Day: 22 November 2021

News Round-Up

Lord Sumption Blasts Authoritarian European Regimes

Lord Sumption has written a blistering comment piece for the Telegraph, attacking the draconian measures being rolled out across continental Europe. Here is an extract:

Across Europe, basic norms of civilised society are giving way to panic. The unvaccinated are being excluded from an ever-wider range of basic rights. Austria has criminalised them. Italy has stopped them doing their jobs. The Dutch police have fired on anti-lockdown demonstrators, seriously injuring some of them. We are witnessing the ultimate folly of frightened politicians who cannot accept that they are impotent in the face of some natural phenomena.

If lockdowns, forced closures of businesses and other brutal countermeasures work, then why are these countries on their fifth wave of the pandemic and their third or fourth lockdown? How long must this go on before we recognise that these measures simply push infections into the period after they are lifted?

The logic of persisting with them now is that they can never be lifted. What were once justified as temporary measures to hold the position until vaccines were available are in danger of being forced on people as permanent changes to their way of life. Perhaps the ugliest feature of the crisis is the politicians’ habit of blaming others for the bankruptcy of their own policies.

Worth reading in full.

The Religious Faith of European leaders in Vaccines Will End in the Imprisonment of the Unvaccinated

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ about the failure of vaccine passports and other restrictions on the unvaccinated to avert a Winter Covid crisis in Europe. The logic of the policy seems to be based on a wildly inflated estimate of the effectiveness of the vaccines – but instead of abandoning it when it clearly isn’t working, European governments just keep doubling down. Here is an extract:

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that vaccine passports are ineffective, a majority of the public still want the Government to bring them in. In a poll published yesterday, 58% of English adults said they’d support banning people from bars, restaurants and other public venues if they can’t produce evidence they’ve been double-jabbed or recently tested negative.

The reason for this may be because most people still think of the Covid vaccines as being more effective than they really are. When they were first rolled out, we were assured they offered almost complete protection against the virus.

“You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations,” said Joe Biden.

“Vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, a Director of the Centres for Disease Control.

“When people are vaccinated, they can feel safe that they are not going to get infected,” said Dr Anthony Fauci.

We now know that isn’t true. Vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19 and pass it on. The evidence suggests they are less likely to become severely ill or die for the disease, but even those benefits wear off over time, which is why the Government is urging people to get the booster.

If vaccinated people can transmit the virus, what is the point of banning the unvaccinated from bars, restaurants and other public places? You might as well ban people with ginger hair for all the good it will do.

Worth reading in full.

62% of the General Public Support Mandatory Booster Jabs, According to YouGov Poll

According to a recent YouGov poll, 62% of the general public would support including the booster jab as a requirement under a vaccine passport scheme, which would prohibit those who haven’t received a booster jab from entering certain public venues, with only 25% expressing opposition to making the booster jab compulsory. In addition, 71% said that a booster jab should be mandatory, but only for those considered to be in a high-risk category who wish to enter public spaces such as restaurants. YouGov has more.

In the U.K, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that the Government was not looking at the idea yet but declined to rule it out altogether.

New research from YouGov reveals that the vast majority of people would support mandating a booster jab for not only the elderly or vulnerable but the wider population as well.

Overall, 69% of people would support making booster jabs a requirement for people aged 65 years old and over – including 45% strongly supportive of the idea. Only one in five people (21%) would oppose such an idea.

A similar 71% of the public would support a booster mandate for people considered to be at high risk from Covid who want to visit restaurants or use public transport.

Just shy of two-thirds of people (62%) would also support making booster jabs a requirement for the general public. This includes 36% who “strongly” support doing so. A quarter of people (25%) would oppose such a mandate on the general public.

It is the older generations who are most in favour of these mandates, even when they selectively apply to older people. Some 84% of those aged 65 years-old and over would support a requirement for people their age to have a booster before visiting public spaces. This compares to six in ten (60%) of people aged between 18 and 24 years-old who would also support such a policy.

This older age group are also the most likely to support a mandate on boosters for those at high-risk from Covid (86%) and a similar proportion would support one on the general public (82%). Only 48% of those aged between 18 and 24 years-old would support a booster requirement on the general public, with 34% opposed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A new poll from SavantaComRes has made a similar finding: 45% of U.K. adults would support an indefinite lockdown of the unvaccinated.

Vaccine Passports Make No Sense as the Vaccinated Are More Likely to Be Infected, Scientists Tell MPs

It makes “little sense” to impose any kind of vaccine certification scheme, an expert panel of scientists has told a cross-party group of MPs, since Government data indicates that “vaccinated people over 30 years are now more likely to be infected than the unvaccinated”.

The comments were made at a hearing for an enquiry into Covid passes set up by the Pandemic Response and Recovery All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The group, established in the autumn to scrutinise the Government’s response to the pandemic, will gather information from doctors, public health officials, business owners and parliamentary colleagues before setting out its conclusion to Government ministers.

Co-chaired by Conservative MP Esther McVey and Labour MP Graham Stringer, the APPG says it will examine the pros and cons of such a scheme and the rationale behind it, as well as global evidence of whether they work. 

Esther McVey said:

Kenya to Ban the Unvaccinated From Indoor Spaces Despite Only 10% Of the Population Being Jabbed

From December 21st, Kenya will prohibit the unvaccinated from entering bars, restaurants, and public transport in an attempt to drive up vaccination rates to avoid a winter surge in cases. However, only 10% of the population have been vaccinated, with the Government setting a target of vaccinating only 20% by the end of December when the restrictions come into force. BBC News has the story.

Kenyans will be barred from bars, restaurants and public transport from December 21st if they are not fully vaccinated against Covid, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe says.

The measures are aimed at increasing the rate of vaccinations ahead of the festive season.

Less than 10% of the population is currently vaccinated.

Kagwe raised concern about the slow uptake, saying a 10-day vaccination campaign would begin from November 26th.

Despite the concerns that some African countries have a shortage of vaccines, the Kenyan government is confident that it has enough for its inoculation campaign.

It has so far administered only 6.4 million jabs out of the 10.7 million it has received.

It is expecting a further eight million doses.

In a statement, Kagwe said Kenya had seen a decline in Covid cases over the last two months, with a positivity rate over the last 14 days ranging from 0.8% to 2.6%.

“The current decline in the number of new infections may be attributed to a build-up of immunity both through natural exposure to the disease and the ongoing vaccination exercise. Nonetheless we know that it’s not yet time to celebrate.

“We know that during the festive periods many of the known measures against the virus such as social distancing can easily get overlooked as people make merry,” Kagwe added.

From December 21st, people would have to be fully vaccinated to use public transport, including buses and domestic flights, or to enter hotels, bars, restaurants and game reserves, Kagwe added.

The same rule would apply to hospital and prison visits, as well as to Government buildings for education, immigration and tax purposes, he said.

The Government has set a target of vaccinating 10 million people by the end of December.

But this is just 20% of the total population, so the majority of the population could potentially be barred from Government services.

Worth reading in full.

Conditional on Infection, the Vaccine May Not Protect Against Death in Over 60s

In a recent article, I noted that vaccine effectiveness against death may have been overestimated due to the ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect – the tendency for people who get vaccinated to be healthier and more risk-averse than those who don’t.

Likewise, Will Jones recently reported on a large Swedish study, which observed declining effectiveness against severe outcomes, particularly after six months. Discouragingly, the decline in effectiveness was most pronounced among older, frail individuals ­– the group most at risk from Covid.

Now a new study (which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed) has made a similar finding. Maxime Taquet and colleagues analysed data from a large database of electronic health records in the U.S.

Their sample comprised ~19,000 individuals who’d had a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection between January 1st and August 31st 2021. There were two groups: those who had been vaccinated at least 14 days prior to infection, and those who had not been vaccinated prior to infection.

The two groups were matched not only on basic demographic characteristics, but also on a large number of medical risk factors. In addition, the unvaccinated individuals were selected from among those who’d ever received a flu vaccine. Overall, substantial efforts were made to ensure the two groups were comparable.

Taquet and colleagues’ main finding is shown in the figure below. The lines on each chart show the cumulative probability of death for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, respectively. (Note: they also looked at other severe outcomes; see Fig. 3.)

The chart on the left indicates that, on average, vaccinated people had a lower risk of death than unvaccinated people. However, as the other two charts indicate, this difference was seen primarily in those under 60. Among those over 60, it was small and not statistically significant. The authors note:

Receiving 2 vaccine doses was associated with lower risks for most outcomes. Associations between prior vaccination and outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 infection were marked in those < 60 years-old, whereas no robust associations were observed in those ≥ 60 years-old.

Why would vaccination have a stronger effect among those under 60? The researchers speculate that:

In younger patients, effective B-cell response to vaccination might be followed by infection with variants against which antibodies have less neutralising activity … In older patients, the B-cell response to vaccination might itself be ineffective

It’s important to keep in mind that their finding concerns the risk of death conditional on SARS-CoV-2 infection. To the extent to that the vaccine protects against infection, it will protect against serious illness and death too.

However, it’s still noteworthy that effectiveness against death in over 60s was minimal among those who had been infected. Of course, this is just one study, so it shouldn’t be given too much credence. But the researchers did make substantial efforts to ensure the two groups were comparable and thereby obviate the ‘healthy vaccinee’ effect.

If their finding is true, it would suggest that previous observational studies have overestimated vaccine effectiveness against severe outcomes in older age-groups. It would also suggest that most of the protective effect for these age-groups comes from immunity against infection, which we know wanes rapidly in the absence of boosters.

The evidence from Taquet and colleagues’ paper could therefore be taken as supporting voluntary boosters for high-risk groups, as well as the continued build-up of natural immunity in the rest of the population.

Germany’s Tourism Commissioner Says That Mandatory Vaccination Is Imminent

Thomas Bareiss (pictured), Germany’s Tourism Commissioner, believes that the Government will soon introduce mandatory vaccination for all citizens in an attempt to quash a surge in Covid cases. A supporter of mandatory vaccination measures, Bareiss recently declared that it was the wrong decision not to have introduced the policy much earlier, and that “it is politically no longer justifiable” for the hospitality industry to “live in a state of crisis” while many members of the public “take the freedom not to vaccinate.” Sky News has the story.

Thomas Bareiss said the increasingly worsening situation in his nation makes it clear that sooner or later Covid inoculations will be compulsory and will be “unavoidable”.

He said it was wrong not to make Covid jabs mandatory from the start, but that the decision not to at the time was “understandable”.

Neighbouring Austria has said that vaccines will be mandatory from February 1st.

More restrictions are being introduced across the continent as infections soar and winter sets in.

Austria and the Netherlands have gone back into forms of lockdown, sparking unrest in the past few days.

Germany’s states are introducing restrictions as well, with some regions cancelling their Christmas markets or banning the sale of alcohol.

The nationwide seven-day rate of infections currently stands at 362.2 per 100,000 population, with the peak during last year’s lockdown being 197.6. A number of states have a much higher figure than the national average, including Saxony at 793.7.

Bariess, who is a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, advises the Federal Government on their tourism policy.

He told the German news agency DPA: “In retrospect, it was wrong not to see that (compulsory vaccinations) right from the start. The hope at that time is understandable, but it was not realistic.

“For me it is politically no longer justifiable that entire industries, retailers, restaurants, clubs, bars and the entire cinema, cultural and event scene live in a state of crisis prescribed by the state for 20 months and are faced with great existential fears, while others… take the freedom not to vaccinate.”

Worth reading in full.

Test and Trace Still Spending Over £1 Million a Day on Consultants

England’s Test and Trace scheme is continuing to fork out over £1 million a day on consultants, despite being labelled an “eye-watering” waste of taxpayer money that failed to fulfil its original purpose of cutting Covid transmission by MPs. By the end of last month, the scheme employed 1,230 consultants complete with an average contractor rate of £1,100 per day, with new contracts also being handed to private consultancy firms, further inflating the cost of the project. The Guardian has the story.

Dr. Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), who is responsible for NHS test and trace, told MPs in July there was a “very detailed ramp-down plan” to cut the number of consultants.

But latest figures show that at the end of October it employed 1,230 consultants. Test and trace has average daily contractor rates of £1,100, potentially equating to £1,353,000 a day. The ratio of consultants to civil servants in NHS test and trace in September was 1:1, separate data shows, despite a target set a year ago to reduce the ratio to 60%.

At the same time, new contracts worth millions of pounds are still being awarded to private consultancy firms, the Guardian has found, despite repeated pledges to curb their use.

The test-and-trace system, which has a £37 billion two-year budget that is equivalent to almost a fifth of the annual NHS England budget, is designed to identify Covid cases and limit their spread. U.K. daily reported Covid cases exceeded 50,000 last month and remain at about 40,000 a day.

In November 2020, Test and Trace promised to cut the number of consultants it employed. At that time, they accounted for 51% of staff, a figure deemed acceptable by some because the system was in its infancy. A year on, the proportion has fallen but official figures show consultants still made up more than a third (34%) of the workforce in September.

The data was published by the UKHSA and the Department of Health and Social Care in response to questions from the Guardian and a series of parliamentary written questions from the shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

“There is no justification for continuing with these highly paid expensive consultants,” Ashworth said. “Ministers should ensure every penny piece of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely on patient care – not blown on expensive management consultants.”

Separate research by the Guardian reveals that in the last month the Government has quietly published details of at least seven new NHS test-and-trace deals with private contractors, together worth more than £17 million. One runs until at least September 2023.

The revelations come after a report by MPs concluded that test and trace had “not achieved its main objective” to enable people to return to a more normal way of life. The public accounts committee said the system’s “continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds”. Meg Hillier, the Chair of the Committee, said she was concerned the organisation was treating taxpayers like an ATM machine.

Some of the private consultants have been paid rates of more than £6,000 a day.

Worth reading in full.