Day: 15 October 2021

Infection Rate in Vaccinated People in Their 40s Now More Than DOUBLE the Rate in Unvaccinated, PHE Data Shows, as Vaccine Effectiveness Hits Minus-109%

In the latest Vaccine Surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) the infection rate in double-vaccinated people in their 40s went above 100% higher than in the unvaccinated for the first time, reaching 109%. This translates to an unadjusted vaccine effectiveness of minus-109%.

Vaccine effectiveness continues to drop fast in all over-18s (see chart at top), hitting minus-85% for those in their 50s, minus-88% for those in their 60s and minus-79% for those in their 70s. (For definitions and discussion of limitations see here.)

More than Half of English Schools Will Fail to Host Covid Vaccinations by Government’s Target Date

However keen the Government is to quickly get healthy children vaccinated against Covid, more than half of schools in England will fail to host Covid vaccinations by its target date, according to a new survey of headteachers. The Guardian has the story.

A survey by the Association of School and College Leaders [ASCL] found that only two out of every five secondary schools will have had a visit from vaccination teams by the October half-term break.

The survey also revealed that 95% of headteachers said teaching has been affected by pupil and staff absences, with nearly a third rating the impact as severe. 93 school leaders reported pupil absences of 10% or higher, while 63 schools said 10% or more of their staff were absent for Covid-related seasons. [sic] …

[ASCL’s General Secretary Geoff] Barton… said an “additional difficulty” for schools was having to deal with anti-vaccination protesters. 13% of the 526 eligible schools reported seeing protesters outside their school.

“This is at best incredibly unhelpful, and at worst very distressing, and we appeal to those concerned to see sense and stop this nonsense,” Barton added.

The Department for Education has said that in schools that have been visited, uptake rates were around 35% of pupils.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Testing Halted at Lab in Wolverhampton Given £120 Million by Government After Hair-Raising Investigation

Testing has been suspended at a lab in Wolverhampton that’s been given £120 million by the Government after an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority found that workers at the lab were filmed fighting and apparently drinking while on shift in January. The regulator fears that up to 45,000 infected people might have been wrongly given the all clear. MailOnline has more.

Immensa Health Clinic – awarded a £120million Government deal – is responsible for prosessing PCR tests taken at sites based mainly in the South West.

But an investigation has found swabs sent to the lab may have been checked incorrectly since September 8, with infected Britons told they do not have the virus.

Health chiefs said it had analysed more than 400,000 swabs since early last month, but the vast majority of these would have been negative.

People who may have been given an incorrect result will be contacted in the coming days and asked to take another PCR test. Samples are being redirected to other laboratories.

There are no technical issues with test kits themselves and people should continue to test as normal, officials said.

West Berkshire council today urged everyone who got tested at one site in its area between October 3rd and 12th to get a second PCR test.

It comes after workers at the lab on Wolverhampton University science park were filmed fighting and apparently drinking while on shift in January.

There are concerns failures at the lab may be linked to a rising number of reports of faulty lateral flow tests in England. …

Dr Will Welfare, the public health incident director at the UK Health Security Agency which replaced Public Health England, said an investigation had revealed concerns over the way the lab was analysing swabs.

He said in a statement: “We have recently seen a rising number of positive LFD results subsequently testing negative on PCR.

“As a result of our investigation, we are working with NHS Test and Trace and the company to determine the laboratory technical issues which have led to inaccurate PCR results being issued to people.

“We have immediately suspended testing at this laboratory while we continue the investigation.”

He added: “There is no evidence of any faults with LFD or PCR test kits themselves and the public should remain confident in using them and in other laboratory services currently provided.

“If you get a positive LFD test, it’s important to make sure that you then get a follow up PCR test to confirm you have COVID-19. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate and take a PCR test.”

Professor Alan McNally, a geneticist at Birmingham University, warned that this could be just the “tip of a rather large iceberg”.

Immensa Health Clinic won a £119 million Government contract in November last year to carry out PCR tests.

This was not put out to tender, meaning other companies did not have a chance to bid for the deal.

Worth reading in full.

This isn’t the first time a PCR lab in receipt of tens of millions of pounds of Government money has been exposed as not fit for purpose. The Daily Sceptic ran a piece by a whistleblower about shortcomings at a Lighthouse Lab in Milton Keynes last November.

Protests and Strikes Expected as ‘Green Pass’ for Italian Workers Comes into Force

Covid ‘Green Passes’ have come into force in Italy for workers both in the public and private sector, meaning those who choose not to get ‘jabbed’ or haven’t recently tested (costing a small fortune) or recovered from the virus will be suspended from work without pay and could be fined up to €1,500 (£1,270). Workplaces that don’t comply with the rules also face being fined.

Around three million workers haven’t been vaccinated against Covid and strikes and protests are expected to take place in opposition to the new measures in the coming days and weeks. Sky News has the story.

The rule was approved by Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet in mid-September…

The pass is already required in Italy to enter museums, theatres, gyms and indoor restaurants, as well as to take long-distance trains and buses or domestic flights.

The workplace requirement has sparked big protests in Rome, with some demonstrators turning violent and clashing with police last weekend.

More unrest is feared and workers at a main port have threatened a strike.

The Government hopes the pass will encourage unvaccinated Italians to get the jab.

According to a Government document seen by Reuters news agency, 15% of private and 8% of public sector workers have no Green Pass.

But under the new rules they can be suspended without pay and fined if they work without it – a move that has been criticised by some.

The right-wing League’s Luca Zaia, Governor of Veneto, said: “We will not be able to grant a swab every 48 hours to all the unvaccinated.

“The business people I am in contact with are extremely worried.”

The UIL union said in a statement: “This is a very restrictive measure that could have a serious impact on social stability and exacerbate an already complicated situation.”

Unions said tests should be free for workers who don’t want to be vaccinated, but the Government said they would be capped at €15.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: How else can we stop these measures other than by stopping the economy, asks a spokesman for striking port workers. BBC News has the story.

“It is time to stop the economy, which is perhaps the only way we can show this Government that many people are struggling,” port workers’ spokesman Stefano Puzzer told Rai TV. “Many will remain without wages, purely because they exercised their free choice of not having the vaccine.” …

Dock workers in Trieste offered to call off their action if the Government delayed making the Green Pass obligatory until the end of October, but that was rejected by Rome.

Also worth reading in full.

PCR Tests for Travel Will Be Scrapped in Time for Half-Term Holidays

PCR Covid tests for travel will be scrapped from October 22nd, despite previous reports suggesting they could stay in place at least until the back end of the half-term week. The Telegraph has the story.

Fully vaccinated holidaymakers will instead be allowed to book and use cheaper lateral flow tests when they return to Britain from half-term breaks.

This should reduce the costs from an average of around £60 to £70 for a PCR test to between £20 and £35 for a lateral flow test from an approved provider on the Government’s official website.

As previously with PCR tests, double-vaccinated travellers will be expected to book lateral flow tests in advance, register them on their passenger locator forms and then take them on or before day two of their return to the U.K.

The Department of Health and Social Care has accepted that the test can be done by holidaymakers at home, but the result will have to be verified with the test firm by providing a photograph of the kit with its registration number. [Not by providing a video recording of the testing process, as ministers have at one time considered.] …

Only unvaccinated travellers now have to take a pre-departure test and then quarantine for 10 days on their return and pay for PCR tests on days two and eight of their return. The pre-departure test for double jabbed travellers was ditched on October 4th.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Isabel Oakeshott asks why travellers are being forced to pay for lateral flow tests “when we all have boxes of the damn things at home”?

The House of Commons Report Ignores the Risks of a Suppression Strategy

One of the main conclusions of the recent House of Commons report is that our first lockdown “should have come sooner”. The authors even take seriously Neil Ferguson’s ludicrous suggestion that if we’d locked down one week earlier, “we would have reduced the final death toll by at least half”.

As I noted in my response, this ignores the fact that suppressing the epidemic in the spring could have led to an even bigger epidemic in the winter, when the NHS would have been under greater pressure.

In other words, even if you only consider Covid deaths (i.e., ignore all the collateral damage from lockdown), suppressing the first wave wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do. The boffins in SAGE were actually aware of this, as the report notes:

Modelling at the time suggested that to suppress the spread of covid-19 too firmly would cause a resurgence when restrictions were lifted. This was thought likely to result in a peak in the autumn and winter when NHS pressures were already likely to be severe.

However, the report’s authors dismiss this very legitimate concern on the basis that suppressing the first wave would have “bought much needed time”. And that’s true, but so is the point about risking a perfect storm in the winter.

The correct way to frame the issue (again, ignoring the costs of lockdown) would be to say: the UK faced a trade-off between the benefits of buying time versus the risks of postponing the epidemic until winter. Acknowledging this (or any other) trade-off was apparently too much to ask of the report’s authors.

As a side note, suppressing the first wave would have probably required us to act in January, and we’d have needed to completely seal the borders, in addition to imposing a temporary lockdown. The horse had already bolted by the time anyone knew what was going on, so this discussion is mostly academic anyway.

One simple way to illustrate the risks of postponing the epidemic until winter is to compare European countries that got hit in the first wave with those who missed the first wave but got hit in the second.

To do this, I noted for each 42 European countries whether the official COVID-19 death rate reached 5 per million before 1st September, 2020. Those where it did reach this level were deemed to have been hit in the first wave. Those where it did not were deemed to have missed the first wave.

I then calculated average excess mortality since the pandemic began in the two groups of countries, using the estimates reported by Karlinsky and Kobak. Note: I’m not pretending this is a comprehensive analysis. But it’s still informative.

If the benefits of buying time outweigh the risks of postponing, you’d expect excess mortality to be lower in the group that missed the first wave. However, it was actually slightly higher in this group: 21%, compared to 19% in the other group.

What’s more, the 42 countries in my sample include places like Iceland and San Marino, which you might say aren’t really comparable to the UK. If we remove all six countries with a population of less than 500,000, the disparity is even greater: 22%, compared to 16%.

Now, there are of course other factors to consider, and it’s possible that once you took those into account, there wouldn’t be any disparity, or there’d be a slight disparity favouring the first group. But there’s no evidence that ‘buying time’ led to substantially lower excess mortality.

Someone might respond as follows: it’s implausible that suppressing the first wave would have made a difference in the second. After all, only about 10% of the population had antibodies by December of 2020, and that’s nowhere near herd immunity.  

There are two points I’d make in response. Some people may have cross immunities to Covid, so the 10% figure could be an underestimate. But even if it’s about right, we know that transmission is driven by super-spreaders, and such individuals will be heavily overrepresented among the 10% who got infected in the first wave.

All else being equal, therefore, transmission would have been greater in the second wave if those individuals had not acquired immunity in the first. (Recall that age-adjusted excess mortality was actually lower in the second wave.)

The House of Commons report is in no sense a disinterested attempt to consider the arguments for and against lockdown, so it’s hardly surprising the authors would brush aside the risks of a suppression strategy. We can only hope that the official inquiry next year takes a less tendentious approach. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

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