Day: 5 November 2021

News Round-Up

Daily Covid cases fall 22% in a week to 34,029

The number of daily Covid cases continues to fall in England, despite Boris ignoring calls to re-impose Covid restrictions. This afternoon’s update from the Department of Health’s shows there were 34,029 new infections in the past 24 hours, marking a 22% fall compared to last Friday. MailOnline has more.

The news comes as the country’s largest official surveillance study found that cases had levelled off last week for the first time in nearly three months – but prevalence was still high.

The Office for National Statistics report estimated 1.1 million people in England were infected with the virus at any time in the week to October 30 – the equivalent of one in 50.

The finding finally brought the ONS study in line with the official testing programme, which has reported falling cases for 12 of the past 13 days.

Officials also revealed the UK’s R rate had fallen for the first time in months today, and is now estimated to be between 0.9 and 1.1.

Experts said the statistics suggested that the latest wave, triggered when schools went back from summer, had ‘likely peaked’ thanks to combination of vaccine immunity and previous infection.

It came as it emerged Britain is no longer the Covid capital of Western Europe. Austria, Belgium and Ireland are all recording higher infection rates and Germany looks bound to surpass the UK’s in weeks.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: More here on the Covid outbreaks in Belgium, Austria and Ireland’s in spite of having restrictions such as mask mandates and vaccine passports in place.

Californian Town Declares Itself a Constitutional Republic to Oppose the State’s Covid Laws

The city council of Oroville, located in northern California, has passed a resolution to label itself as a constitutional republic to express dissent against the state’s Covid restrictions. This latest symbolic gesture further shows the divide between state level lawmakers and California’s more rural regions, with the city also refusing to enforce a ban on indoor dining last year. The Guardian has the story.

Oroville leaders said the designation was a way of affirming the city’s values and pushing back against state rules it doesn’t agree with, although a legal expert said the designation was merely a gesture and did not grant the city any new authority.

Tensions have existed throughout the pandemic between the rural north and California’s leadership, which has been among the first to implement lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccination requirements.

In Butte county, fierce opposition to Covid lockdowns and school closures drove support for recalling the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, with 51% of voters in the county backing the ultimately failed effort. Newsom’s policies, however, appear to have worked and the state had the lowest Covid infection rate in the U.S. last month.

Last year, Oroville refused to enforce state requirements prohibiting indoor dining. Butte county, where Oroville is located, declined to recommend a mask mandate earlier this fall, even as cases surged and a local medical centre reported treating more patients than at any other point during the pandemic.

Before passing the resolution, council members argued they were taking a stand and advocating for residents to make their own health choices.

“I assure you folks that great thought was put into every bit of this”, the city’s mayor, Chuck Reynolds, said. “Nobody willy-nilly threw something to grandstand”.

But the city’s declaration does not shield it from following federal and state laws, said Lisa Pruitt, a rural law expert at the University of California, Davis, who said it was not clear what the designation meant.

“A municipality cannot unilaterally declare itself not subject to the laws of the state of California”, Pruitt said. “Whatever they mean by constitutional republic you can’t say hocus pocus and make it happen”.

Worth reading in full.

Death of the NHS Covid Pingdemic App

The app responsible for England’s hated ‘pingdemic’ is on the brink of death, according to experts. NHS data showed usage is up to 180 times lower than it was. MailOnline has more.

At the peak of its powers in summer, there were as many as 14.5million check-ins a week, the equivalent of around one in four people scanning a barcode once.

Yet latest figures reveal just 220,000 people used the QR-code software to sign in at pubs, restaurants and other venues in the week ending October 27, meaning usage has plummeted 60-fold nationally.

But MailOnline analysis of the NHS data shows the drop was even starker in parts of the country. Just 557 check-ins were made in Liverpool during the final week of October, compared to around 100,000 in June. Manchester and Wandsworth also saw massive drops.

Scientists today called on ministers to ‘junk’ the app for good or encourage people to use it more, warning it was now only having an ‘at best’ minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

The software was part of the £37 billion Test and Trace, which MPs labelled an “eye-watering” waste of taxpayers’ money that “did not achieve” its main objective of putting the lid on the spread of the virus. It also played a huge role in the country’s ‘pingdemic’, urging hundreds of thousands of workers to quarantine at home, leaving shelves empty and rubbish piled high in the streets.

Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, argued it was likely even fewer people were using the app, which cost £35 million to develop, than the figures suggested because the few still plugged in were likely using it to check-in to more than one venue a week.

He warned that checking into venues using the software was “perhaps not far off being dead”.

Worth reading in full.

Fantastic news!

Children’s Doctor Says He Needs to See More Data Before He Would Vaccinate His Own Children

Professor Nigel Curtis, from the Murdoch Children’s Association, has warned that those under the age of 11 must not be given a Covid vaccine until more data becomes available. Professor Curtis also remarked that, as the virus poses little to no risk to young children, the safety threshold for the vaccine has to be much higher than it is for older age groups. The Mail Australia has more.

On Tuesday the U.S. approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11 years-old after a study of 3,100 kids detected no serious side effects and found it was 90.7% effective in preventing Covid infection.

Pfizer has started an application process to get its vaccine authorised for children in Australia, but Professor Nigel Curtis from the Murdoch Children’s Association believes bigger trials are needed first.

Professor Curtis said children are much less likely to suffer severe disease than adults so the safety threshold for the vaccines should be set much higher.

“I’m a strong proponent of vaccine in general but when we decide on the use of any vaccine we always have to weigh up potential benefits and potential risks”, he told ABC radio host Virginia Trioli on Friday morning.

“That balance is much more difficult than it is in older age groups and the main reason is that in this age group, even with the Delta variant, Covid remains a very mild or even asymptomatic disease in the vast majority of children”.

Australian data from the first seven months of 2021 showed 2.5% of children under nine who caught Covid needed hospital treatment, compared with 7.7% of adults in their 20s and 19.2% of adults in their 50s.

Professor Curtis said vaccinating under 12s was “still an open scientific question” and “we need more data on the relative benefits and potential harms”.

“The bar for using a vaccine for a disease which is extremely mild and which very few children come to any harm is much higher”, he said. 

The children’s doctor said U.S. trials had involved “a very small number of children when it comes to assessing rare side effects” and “you need much larger numbers before you can be certain”.

Phase three of Pfizer’s vaccine trial for adults in November 2020 enrolled 43,661 participants, while AstraZeneca’s safety data was based on 20,000 adults enrolled across four clinical trials.

“Children are not little adults and they have a very different immune system. They have a very strong immune system when it comes to Covid and they respond very differently to adults”, Professor Curtis said.

Worth reading in full.

No Way of Knowing Whether Scotland’s Vaccine Passport Scheme Reduces Transmission, Says Deputy First Minister

The SNP Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, has said that the Scottish Government has no evidence on whether its vaccine passport scheme reduces Covid transmission or entices the unvaccinated to come forward for the jab. Despite the absence of available data, Swinney declared that the vaccine mandate was having a positive impact in curbing the spread of the disease, and has also mentioned that the scheme may continue and possibly be extended to other settings. The Times has the story.

Swinney said it was “impossible to segment” Covid data to determine whether it was working, but he believed that it was “delivering a positive benefit to the suppression of the virus”.

Since the start of October adults in Scotland have had to prove they are double vaccinated to enter nightclubs or attend large events, with legal enforcement from October 18th.

The Scottish Government said the scheme aimed to increase vaccine take-up, reduce the spread of the virus and allow supposedly high-risk venues to remain open.

Scotland recorded 33 deaths linked to Covid and 2,800 cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data. About 900 patients were in hospital on Wednesday with recently confirmed Covid, down 40 from the previous day. The figure of 60 in intensive care did not change.

Swinney told Holyrood’s Covid committee yesterday that the proportion of 18 to 29 year-olds who had received both vaccinations rose from 64% on October 1st to 68% a month later, describing it as a “sizeable increase”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Public Health Researcher and Scottish Government Covid adviser Devi Sridhar, writing for the Guardian, recently called for the U.K. to adopt a vaccine passport system similar to that of Germany, a nation which has just recorded its highest daily increase of Covid cases.

Safetyism Kills

I argued in a previous post that the vaccine rollout was based on safetyism, not science. Safetyism led to the belief that everyone should get vaccinated, regardless of age or natural immunity. It led to the belief that booster shots are needed. And it led to the belief that people have to be strong-armed, rather than persuaded.

A vaccine rollout based on science would have prioritised the elderly and clinically vulnerable, while recognising that young healthy people, and those with natural immunity, didn’t need to get vaccinated.

It would have also recognised that far more lives could be saved by allocating vaccines to vulnerable people in poor countries than by allocating them to young healthy people in rich countries. Unfortunately, however, safetyism prevailed.

Rich countries ended up buying nearly all the vaccines, and then wasted millions of doses on people who didn’t need them. Not only that, but they did so by means of coercive passports and mandates, which undermine trust in the health system.

The vast majority of people affected by these passports and mandates did not need to be vaccinated, and many of them already had natural immunity.

The Government could have said: ‘We’ve bought enough vaccines for everyone who’s over 50 or clinically vulnerable. If you’re in one of those groups, we strongly recommend you get vaccinated. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait, since vulnerable people in poor countries need vaccines more than you.’ But apparently that was too difficult.

The scale of rich countries’ vaccine-hoarding is laid bare in a recent chart published by the Financial Times. It shows that rich countries have administered more booster doses in the last three months than poor countries have administered total doses since their rollouts began.

The FT’s chart was retweeted thousands of times on Twitter. Ironically, many of the people who retweeted it were probably in favour of vaccinating the young. Newsflash: when vaccine production is limited, allocating doses is a zero-sum game.

By 1st June, around 90% of over 50s in England had been fully vaccinated (I’m using the original definition of that term, i.e., ‘received two vaccine doses’). Millions more people in their 30s and 40s had received at least one dose.

Yet between then and now, we’ve given out another 40 million doses, the vast majority to people who are young and healthy, who have prior immunity, or who’ve already been fully vaccinated! And the same is true of most other large, rich countries.

If all these countries had donated their surplus vaccines, or simply not bought them in the first place, there would have been many more available for poor countries. As a result, tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. There’s a lesson here: safetyism kills.

Infection Rates More than Twice as High in the Vaccinated, New UKHSA Data Shows, as Agency Dismisses Own Data as ‘Biased’. But Why No New VE Estimate Since May?

The latest UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report was released Thursday, and its authors are now bending over backwards to keep their critics happy. Following a telling-off this week from the U.K. Statistics Authority, the UKHSA’s Head of Immunisation, Mary Ramsay (pictured above), published a blog post explaining what they’ve done to appease their detractors, while the report now states no fewer than four times, twice in bold typeface, that “these raw data should not be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness”. Ramsay grovels:

To make our data less susceptible to misinterpretation, the U.K. Health Security Agency has worked with the UK Statistics Authority to update some of the data tables and descriptions in the report, specifically around rates of infection in vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. In our commitment to transparent and clear data, we regularly review our publications to ensure they reflect the current situation within the pandemic, and we will continue to work with our partners at the statistics bodies, to ensure our reporting is as scientifically robust as possible.

As I noted last week, the UKHSA does not accept the criticism of its population estimates levelled by, among others, David Spiegelhalter, who declared that using them was “deeply untrustworthy and completely unacceptable”.

The agency instead takes the view that the problem is systemic biases in the data which mean it “should not be used” to estimate vaccine effectiveness. But as I have noted repeatedly, those biases just mean that the estimate will be of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness, which is a perfectly legitimate quantity to estimate and has its uses, particularly when looking at trends or when there is reason to think the biases may be relatively small. (For instance, a recent vaccine effectiveness study in California adjusted its raw data for 22 different factors but in almost all cases the adjustments were tiny.)

The UKHSA report itself correctly gives the definition of vaccine effectiveness: “Vaccine effectiveness is estimated by comparing rates of disease in vaccinated individuals to rates in unvaccinated individuals.” The U.S. CDC, likewise, states the definition as “the proportionate reduction in disease among the vaccinated group”. The CDC distinguishes “vaccine efficacy”, estimated from controlled studies, from “vaccine effectiveness”, which is used “when a study is carried out under typical field (that is, less than perfectly controlled) conditions”. It is therefore not appropriate for the UKHSA, a Government agency, to insist that its data “should not be used” to estimate vaccine effectiveness, which is a false statement and amounts to attempted Government censorship of scientific enquiry.