which winters promote viral spread, can also strengthen the growth of a new variant wave – but these are ancillary phenomena and not main drivers.
The really great news is that Delta has now spread worldwide and been around for many months, without there being any evidence in any country of any major new variants emerging that would cause new waves to occur. It therefore looks increasingly likely that Delta-related variants, in practical terms, mark the end of the pandemic. Delta is, as expected, resolving into a low-level endemic pathogen. Its prevalence may rise and fall somewhat as the seasons change, but the overall Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) in populations where those who are vulnerable to severe illness (i.e., the old and those with comorbidities) have been vaccinated, is now tolerable and of the same order as that of influenza. Vaccination of all others (i.e., the young and the healthy) is no longer medically required or justified, given what we now know about the significant rate of vaccine harms, and the fact that vaccines at best only slightly delay rather than prevent infections.
Maybe ministers should be asking Prof. Brookes to advise them on the future course of the pandemic, rather than the perennially predictively-challenged Professor Neil Ferguson?