Day: 13 October 2021

News Round-Up

Australia to Stop Manufacturing AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine, Blaming “Negative Press” for Lower Uptake

Australia is set to stop manufacturing the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine because fears over side effects mean the jab is “not going to be utilised” as much as others. Health officials have pinned the blame for these fears on “negative press”. The Mail Australia has the story.

The federal Government in November last year contracted Australia biomedical firm CSL to produce 50 million doses of the vaccine at its manufacturing hub in Melbourne.

At the time worldwide vaccine development for the coronavirus was in its fledgling stages and policymakers prioritised domestic production as a necessity during the crisis.

But just one month after its launch in March 2021, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) pulled the pin on younger Australians receiving the dose due to the extremely rare risk of fatal blood clots – about one in 1.6 million. …

ATAGI flip-flopped on their health advice recommending the AstraZeneca jab only to over-50s, before ratcheting up the warning to over 60s – with the age bracket less susceptible to developing blood clots.

Then as the Delta outbreak started ravaging NSW and Victorian in the winter months the medical body suggested it should be considered for over-18s living in a hot spot area.

But by that stage the reputation of the safe and effective vaccine was tarnished and many Australians decided to wait for Pfizer and Moderna supplies to filter into the country from abroad.

“Obviously we don’t want to manufacture something that is not going to be utalised and we will have a number of other options moving into the future,” Associate Professor Paul Griffin from the University of Queensland told 9News.

“It obviously has received a lot of negative press although it’s a vaccine that has proven highly effective and very safe.”

Some of that ‘bad press’ came from a very unlucky source back in June with Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young adding to the disinformation and later being accused of “fear mongering”.

“I don’t want an 18 year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got Covid, probably wouldn’t die,” she said after the Prime Minister urged younger people to consider taking the AstraZeneca jab.

Worth reading in full.

Why Won’t the Health Care and Professions Council Investigate My Complaint Against a Psychologist on SAGE?

We’re publishing a guest post today by Dr. Timothy Dunne, a consultant clinical psychologist, who is unhappy about the fact that the professional regulator for psychologists hasn’t followed up his complaint against a psychologist and member of SAGE whom he thinks has breached professional ethics.

The Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) was set up by the U.K. Government as the official body which oversees the regulation, registration and safe working practices of the professions on its registers. Psychology is one of the health professions which the HCPC regulates.

As such, the HCPC has a legal obligation to investigate a complaint made against any member of a profession which it regulates. At least, that is what one is led to believe from its website.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t responded to my complaint against a psychologist who is a member of the BIT (Behavioural Insights Team) and who participated in a meeting of SAGE on March 22nd 2020 where it was recommended that frightening people was an effective way of gaining compliance with the coronavirus restrictions using such phrases as “the perceived level of threat needs to be increased”.

I made the complaint to the HCPC in relation to the unethical use of covert techniques by the psychologists in BIT without informed consent from the British public. My complaint was acknowledged in an email I received on April 23rd 2021 and given a case number (withheld for confidentiality reasons) and I was informed that “we will be in touch with you again shortly”.

I have heard nothing from the HCPC since then despite two email enquiries on August 27th and September 27th 2021.

I wonder what’s going on with the HCPC? No doubt they will probably trot out the old reliable COVID-19 lack of staff or staff working from home chestnut to try and explain (away) their lack of response.

A more sinister explanation would be that because the psychologist complained of is a member of a Government unit (BIT) he is being protected by this non-action.

This delay certainly raises a question mark over whether the HCPC is fit for purpose, given that it cannot investigate in a timely manner a complaint in relation to a member of a Government group, i.e., BIT.

Judge Bans New York State from Sacking Health Care Workers Who Refuse to Get Jabbed on Religious Grounds

Following reports that aborted fetal tissue is being used to develop Covid vaccines, a U.S. judge has granted a preliminary injunction allowing health care workers in New York to avoid ‘no jab, no job’ rules on religious grounds. The state’s Govenor says she will “fight this decision” to “keep New Yorkers safe”. MailOnline has the story.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd made the ruling on Tuesday after 17 Catholic and Baptist health care workers sued the state last month, saying they objected to being forced to take a vaccine that used “fetal cell lines” from “procured abortions”.

The order prohibits the New York State Department of Health from interfering with religious exemptions or taking disciplinary action against workers who have sought or obtained them.

Govenor Kathy Hochul, responding to the order, said she backs the vaccine mandate, whose original deadline was September 27th, with the state’s 450,000 medical and care staff expected to have received at least one vaccine dose by that date.

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe,” she wrote in a statement.

According to the injunction, which was obtained by CNN, the state health department is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from Covid vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted”.

The organisation is also prohibited from taking any action on licenses, certifications, residency or other professional status for workers who seek or have obtained religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

Christopher Ferrara, the lead counsel for plaintiffs in the case applauded the judge’s ruling.

“With this decision the court rightly recognised that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with Covid cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” he said in a statement obtained by the news outlet.

Worth reading in full.

Economy Grew by Less than Expected in August and July Figures Have Been Revised Down

GDP increased by 0.4% in August, below expectations of 0.5% and still lower than pre-lockdown levels. Figures for July have also been revised downwards this morning, showing a 0.1% contraction rather than the previously reported 0.1% growth. MailOnline has the story.

Numbers published this morning by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that U.K. gross domestic product remains 0.8% lower than it was before the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, the ONS said its figures for July have been revised downwards in a move likely to cause alarm in the Treasury. …

It is the first time the economy has shrunk since January this year when the winter lockdown wreaked havoc.

The ONS said growth picked up in August as the economy benefited from the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions, which boosted hospitality and events sectors.

But the August growth figure was lower than expected, showing signs of a slowdown in the U.K.’s bounce back from the pandemic as global supply chain problems take their toll.

The economy will now need to surge by 2.1% in September if it is to remain on track with the Bank of England’s forecast for overall growth of 2.1% in the third quarter of 2021.

The ONS changed its assessment of the economic picture in July because of downwardly revised data relating to the manufacture of cars, oil and gas. …

Overall consumer-facing services [also] remain 4.7% below the level recorded in February 2020.

Worth reading in full.

Have Continuing Covid Restrictions in Schools Left Children Feeling Unfurnished, Permanently Waiting for the Upholsterer?

We’re publishing a guest post this morning by Daily Sceptic regular Dr. Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University. She returns to the subject of Joseph, her autistic son, who had to go almost a year-and-a-half without schooling thanks to the coronavirus restrictions. She segues from reflecting on her son’s predicament to talking about his needs and the needs of all children and why those needs are being neglected by the ‘new normal’. Here’s an extract:

When Dickens’s Paul Dombey – pale and slight and destined to an early grave – first arrives at the boarding school to which his misguided father has sent him, he is left waiting in the study for someone to show him to his quarters. Weary and forlorn, with an aching void in his little heart, Paul is described as feeling as if he had taken life unfurnished and the upholsterer were never coming.

It is an affecting scene, of abandonment to a world without familiar sights and sounds and smells, peopled with strangers whose faces are not known.

I think that children with autism often feel like little Paul (who, as it happens, does not socialise normally with other children and is described by other characters as ‘old fashioned’). They feel as if life is bereft of what is really meaningful: of daily routines that are not to be departed from and that are entered into by all around; of familiar enduring objects; and of the faces of those whom they understand and who understand them. It is why they are drawn to small corners, why they clamber to sit behind you on your chair so as to be cushioned tightly between a warm person and a supporting world – one of Joseph’s very first words was ‘cozy’.

The responsibility of those of us who care for children with autism is to try to make them more cozy: to gather around them as much of meaning as we can; to furnish them with personal and palpable content; to establish routines and interact with objects and befriend people so as to thicken their being-there and being-with – to be the upholsterers of their lives.

But all children need what children with autism demand. All children feel ‘depersonalised’ when there are not people around them who really care, and all children feel ‘derealised’ when the world does not stimulate their senses. All children wish that the upholsterer would come.

As with all Sinéad’s stuff, this essay is very much worth reading in full.

BMJ Publishes Belated Attack on the Great Barrington Declaration, but It Doesn’t Hit the Target

The Great Barrington Declaration, which advocates a focused protection strategy for dealing with COVID-19, was published in October last year – before many countries around the world imposed their winter lockdowns.   

Recently, The BMJ Opinion – a journalistic offshoot of the well-known medical journal – published a very belated hit piece against the authors. As you might expect, it’s light on scientific arguments and heavy on tactics like ad hominem, guilt by association and appeals to authority.

The authors, David Gorski and Gavin Yamey, really don’t mince words. For example, they describe the Declaration (which has been signed by hundreds of scientists and healthcare professionals) as a “well-funded sophisticated science denialist campaign based on ideological and corporate interests”.

Not exactly a respectful way to talk about your colleagues. But it’s hardly the first time the Declaration’s critics have sunk to this level. Just last month, Jay Bhattacharya became the subject of a censorious petition which claimed that he “sows mistrust of policies designed to protect the public health”.

Gorski and Yamey begin their article by criticising the Declaration’s authors for collaborating with the American Institute for Economic Research, which they claim is a “libertarian, climate-denialist, free market think tank”.

I’m not sure why this is a ‘gotcha’. Lockdown is about as un-libertarian a policy as you could imagine, so it’s not really surprising that a libertarian think tank would oppose it. And in any case, the Declaration’s website clearly states that the document was “was written and signed at the American Institute for Economic Research”.

Martin Kulldorff has since clarified that the AIER president and board did not know about the Declaration until after it was published. But even if they had done, so what? As Kulldorff notes, universities like Duke and Stanford have received money from the Koch brothers. Should we therefore completely disregard what their academics have to say?

Gorski and Yamey’s next move is to cite social media censorship of lockdown sceptics as evidence that their arguments constitute ‘misinformation’. (Incidentally, that term – which basically means ‘information that’s missing from the mainstream narrative’ – appears no fewer than six times in the article.)  

However, this argument relies on circular logic: ‘Something was censored on social media? Therefore, it’s misinformation. How do we know? Well, misinformation is what social media companies censor.’ In reality, of course, the fact that something was censored is no indication whatsoever that it’s factually incorrect.

The authors then allege that when Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan met Boris Johnson in September of last year, they were successful in “persuading him to delay” a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, which could have forestalled the second wave of infections.

As historian Phil Magness has already noted, this argument is deficient on two counts. It’s not clear that Gupta and Heneghan did persuade the Prime Minister to shelve the ‘circuit breaker’ idea. But even if they did, there’s no reason to believe that policy would’ve prevented a large number of deaths.

Finally, Gorski and Yamey compare lockdown sceptics to ‘climate science deniers’, insofar as both groups “argue that evidence-based public health measures do not work”. They call for experts to push back against the Great Barrington Declaration by highlighting “scientific consensus”, citing the John Snow Memorandum.

Of course, the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum is just another public statement signed by scientists and health professionals. If it constitutes “scientific consensus”, then so does the Great Barrington Declaration. I’m only aware of one attempt to gauge overall expert opinion on focused protection: the survey by Daniele Fanelli.

He asked scientists who’d published at least one relevant paper, “In light of current evidence, to what extent do you support a ‘focused protection’ policy against COVID-19, like that proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration?” Of those who responded, more than 50% said “partially”, “mostly” or “fully”.  

Regardless of the exact number of experts who support focused protection, claiming there is a “scientific consensus” against it is simply false. Long before the Declaration itself was published, many scientists had proposed some version of precision shielding. In fact, this was basically the U.K.’s plan until the middle of March, 2020.

On March 5th, Chris Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee that we are “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”.

Another prominent scientist who has argued in favour of focused protection is Sir David Spiegelhalter. In an article published on May 29th, he and George Davey Smith said that we ought to “stratify shielding according to risk” because lockdown is “seriously damaging many aspects of people’s lives”.

They noted that this would require “a shift away from the notion that we are all seriously threatened by the disease, which has led to levels of personal fear being strikingly mismatched to objective risk of death”.

Among the ad hominems, appeals to authority and repeated uses of ‘misinformation’, finding a scientific argument in Gorski and Yamey’s article is not easy. And given that the content’s almost a year out of date, I’m not sure why the authors felt the need to publish it.

No, Locking Down a Week Earlier Would Not Have Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives

Toby has already gone through in detail the new report from the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee of the House of Commons on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and taken it apart.

One point worth underlining further is that one of its central conclusions – that “if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier ‘we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half'” (the report quoting Professor Neil Ferguson here) – is demonstrably false on all the data available. That’s because it assumes that the epidemic was continuing to grow exponentially in the week before lockdown was brought into effect on March 24th, a growth which supposedly only the lockdown brought to an end.

That this is not the case is evident from all the data we have, as has been shown on numerous occasions.

For example, already in April 2020 Oxford’s Professor Carl Heneghan had noted that by projecting back from the peak of deaths on April 8th it could be inferred that the peak of infections occurred around a week before the lockdown was imposed. This early deduction was subsequently backed up by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty himself, who told MPs in July 2020 that the R rate went “below one well before, or to some extent before, March 23rd”, indicating a declining epidemic.

Further support arrived in March 2021, when Imperial College London’s REACT study published a graph showing SARS-CoV-2 incidence in England as inferred from antibody testing and interviews with those who tested positive to ascertain date of symptom onset. It clearly showed new infections peaking in the week before March 24th (see below), as well as a similar peaking of infections ahead of the subsequent two national lockdowns.

News Round-Up