Day: 2 November 2021

News Round-Up

Sir Jeremy Farrar Quits SAGE After Criticising Government for Failing to Act on Predictions of Covid Disaster that Didn’t Come True

In further evidence that Government scientific advisers live in a fantasy world constructed from models that bear a tenuous relationship to real-world evidence, one of the U.K.’s most well-connected scientists, Sir Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust, has quit SAGE after criticising the Government for refusing to heed its alarmist, failed predictions. Sir Jeremy appears to be oblivious to the fact that, with reported infections dropping to under 34,000 on Tuesday, down 10% in a week, the modellers’ prognostications of doom have faltered once again. The Telegraph has more.

[I]t has emerged that Sir Jeremy resigned from SAGE at the end of last month.

In a statement, he said Government scientists had come under “huge pressure” during the pandemic.

Sir Jeremy has previously said that he “seriously considered resigning from SAGE” a year ago, after the Government went against its advice to introduce a lockdown as cases rose last autumn.

In his book, published earlier this year, he wrote: “That was the darkest moment of the pandemic. I began to question the point of giving advice to a body that chose not to use it. There comes a time when you have to ask yourself, and the people you trust, whether you are complicit with the decisions that are made as a result.”

Sir Jeremy gave a statement to Sky News on Tuesday:

Researcher Blows the Whistle on Data Integrity Issues in Pfizer’s Vaccine Trials

The BMJ has just posted a story that calls into question the reliability of the data generated by Pfizer’s vaccine trials. It’s based on dozens of documents, photos, audio recordings and emails supplied to the BMJ by a researcher at one of Pfizer’s sub-contractors involved in testing the Covid vaccine.

In autumn 2020 Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive, Albert Bourla, released an open letter to the billions of people around the world who were investing their hopes in a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to end the pandemic. “As I’ve said before, we are operating at the speed of science,” Bourla wrote, explaining to the public when they could expect a Pfizer vaccine to be authorised in the United States.

But, for researchers who were testing Pfizer’s vaccine at several sites in Texas during that autumn, speed may have come at the cost of data integrity and patient safety. A regional director who was employed at the research organisation Ventavia Research Group has told The BMJ that the company falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events reported in Pfizer’s pivotal phase III trial. Staff who conducted quality control checks were overwhelmed by the volume of problems they were finding. After repeatedly notifying Ventavia of these problems, the regional director, Brook Jackson, emailed a complaint to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ventavia fired her later the same day. Jackson has provided The BMJ with dozens of internal company documents, photos, audio recordings, and emails.

Poor laboratory management

On its website Ventavia calls itself the largest privately owned clinical research company in Texas and lists many awards it has won for its contract work. But Jackson has told The BMJ that, during the two weeks she was employed at Ventavia in September 2020, she repeatedly informed her superiors of poor laboratory management, patient safety concerns, and data integrity issues. Jackson was a trained clinical trial auditor who previously held a director of operations position and came to Ventavia with more than 15 years’ experience in clinical research coordination and management. Exasperated that Ventavia was not dealing with the problems, Jackson documented several matters late one night, taking photos on her mobile phone. One photo, provided to The BMJ, showed needles discarded in a plastic biohazard bag instead of a sharps container box. Another showed vaccine packaging materials with trial participants’ identification numbers written on them left out in the open, potentially unblinding participants. Ventavia executives later questioned Jackson for taking the photos.

Early and inadvertent unblinding may have occurred on a far wider scale. According to the trial’s design, unblinded staff were responsible for preparing and administering the study drug (Pfizer’s vaccine or a placebo). This was to be done to preserve the blinding of trial participants and all other site staff, including the principal investigator. However, at Ventavia, Jackson told The BMJ that drug assignment confirmation printouts were being left in participants’ charts, accessible to blinded personnel. As a corrective action taken in September, two months into trial recruitment and with around 1000 participants already enrolled, quality assurance checklists were updated with instructions for staff to remove drug assignments from charts.

In a recording of a meeting in late September2020 between Jackson and two directors a Ventavia executive can be heard explaining that the company wasn’t able to quantify the types and number of errors they were finding when examining the trial paperwork for quality control. “In my mind, it’s something new every day,” a Ventavia executive says. “We know that it’s significant.”

Worth reading in full.

New South Wales to Lift Restrictions – But Only for the Vaccinated

The Government of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has announced that it will soon lift a wide array of restrictions – but only for those who are vaccinated. From November 8th, double-jabbed residents will be allowed to invite an unlimited number of visitors into their home, while the unvaccinated will continue to be subjected to stay-at-home orders, being preventing from entering many public places which the vaccinated can enter. The Guardian has the story.

Under the original roadmap, restrictions were supposed to ease from December 1st. The N.S.W. Premier, Dominic Perrottet, said the changes were due to the State’s high vaccination rate, with authorities pushing N.S.W. to hit 95% double dose coverage.

“We said from the outset that this was the key for our state to be able to open up safely”, Perrottet said. “Everybody has done an incredible job to ensure N.S.W. can ease restrictions in a safe and considered way earlier than we planned. [This] is one last push and I believe that we can get to that 95% mark”.

The changes also delay when restrictions ease for unvaccinated people – either when the state hits that 95% fully vaccinated rate or by December 15th, whichever occurs first.

This means unvaccinated residents will continue to be barred from businesses, gyms and venues for at least two weeks more than expected.

Perrottet said the delay was to ensure the state could continue reopening “safely” and hoped it would incentivise people to get the jab.

“Ultimately we want a united society and we believe by moving that date back to December 15th will incentivise” he said.

Caps on gym and dance classes remain, but entertainment venues with fixed seating will open to 100% capacity. Indoor swimming pools will also be able to reopen.

Worth reading in full.

‘Plan B’ Style Restrictions Introduced in the House of Commons

Due to a fear that Covid will spread through the Parliamentary estate, ‘Plan B’ style restrictions have been introduced to the House of Commons. Some of the measures include mandatory mask-wearing for MP’s staff (MPs themselves are exempt from the rule), working from home whenever possible, as well as social distancing at select committee meetings. The Express has the story.

A Parliamentary spokesperson said: “The House’s priority is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated.

“There have been recent increases in Covid across the country and these are also being reflected in Parliament.

“The U.K. Health Security Agency has determined that the risk of transmission on the Parliamentary estate is now greater.

“As a consequence, some further action is being taken to ensure that case numbers do not continue to rise”.

A number of the new measures being imposed in Parliament, including work from home rules and compulsory mask-wearing, mirror aspects of the Government’s Covid ‘Plan B’.

This is likely to increase speculation about further restrictions being introduced across the whole of England in the coming weeks.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has been vague about what exactly would trigger the Government to introduce these measures.

Ministers were told by scientific advisors in SAGE late last month to begin preparing for the “rapid deployment” of winter Covid restrictions.

They were warned that “there remains potential for a rapid increase in hospital admissions if behaviours [among members of the public] change quickly”.

Under its ‘Plan B’, the Government would also introduce vaccine passports for all “large venues”, barring those who haven’t been jabbed from many hospitality venues, and the further communication of additional risk to the public.

Worth reading in full.

Daily Sceptic Readers Are Invited to a Special Comedy Night Organised by the Free Speech Union

The Free Speech Union is hosting a comedy night next week in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. Daily Sceptic readers are welcome to join us in London on Wednesday November 10th, when the line-up will include Nick Dixon, Tania Edwards, Tony Law, Phileo Huff and Darius Davies. You can purchase tickets from eventbrite here. Standard tickets cost £15, but those of you who wish to support the FSU’s work can purchase tickets for £25 which includes a £10 donation to the FSU. I’m a regular at Comedy Unleashed and these are some of the best nights out I’ve had. There are numerous breaks so you can refill your glasses at the bar and you won’t have to certify your Covid status to get in or wear a mask. If you’re interested in coming, I strongly advise you to buy a ticket now because they’ll sell out quickly. I’ll be there, so if you are going come and say hi.

Boris Johnson Will Fly Home From COP26 on Private Jet

Boris Johnson will fly back from the COP26 climate conference on a private jet rather than take the train after spending two days telling world leaders to reduce their carbon emissions. The Guardian has more.

The Prime Minister left himself open to accusations of hypocrisy after urging other countries to do everything possible to pledge lower emissions and warning that they would be judged by their children if they fail to act.

Johnson flew into COP26 in Glasgow from Rome after attending the G20 of world leaders. But instead of getting the train, which takes about four and a half hours, he has decided to take a short internal flight from Glasgow to London.

Earlier, he told a roundtable of leaders of developing nations: “When it comes to tackling climate change, words without action, without deeds are absolutely pointless.”

The prime minister is one of hundreds of world leaders and businesspeople who have chartered planes to attend the conference aimed at limiting global temperature rises to less than 1.5C. Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon, was one of those who flew in to Scotland for the conference.

Johnson’s spokesperson defended the move, saying the plane ran partly on “sustainable aviation fuel” and emitted about half the emissions of other aircraft. The plane will still cause far more emissions than a trip by train.

“It’s important the PM is able to move around the country. We have obviously faced significant time constraints,” Johnson’s official spokesperson said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Jeff Bezos told COP26 how going to space made him realise “how thin the globe’s atmosphere” is and we “must reduce our carbon footprint” after flying in on his £48 million private jet. MailOnline has more.

Unvaccinated Australians Fired for Opposing Vaccine Mandates Take to Social Media to Find Work

Scores of unvaccinated Australians have taken to social media to find work after losing their previous employment after vaccine mandates came into force. Different states and territories across the nation have implemented a wide variety of mandatory vaccination measures, covering numerous industries and professions, with Facebook and Telegram recording an increase in those searching for jobs after these policies were introduced. The Guardian has the story.

On some job boards, businesses that are happy to accept unvaccinated people advertise that they are ‘welcoming of everyone’.

Beauty therapists, childcare workers, disability support workers and accountants are among 20,000 people who are members of the largest Facebook group for unvaccinated jobseekers in Australia.

Ash Heap is an electrician from Geelong who refuses to get vaccinated. “I’m left in a position where I’ve lost my career of 20 years”, he said.

“I don’t really have a lot of options. I was given a small business grant which will see me through for another month but there’s no income”.

He owns a house with his partner, who also looks set to lose her job. The pair are hoping the mandate will be dropped.

“We’ll probably have to rent the house and find work anywhere, doing cash jobs, doing whatever”.

Each state and territory has implemented its own rules on mandates.

Victoria has one of the most wide-ranging vaccine mandates, which came into effect last month and covers about 1.25 million people.

Last week Western Australia announced it would roll out a mandate across multiple industries, including teachers and supermarket staff, representing 75% of the state’s workforce.

New South Wales has a mandate in place for some sectors but from December 1st is set to allow the same freedoms for unvaccinated citizens, bar international travel. The mandate for high-risk workers will remain in place.

Julian Melvin has been sifting through jobs ads since he lost his work as an arborist because he won’t get the vaccine. He says mainly odd jobs are on offer.

“A lot of them it’s like ‘I need my lawns mowed’… cash work here and there”, he said. “There are some businesses saying we’ll employ you but how many people are unemployed versus how many people need work?”

Worth reading in full.

Early Closure of Bars and Restaurants Had No Impact on the Spread of Covid in Japan

When comparing the impact of Covid in different countries, Japan is a clear outlier. In 2020, the country had zero days of mandatory business closures and zero days of mandatory stay-at-home orders. Despite seeing less change in mobility than major European countries, Japan has not had any excess mortality since the pandemic began.

As you may recall, the country hosted the Summer Olympics between 23rd July and 8th August. But even that did not lead to a large number of deaths. It has been suggested that Japanese people, and perhaps East Asians in general, have some degree of prior immunity to the virus.

In January of this year, Japan introduced restrictions on businesses for the first time. Specifically, 11 prefectures (including the capital, Tokyo) prohibited bars and restaurants from selling alcohol after 7pm, and forced them to close at 8pm.

In a recent preprint, Reo Takaku and colleagues investigated the impact of these measures on the spread of Covid. They began by checking whether the measures had their intended effect – of reducing the number of people frequenting bars and restaurants. This cannot be taken for granted: the night curfew in Greece had virtually no impact on mobility.

The researchers analysed survey data collected in the autumn of 2020 (when there were no restrictions in place) and the winter of 2021 (when there were restrictions in place). As the chart below indicates, the measures do appear to have had their intended effects.

The x-axis represents how far respondents lived from the border of a prefecture that introduced restrictions. The blue and green lines (corresponding to the right-hand y-axis) show the fraction of people who went to a bar or restaurant at least once in the relevant month.

The blue line corresponds to the autumn of 2020, and the green line corresponds to the winter of 2021. Notice that the green line is substantially flatter than the blue line, but only on the right-hand side of the chart. This suggests that restrictions did reduce the number of people frequenting bars and restaurants.