Day: 17 November 2021

News Round-Up

Vaccine Efficacy Statistics as Information Hazard

There follows a guest post by the German blogger who calls himself eugyppius. This piece, about the soaring case rate in Germany in spite of the same percentage of the population being vaccinated as in the U.K.’s, originally appeared on his Substack account. You can subscribe to that here.

Germany and the United Kingdom have essentially identical rates of vaccination. In both countries, about 67% percent of everyone is vaccinated.

In fact, here in Germany our vaccination rates are likely understated, so we may even be slightly ahead of the British.

Despite all of this vaccination, German mortality is more or less identical to that seen last year. On November 16th 2020, we had around two deaths per million, and right on schedule we are back at two deaths per million now. The United Kingdom is also at two deaths per million right now, but this is just a third of the mortality they had last year, and the curve is totally different:

Five Italian Governors Wish to Follow Austria’s Lead in Locking Down the Unvaccinated

Due to a heightened fear that Italy will soon suffer a ‘fourth wave’ of Covid infections, five of Italy’s 20 regional governors have come out in favour of copying Austria’s unvaccinated lockdown. The Telegraph has the story.

Although 84% of Italians over 12 years-old are double-jabbed, that still leaves around seven million who have still refused to have the vaccination.

The number of infections is steadily rising, as there were nearly 7,700 new cases on Tuesday, compared with 5,100 cases on Monday. Italy’s death toll from the virus stands at nearly 133,000, which is the highest in the E.U.

“Eventual new lockdowns should not have to be suffered by those who are vaccinated. Restrictions should only apply to those who are not immunized,” said Massimiliano Fedriga, the Governor of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeast of the country.

His stance is supported by the governors of Tuscany, Calabria, Liguria and Piedmont.

Matteo Renzi, a former Prime Minister and now head of a small centre-left party, agrees. “You’re not vaccinated? Then stay at home,” he wrote on social media.

It comes as the Czech Republic is moving to ban people who have not been jabbed from public services.

Andrej Babis, the Czech Prime Minister, said that from Monday the authorities will ban unvaccinated people from access to a range of services as Eastern Europe battles a new wave of infections.

Slovakia is also due to vote on Thursday on banning the unvaccinated from non-essential shops, hotels, big public gatherings, gyms and swimming pools.

The Czech Republic reported more than 22,000 new cases on Wednesday, nearly 8,000 more than a week ago.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A piece in the Express highlights that Britain’s initial Covid response was originally inspired by Italy’s lockdown, and that U.K. experts could still be influenced by what future restrictions the nation introduces.

We Must Not Shut Down University Campuses Again

We’re republishing a post today by Dr. Alberto Giubilini, a Senior Research Fellow in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, that originally appeared on the Collateral Global website alongside its latest report, which is about the impact of shutting down university campuses on students’ mental health. Among the shocking findings are that one in three students across a range of countries have reported symptoms of depression or anxiety in the last 20 months. Here is an extract:

The results in the report published this week in Collateral Global this week on the impact of pandemic restrictions on university students’ mental health – sadly – should not be too surprising. Young people were not a priority during the pandemic. It is quite telling that most countries – and most people – did not change strategies and attitudes after the initial uncertainty, as we gained more evidence about how minuscule young people’s risk is from Covid. We continued imposing population-wide restrictions, including the closures of schools and university campuses, and moving to online-only teaching, even when it became clear that these restrictions would not benefit young people. They did not need protection from Covid as much as they needed protection from the effects of policy responses on their mental health and their psycho-physical development more generally. This report emphasises once more how we failed to protect young people’s well-being from the inevitable harms of prolonged restrictions.

Public health policies are justified to the extent that they produce significant enough collective benefits without disproportionately burdening certain groups. Admittedly, in situations of uncertainty, a rigorous cost-benefit analysis is not always possible. And yet, the stricter the restrictions, the stronger the duty to rigorously gather real-time evidence on what costs they impose on different groups. Like many other pandemic measures, the extended closures of university campuses have been a massive social and public health experiment. But even experiments require constant interrogation as to whether they are working, and a measure of their success must be the continuous evaluation of whether they are creating collateral damage. It seems we didn’t want to see or give due consideration to such damage.

The prolonged closure of university campuses and the decision to move online all the teaching, socialising, and formal and informal interactions that play a central role in young people’s psycho-physical development resulted in enormous costs that we could not see on our computer screens. With the report this week, the evidence of the significant damage we caused to them becomes more apparent – for example, with the studies showing one in three students reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Worth reading in full.

Latvia Bans Unvaccinated MPs From Voting

If you thought vaccine apartheid had reached a new low in Austria, think again. In Latvia, MPs who haven’t been vaccinated or have natural immunity, having recovered from COVID-19, will have their pay suspended and no longer be able to take part in parliamentary votes. Euronews has more.

MPs approved the measure in a vote on Friday with 62 votes in favour in the 100-seat parliament.

“From November 15th, an MP will be entitled to participate in the work of the Saeima [Latvia’s Parliament] only if he or she has presented an interoperable COVID-19 certificate confirming the fact of vaccination or illness,” the statement from the parliament press office states.

“The payment of a monthly salary and compensation will be suspended for a Saeima MP who will not be entitled to participate in the work of the parliament,” it adds.

The measure also applies to local government lawmakers and will come into force as the country exits its latest one-month lockdown.

Since October 21st, all non-essential stores – as well as cultural and leisure venues – have been closed with public gatherings banned and private gatherings only allowed among one household. A nighttime curfew from 20:00 until 05:00 is also currently in force.

Starting next week, the country will enter a “green mode” with different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Only 53.6% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is fully vaccinated, well below the EU average of 64.9%.

The country is currently categorised as of “high concern” by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The public health agency noted that the hospital admission and occupancy rates in Latvia over the past week were among the highest in the 31 countries in the EU/EEA region.

The country has reported 236,765 infections since the beginning of the pandemic and 3,646 deaths.

What a horror show.

Republic of Ireland to Introduce Midnight Curfew For Hospitality Venues

From Friday, restaurants, nightclubs, and pubs will have to shut their doors at midnight due to a state-enforced curfew intended to curb a rise in Covid cases. Other restrictions will also come into effect by the end of week, such as vaccine passport measures for cinemas and theatres. Sky News has the story.

So-called Covid passes (proof of vaccination), which are already required for indoor hospitality, will now also be needed to go to a cinema or theatre. Gyms and hair salons will continue to be exempt from this requirement.

The public will also be urged to work from home again unless it is absolutely necessary for them to go to the office or workplace.

The midnight curfew is being seen as a major blow to the hospitality sector in the run-up to the Christmas party season.

The industry had only just returned to some semblance of normality, with a previous curfew of 11.30pm removed at the end of October.

Reacting to the move, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which represents around 4,000 Irish publicans, said: “the news that restricted trading hours are set to be reintroduced is a hugely disappointing development for the many late-night pubs and night clubs many of whom will now be forced to shut just three weeks after reopening.”

The body’s Chief Executive, Padraig Cribben, said: “the decision to introduce a new closing time of midnight will effectively close many late-night pubs and nightclubs.

“It will also seriously restrict other outlets at the most critical time of the year.”

Publicans are now calling for discontinued state financial supports for affected businesses to be reintroduced.

The Government has been forced to take action after infection rates soared in recent weeks.

Worth reading in full.

Nearly 10,000 More People Have Died Than Usual Since July from Non-Covid Illnesses

Almost 10,000 extra people have died from non-Covid illnesses in England and Wales since the summer, according to the Office for National Statistics. MailOnline has more.

Experts have demanded an urgent investigation into whether the deaths were avoidable and if the current NHS crisis and emergency care delays are to blame.

There have been around 21,000 more deaths from all causes than average since July, according to Office for National Statistics data up to November 5th.

Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan, an eminent expert in evidence-based medicine, said he suspected many of the excess deaths were “potentially reversible”.

He told the Telegraph: “This goes beyond just looking at the raw numbers and death certificates. We need to go back and find if these deaths have any preventable causes. This could be the fallout from the lack of preventable care during the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

Employers in Scotland Rejecting Unvaccinated Applicants

Unvaccinated job applicants in Scotland are facing discrimination from employers only willing to hire those who’ve been double-jabbed. Although the Scottish Government has allowed unvaccinated staff to continue working at venues that require a vaccine passport, and has made it clear that an employee’s vaccination status must not be taken into consideration by employers, some private companies have decided to set their own rules. The Times has the story.

Human rights experts have warned that overlooking people who refuse jabs for posts may be illegal but a review of the Scottish labour market has uncovered at least seven adverts that say unvaccinated people need not apply.

Clinicians and care workers north of the border are not obliged to have been inoculated like their colleagues in England. Applicants for care home jobs in Scotland must provide proof of vaccination via MyJobsScotland, an official public sector recruitment portal run by Cosla, the council umbrella body.

The Times has found a construction recruitment agency demanding labourers provide proof of vaccination.

Last night Nicola Sturgeon shelved plans to ban unvaccinated people from visiting pubs, gyms and restaurants. She will revisit the proposal on Tuesday after consultation with businesses.

The First Minister has made clear that unvaccinated staff are free to continue working in nightclubs and sports stadiums, which are required to turn away patrons if they do not have a vaccine passport.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said that the Times’ analysis provided further evidence that vaccine passports should be scrapped. “We warned Covid ID cards would creep into more and more parts of our lives. It is now happening. These vaccine passports give a false sense of security and people who hold them can be just as infectious.”

The Scottish Greens, who have ministers in Scotland’s SNP-Green power-sharing Government, said that it was “not right that an offer of employment is predicated on an individual’s vaccination status”.

In documents detailing the Scottish Government’s own assessment, vaccine passports must not be a condition of job interviews.

The equalities study warned that bigoted employers could use vaccine certificates to discriminate against ethnic minorities and pregnant women who are less likely to be vaccinated.

The Times analysis showed Search Consultancy Limited, a recruitment agency based in West Sussex, posted a job ad for labourers in Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders stressing that applicants “must be fully vaccinated from Covid”.

Worth reading in full.

French Study Suggests That Long Covid is Mostly Psychosomatic

Long Covid was initially believed to affect one in every ten people who catch the virus. However, estimates have since come down considerably. In September of this year, the ONS published research indicating that only 2.5% of people still report symptoms after 12 weeks.

As I noted in a write-up for the Daily Sceptic, even this 2.5% figure is probably an overestimate, since it assumes that every participant reported their symptoms accurately. Due to media attention surrounding long Covid, some participants might have been inclined to exaggerate their symptoms – to report things they normally wouldn’t have done.

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that the 2.5% figure is an overestimate. Joane Matta and colleagues analysed data on a sample of about 27,000 French people, who were given serology (i.e., antibody) tests between May and November of 2020.

The same individuals took a questionnaire between December 2020 and January 2021. In that questionnaire, they were asked, “Since March, do you think you have been infected by the coronavirus (whether or not confirmed by a physician or a test)?”

Respondents who answered “Yes” were also asked when they caught the virus. Those who indicated that they caught it after their serology test were excluded from the analysis. Additionally, all respondents were asked to say whether they had experienced each of 18 different symptoms since March of 2020.

The main results are shown in the table below. There are four columns, corresponding to different combinations of belief and serology. The two on the left correspond to a negative test, while the two on the right correspond to a positive test. The belief columns indicate whether respondents believed they had been infected.

There are two main things to notice. First, if we compare the column on the left (for people with a negative test who believed they had not been infected) to the two columns on the right (for people with a positive test), we see that the percentages are about the same. The only exception is anosmia, shown in the final row.

In order to do this, you have to compute a ‘mental weighted average’ of the two columns on the right. For example, 7.3% of people in the first column had joint pain, while the corresponding percentage for the last two columns is 6.5% (the weighted average of 4.2 and 8.2).

These comparisons indicate that respondents who tested positive for Covid antibodies were not, in general, more likely to report symptoms than those who tested negative. (The only symptom they were more likely to report was anosmia.)

The second thing to notice is that, if we compare the two “Belief +” columns to the two “Belief –” columns, we see that the percentages tend to be higher in the former. This indicates that people who believed they had been infected reported were more likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they actually had been infected.

The researchers estimated multivariate models that controlled for characteristics like age, sex and education, and observed the same pattern of results. Believing that one had had Covid was associated with reporting symptoms, but actually having had Covid was not (with the exception of anosmia).

Matta and colleagues’ findings are consistent with earlier studies based on young people, which found little or no difference in symptoms between those who were seropositive and those who were seronegative. Long Covid, it seems, is mostly psychosomatic.

Can Anything About the Pfizer Vaccine Trial be Trusted?

In a recent article in the BMJ, a whistle-blower exposed serious problems she had observed first-hand in the Pfizer vaccine trial in Texas.

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.

Another Ventavia employee said of the data the company generated for the Pfizer trial: “I don’t think it was good clean data. It’s a crazy mess.”

The six-month trial results for the Pfizer vaccine have now been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. These findings, the researchers note, “contributed to the full approval of BNT162b2 [the Pfizer vaccine] in the United States”. A close inspection of the study, however, reveals a number of problems that raise serious questions about the reliability of its findings, as well as about the safety of the vaccine.

Here is the graph of cumulative incidence for the two trial arms, vaccine and placebo, over the six months of the study period, showing how the symptomatic Covid PCR-positives added up following receipt of the first dose.