Another week, another Vaccine Surveillance report (now published by the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the successor to Public Health England), and with it more worrying news on the vaccine front.
Infection rates in the double-vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated continue to rise, meaning unadjusted vaccine effectiveness continues to decline. Infection rates are now higher in the double-vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated by 124% in those in their 40s, 103% in those in their 50s and 60s and 101% in those in their 70s, corresponding to unadjusted vaccine effectiveness estimates of minus-124%, minus-103% and minus-101% respectively. For those over 80 the unadjusted vaccine effectiveness is minus-34% while for those in their 30s it is minus-27%. For 18-29 year-olds it is 25%, so still positive but low, while for under-18s it is 90%, the only age group showing high efficacy. Vaccine effectiveness against emergency hospital admission and death continues to hold up, though with some indication of gradual slide, particularly in older age groups (see below). (For definitions and limitations, see here.)
The UKHSA has continued to receive criticism for publishing this data, with claims that the figures used for the unvaccinated population are unreliable and likely too high, artificially suppressing the infection rate and vaccine effectiveness. Cambridge statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter put out a scathing tweet on these lines on Friday, but he didn’t elaborate on his claim or link to an article explaining it further.
Professors Norman Fenton and Martin Neil have argued that in fact the PHE/UKHSA data may underestimate the number of unvaccinated rather than overestimate them, which would have the reverse effect.
Either way though, what wouldn’t change is the fact of the large and fast decline in effectiveness against infection. This is now generally acknowledged among many scientists (likely caused by waning over time or new variants or both), though has not had the logical impact on Government policy one might have expected and hoped for of eliminating the rationale for vaccine passports and mandates.
A further point revealed for the first time in this week’s surveillance report is that the vaccines may actually hobble the body’s ability to develop the strongest immunity once infected. As noted by Alex Berenson, the report mentions (in passing) that “recent observations from U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) surveillance data” show that “N antibody levels appear to be lower in individuals who acquire infection following two doses of vaccination”.
The report does not elaborate on this, but on the face of it it is a startling admission. It is basically saying that a certain kind of antibody which is not produced by the vaccines but is usually produced by infection (and hence is used by PHE/UKHSA to identify those with antibodies-from-infection) is not produced so well by those who are infected post-vaccination. Insofar as this is true it means the vaccines may actually prevent the immune system from developing the strongest form of protection against reinfection. This phenomenon of the immune system being in some way hobbled by the way it first encounters a pathogen is well-known and is referred to as original antigenic sin.
There would be a number of implications of this. It would mean that since the vaccine rollout got going the prevalence of N antibodies in the population has ceased to be a reliable measure of how many people are previously infected (which might explain why it has been rising so slowly during the Delta surge). It would also mean the vaccines may make reinfections and serious illness upon reinfection more likely. Plus likely other things as well.
This is something that should be investigated fully and the results published so that its impact can be properly assessed and understood.