Day: 19 November 2021

News Round-Up

Galway University to Use CCTV to Locate Unmasked Students

The National University of Ireland in Galway has pledged to locate unmasked students on campus by using CCTV. Any students caught not wearing a face covering will be subjected to disciplinary action. Connacht Tribune has the story.

Management at National University Ireland Galway (NUIG) have said they will use CCTV to track down students who refuse to wear face masks and can take disciplinary action against them.

Staff at the university were told this week to approach students who do not wear masks and if they refuse to wear one, CCTV will be used to “pick up on the individuals”.

NUIG’s Chief Operating Officer, John Gill, said the college’s adherence to Covid guidelines has been largely excellent.

“However, in recent weeks, we’ve had some reports of isolated incidents of non-compliance, particularly in public areas like corridors etc, and particularly relating to the wearing of face masks. We want to encourage everyone, staff and students, to return to full compliance.

“Our experience has been that if people are challenged, if somebody asks them to replace their face covering, they do so. If you find that you get a response that is now what you’d expect or people don’t return to wearing the face covering, please report it.

“If we have CCTV coverage, then we can pick up on the individuals and approach them directly, or if you know the identity of the individual, let us know and we can act on that,” said Gill.

He asked staff to provide the time, date and place so authorities could identify them through CCTV footage.

Worth reading in full.

New Analysis of ONS Data Finds that Vaccine Effectiveness Against Death Has Been Overestimated and Uncovers an Alarming Spike in Covid Deaths Post-Vaccination

There follows a guest post by ‘Amanuensis’, an ex-academic and senior Government researcher/scientist with experience in the field, who has undertaken a re-analysis of ONS data on deaths by vaccination status and concluded that vaccine effectiveness against death has been significantly overestimated owing to a failure to take into account the delay between infection and death. His analysis also uncovers an alarming spike in Covid deaths following vaccination during a Covid surge which, he says, needs urgent investigation. This post is also available on his Substack page.

Recently a blog post was brought to my attention. This was a very interesting piece of work that is directly related to a previous post of mine analysing the deaths by vaccination status figures published by the Office for National Statistics.

In Norman Fenton’s excellent analysis he considers the impact of a delay in the reporting of a death on the shape of the deaths curve; he finds that such a delay during a vaccination campaign will naturally result in the creation of a spike in unvaccinated deaths and an under-estimation of deaths in the vaccinated – indeed, he notes that you would see that spike in deaths even if the vaccines do nothing. If you want to read more about his analysis his site can be found here – and I recommend at least a quick skim of his work because I’ll be building on the fundamentals of data analysis that he considers.

However, there is a small but significant flaw in his argument; that there was a delay in reporting deaths which has then resulted in the spike in cases that we see in the data. Unfortunately, a check of the data source reveals that the deaths data were given by the date at which the death occurred, not the date at which it was reported. Thus there is little scope to introduce a delay in the data using this mechanism.

This then seems like a conundrum – we have a mechanism that might explain the spike in deaths in the unvaccinated apparent in the deaths data for last spring, but we can’t explain how the necessary delay might have occurred. But there is a potential explanation.

Welsh Cinema Shut Down After Refusing to Impose Vaccine Passports Receives Over £45,000 in Donations in Less Than 48 Hours

Cinema & Co., the Welsh cinema that was shut down for 28 days yesterday after refusing to comply with the Welsh Government’s rules on vaccine passports, has raised over £45,000 via a crowdfunder.

If you want to support this independently-run business and make sure it can survive its forced closure, donate here. I’ve bunged in £10.

Let’s get it to over £100,000 by the end of the weekend.

Greece to Impose Restrictions on the Unvaccinated

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has announced that, from Monday, the unvaccinated (even if they have recently tested negative for Covid) will be prohibited from entering indoor spaces such as restaurants, cinemas, and gyms. In addition, Mitsotakis declared that the country is suffering from “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”, with the elderly encouraged to receive booster jabs as their vaccination certificates are set to expire after seven months. Aljazerra has the story.

Greece has become the latest country in the European Union to impose more restrictions on those unvaccinated against Covid following a surge in infections in recent weeks.

In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that, from Monday, unvaccinated people will be largely barred from indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms, even if they test negative for Covid.

Greece has so far fully vaccinated about 62% of its population of some 11 million people. Authorities had hoped for a rate of about 70% before the European winter sets in at the end of the year.

“This is indeed a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Mitsotakis said. “Greece is mourning unnecessary losses because it simply does not have the vaccination rates of other European countries.”

Under the new rules in Greece, vaccination certificates of those over 60 years-old will be valid for seven months after being issued, in an effort to encourage them to get a third, “booster” shot.

Worshippers attending church will be allowed to enter with a negative test, Mitsotakis said.

In a subsequent statement, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the main opposition Syriza party, accused Mitsotakis of “being responsible” for the “unprecedented tragedy” that has seen Greece’s Covid-related death toll surpass 17,000.

The country reported 7,317 new infections and 63 deaths on Thursday. This brought total infections since the start of the pandemic to 861,117 and the total number of fatalities to 17,075.

Earlier in November, the Government had imposed some restrictions on unvaccinated citizens but had allowed them access to most services, provided they tested negative.

Austria, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all limited public life for the unvaccinated this week as infections rise across Europe.

The Greek prime minister said he would propose making this an E.U.-wide standard to the European Commission.

Worth reading in full.

Austria Makes Covid Vaccines Mandatory

Austria has become the first country in Europe to make the Covid vaccine compulsory. From February 1st, all adults will be required to have the vaccine. Sky News has more.

The measure to make vaccination compulsory among the adult population will attract controversy, with Austria only the fourth country in the world to do so – after Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan.

[Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg] said: “Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering.”

He said the government therefore took “a very difficult decision… that we will quickly introduce a nationwide vaccine mandate” from 1 February.

The nation had already introduced a series of strict measures along with Germany and Slovakia in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as a debate intensifies over whether vaccines alone are enough to tackle coronavirus.

Around 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Its infection rate is among the highest in the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people – and daily cases keep setting records.

The country of 8.9 million has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily, while hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new Covid patients and deaths have also been rising again.

The national lockdown will initially last for 10 days, after which the effects will be assessed and the measures extended to a maximum of 20 days if cases have not gone down enough.

Two states in Austria – Salzburg and Upper Austria – had already triggered a range of restrictions, with the rules extended to apply to vaccinated people and a full lockdown from next week that would see schools shut and a curfew imposed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: BBC News has more on this story.

Stop Press 2: Austria’s opposition leader – Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist FPO party – has said the country is now a dictatorship. MailOnline has more.

French Doctors Warn Against Vaccinating Healthy Children

The French Academy of Medicine has advised against vaccinating healthy children, claiming that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. A similar stance was taken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in the U.K., but the Government ignored this advice. The Express has the story.

The increase in reported cases across Europe has been used by politicians to renew their push for mass vaccination. It has also reawakened debate about the jabbing of healthy children against the virus.

But the French Academy of Medicine (FAM) insists the country’s vaccine roll-out should not extend to all healthy children.

It has advised that, for many children, the risk-benefit balance weighs against vaccination.

The 200 year-old advisory body, quoted in 20 Minutes, said in a statement that it “recommends extending immunisation against Covid by the vaccine to children at risk of severe forms of the disease due to co-morbidities, whatever their age, as well as to other children living in their family and school environment”.

It does not believe that healthy children outside of this bracket should be vaccinated against Covid.

Responding to the FAM’s statement, Daily Sceptic Editor Toby Young told the Express: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that for healthy children the risk of being vaccinated outweighs the benefit.”

He added: “Governments need to stop putting pressure on children to be vaccinated.”

Pressure is building on European citizens, including some healthy children, to get vaccinated against Covid amid warnings of a deadly fifth Covid wave.

Those who have not received Covid vaccines have been locked down in Austria, and Germany is set to follow…

In September, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that the U.K. Government took the “precautionary approach” of not vaccinating healthy children aged 12 to 15 years-old because the benefits of vaccination were not greater than the risks.

Soon after, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, told the Government to ignore this advice, arguing that this age group should be vaccinated because of the benefits to their mental health.

Worth reading in full.

Has Vaccine Effectiveness Against Death Been Overestimated?

The ‘stylized facts’ concerning vaccine effectiveness against Covid are as follows. First, the vaccines confer strong protection against infection, which peaks about one month after the second dose. However, this protection then wanes over the following five or six months to as low as 20% (or even lower).

Second, the vaccines also confer strong protection against serious illness and death, and this protection wanes much more slowly. Hence, six months after vaccination, the vaccinated still have substantial protection against death.

While these stylized facts are approximately right, there’s reason to believe that vaccine effectiveness against death has been overestimated. Note: by ‘overestimated’ I simply mean that effectiveness may be somewhat lower than is claimed, not that effectiveness is zero (or even close to zero).

The reason effectiveness against death may have been overestimated was highlighted in a recent study by the U.S. CDC. Using data on a large cohort of Americans, Stanley Xu and colleagues calculated non-Covid death rates (adjusted for age and sex) among vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Their findings are shown in the figure below (taken from the Economist). Notice that, on both charts, the light blue bar is much higher than the other two bars, indicating that non-Covid death rates were substantially higher among the unvaccinated.

The researchers interpreted their results as evidence of vaccine safety. (If the vaccines were very unsafe, you’d expect a lot more non-Covid deaths in the vaccine groups.) However, there’s another implication, which the researchers also acknowledge: people who get vaccinated tend to be healthier and/or more risk-averse than those who don’t.

How do we explain this ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect? There are at least two possibilities. First, some people may be too frail to get vaccinated, due to old age or underlying health conditions. Second, some people may just be inherently healthier/more risk-averse, and as a result may be more likely to get vaccinated and less likely to die of other causes.

The CDC researchers actually attempted to control for the healthy vaccinee effect by selecting unvaccinated persons from among those who’d had at least one flu shot in the last two years. The fact that they still observed a difference in death rates suggests the true effect may be even larger.

While the CDC’s results might be good news from the perspective of vaccine safety, they’re bad news from the perspective of vaccine effectiveness.

Suppose you do a study, and find that the Covid death rate is ten times higher among unvaccinated people than among vaccinated people. That difference could be due to the vaccines. But it could also be due to the fact that vaccinated people are less likely to die for any reason.   

Observational studies of vaccine effectiveness do attempt to control for the healthy vaccinee effect, for example by including some measure of health/frailty as another variable in the analysis. However, these kinds of measures may not capture all the relevant differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Vaccine Effectiveness Remains Negative in 30-79 Year-Olds, Government Data Shows, Despite Boosters Starting to Kick In

The latest UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report came out yesterday, allowing us to update our estimates of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness. Last week I noted that vaccine effectiveness was stabilising, and this week we can see it rising in the older age groups. Despite this, it is still negative for those aged 30-79, highly so for 40-69 year-olds, and barely positive in the over-80s and 18-29 year-olds.

Part of the reason for the recent rises in the older age groups may be the boosters that have been rolled out since September 20th – you can see a staggered stabilising and then rise across the age groups in the graphs above and below. This means that we are no longer seeing clean data for double-vaccinated versus unvaccinated, as some are triple-vaccinated. The UKHSA report doesn’t include figures for ‘dose three’ and appears to include the triple-jabbed in its ‘received two doses’ category, though oddly does not clarify either way.

The report still claims of course that its data is too biased to be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness, and lists the usual reasons. We await any actual data on the differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, such as testing rates, seroprevalence and prior Covid positives, that would help to account for these biases.

While the raw data shows infection rates often much higher in the double-vaccinated than the unvaccinated, and a number of studies have shown negligible vaccine effectiveness after six months, the official line is that the vaccines remain positively efficacious. Test-negative case-control studies are often used to demonstrate this, which we criticise here. A recent UKHSA study on boosters put the pre-booster effectiveness at 44.1% for AstraZeneca and 62.5% for Pfizer, five months after dose two. Such estimates must be considered upper bounds, given the biases in the case-control design that seem consistently to inflate vaccine effectiveness estimates.