Day: 24 November 2021

News Round-Up

Vaccinated “No Less Infectious” Than Unvaccinated, CDC Study Finds

A pre-print study out this week from the U.S. Government’s Covid Response Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found vaccinated people to be “no less infectious” than unvaccinated people.

The study tested inmates in a federal prison with high vaccination rates daily during a SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant outbreak.

The study was very thorough. Inmates who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were, where willing, PCR-tested for 10 consecutive days and reported symptoms via a questionnaire. The researchers performed whole genome sequencing and viral culture analysis on a high proportion of the 978 specimens collected, allowing them to assess the duration of PCR positivity and viral culture positivity.

There were 95 participants in total, of whom 78 (82%) were double vaccinated and 17 (18%) were not double vaccinated (two having received one dose and 15 having received none). No significant differences were found between double vaccinated and not double vaccinated either in duration of PCR positivity (13 days each) or in duration of culture positivity (five days each).

The authors conclude that “clinicians and public health practitioners should consider vaccinated persons who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 to be no less infectious than unvaccinated persons”.

This is in line with the findings of Public Health England and others.

While this sounds like more good news for countering vaccine passports, vaccine mandates and all other vaccine-based coercion and discrimination, it may be less good news for ending general restrictions and interventions. The authors state: “These findings are critically important, especially in congregate settings where viral transmission can lead to large outbreaks.” Which suggests they think the lack of efficacy against transmission is a reason to intervene more generally to prevent “large outbreaks” in “congregate settings”. It could be a long winter.

Italy to Place Further Restrictions on the Unvaccinated with ‘Super Green Pass’

Under Italy’s current ‘green pass’ system, the unvaccinated must provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within the last 48 hours to be permitted the same rights as the vaccinated, but that is set to change when the country adopts the ‘super green pass’. When the new rules are brought in, the unvaccinated must now show that they have recovered from Covid or get jabbed in order to enter cinemas, gyms, stadiums, and numerous other public venues, although it is not yet apparent whether the measures will be enforced nationally or only apply to local regions with high infection rates. The Guardian has the story.

The ‘super green pass’ is expected to take effect over the next week and would require people to prove they are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in order to access cinemas, theatres, gyms, nightclubs, ski lifts and stadiums, as well as to be served indoors at bars and restaurants.

Under current ‘green pass’ rules, those who provide proof of a negative test taken within the previous 48 hours are permitted to access those activities.

The Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, has been under pressure from regional governors to impose a stricter health mandate against people who have not been vaccinated. He is meeting cabinet ministers on Wednesday afternoon to give the decree the final nod, according to reports in the Italian press.

Draghi is also reported to be contemplating making the Covid vaccine obligatory for the police force and teachers.

It is unclear if the new pass would be required across Italy or only in regions with high infections and where hospitals are under strain.

Italy introduced its green pass in August and made it mandatory for workplaces in October. It is also required for boarding long-distance trains and domestic flights. Under the new measure, unvaccinated people will still be able to travel and access their workplace with proof of a negative test.

The workplace mandate intensified protests across the country, especially in the northern city of Trieste, where there has been a sharp rise in infections and hospitalisations in recent weeks. Calls for tighter rules have been led by Massimiliano Fedriga, the president of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the region surrounding Trieste.

This month Fedriga, a politician with the far-right League, described the anti-vaccination and anti-green pass protests as “idiocy”. He said on Sunday that the super green pass was not discriminatory and the only alternative would be another lockdown.

Umberto Lucangelo, the head of an intensive care unit at a hospital in Trieste, recently said 90% of Covid patients were unvaccinated and many had been involved in the protests.

The tougher rules have been supported by regional presidents from across the political spectrum. Stefano Bonaccini, the centre-left Democratic party president of Emilia-Romagna, told Ansa: “I think people who are vaccinated should have a preferential path in those places of social and cultural life, in particular, in order to prevent them from having to close.”

Worth reading in full.

English Schools Stop In-Person Teaching After Imposing Their Own ‘Circuit-Breaker’ Lockdown

St. Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford, and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire, have imposed their own ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdowns, with pupils being sent home and all teaching taking place virtually for at least a week. Both headteachers have said that the reason for shutting the premises is because of concerns that in-person lessons would be disrupted by a Covid outbreak, with parents worried that schools will begin to close again before Christmas. The Sun has the story.

St. Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire have shut for at least a week.

Campaigners fear many more schools could follow suit in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

They say children are being treated as “second class citizens” and must be allowed to stay in the classroom.

The move is being fought by parent group UsForThem, which battled to get kids back in lessons after last year’s lockdowns.

Mum Arabella Skinner told the Telegraph: “As the experience of last year shows, these isolated cases of school closures don’t stay isolated for long.

“The worry is that in the run up to Christmas we will see more examples of this.

“For how much longer are we going to ask our children to stay second class citizens?”

The group’s founder Molly Kingsley added: “We’re deeply saddened to see schools closing due to Covid.

“Kids have missed out on so much face-to-face time this year that they just need to be back in their classrooms and with their friends, learning and being children.

“To close schools at a time when adults are about to be enjoying Christmas parties and mixing seems especially unfair.

“It’s time we let our children get on with living their lives.”

Worth reading in full.

600 Google Employees Sign Manifesto to Overturn the Company’s Vaccine Mandate

Google, which employs approximately 150,000 people in the U.S., has mandated that all workers who interact with Government contractors be fully vaccinated, even if they work from home, with all other employees ordered to report their vaccination status. However, the new measure has encountered opposition within the company itself as roughly 600 members of staff have signed a manifesto demanding that Google “be inclusive to all Googlers” and overturn this policy, while calling on fellow employees to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle”. MailOnline has the story.

The tech giant is requiring its more than 150,000 U.S. employees to report their vaccination statuses and all employees who work directly or indirectly with Government contracts to be vaccinated, whether they plan to work in the office or not. 

The manifesto, which has been signed by at least 600, or less than 0.5% of all Google employees, asks company executives to abandon the policy to create a mandate “inclusive of all Googlers”, CNBC first reported. 

It urges workers to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle” and encourages them not to allow the mandate to influence their decision to be inoculated. 

Google had set a November 12th deadline for employees to request vaccine exemptions, and employees will be required to work in the office three days a week starting January 10th. 

This comes after President Joe Biden announced that all U.S. companies with 100 or more employees must require their staff to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid by January 4th, 2022.

The authors sent the open letter, with the subhead “Respect the User”, to Google’s Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, the document states. 

“I believe that [CEO] Sundar’s Vaccine Mandate is deeply flawed,” the manifesto says, describing executives’ leadership as “coercive” and “the antithesis of inclusion”.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company’s requirement for employees to be fully vaccinated to return in-person in a blog post in July. “Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai wrote at the time.

The manifesto insists that the policy “publicly and possibly embarrassingly exposes” employees’ private choices. 

Worth reading in full.

Boarding School Criticised For Forcing Mask Exempt Children to Wear Yellow Badges

An English boarding school has come under fire for asking pupils to wear a “yellow badge” to show they are exempt from using a face mask. The Telegraph has more.

Farringtons School in Kent, which charges £34,050 per year for boarders, has made it compulsory for children to wear face masks in classrooms and corridors following a rise in cases of COVID-19.

In a letter to parents, David Jackson, the school’s headmaster, said that pupils who are exempt from wearing masks “should wear a yellow badge to indicate this”.

The move has been criticised by family groups, who say it is “deeply inappropriate” given the “historic connotations” with yellow badges.

Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were forced to wear a yellow star so they could be easily marked out for segregation and discrimination.

Molly Kingsley, co-founder of parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “Asking children to wear some form of exemption marker has been quite common in schools and unbelievably this specific example of asking them to wear a yellow badge is not in isolation.

“It should not need explaining why this is a deeply inappropriate thing to ask a child to do. This has historic connotations which are deeply uncomfortable for many people.”

She added that children who are medically exempt from face masks may already be vulnerable, and asking them to wear a yellow badge will only serve to “stigmatise” them even more.

Worth reading in full.

The Politicisation of Science Funding in the U.S.

In his 2011 book The Great Stagnation, economist Tyler Cowen argued that economic growth in the U.S. is slowing due to less technological innovation. And he suggested this is because most of the “low-hanging fruit” have already been picked. Other commentators have made similar arguments.

In a new report for the CSPI, researcher Leif Rasmussen puts forward an alternative (or additional) explanation for the decline in technological innovation: science has become politicised.

Scientists, Rasmussen argues, have come under increasing pressure to tailor their research to the agenda of woke activists. (He doesn’t use the term ‘woke’ in his report, but we all know what he’s talking about.)

Rasmussen’s method is very simple. He counted the frequency of various politicized terms (i.e., woke jargon) in the abstracts of successful National Science Foundation research awards between 1990 and 2020.

Specifically, he noted whether each abstract contained at least one of seven terms: ‘equity’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘gender’, ‘marginalize’, ‘underrepresented’ and ‘disparity’. Variants of each term (e.g., ‘inclusive’ or ‘inclusivity’) were included in this.  

Note: the National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency with an annual budget of $8.5 billion (so not exactly pocket change). And it accounts for a quarter of all federal funding of basic research at U.S. colleges.

Rasmussen’s main finding is shown in the chart below, with each line corresponding to a different area of science.

As you can see, the frequency of woke jargon has increased massively in all areas of science. Unsurprisingly, the worst offender is ‘Education & Human Resources’. As of 2020, more than half of all abstracts contain at least one of the seven terms.

By contrast, ‘Mathematics & Physical Sciences’ has seen the smallest increase; though even here, the rise is non-trivial. More than 20% of abstracts now mention ‘equity’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’ or one of the other terms.

It should be noted that every NSF abstract has a section titled ‘Broader Impacts’, in which the researchers must explain why on earth their research would be of interest to anyone else. The official guidance for this section explicitly mentions the goal of increasing representation of women and minorities:

NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to: full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities … development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce

Hence, it’s not necessarily true that every abstract mentioning one of the seven terms corresponds to an ideological research project per se. In a lot of cases, the researchers probably just crammed as much woke jargon as they could in the ‘Broader Impacts’ section, hoping to maximise the chance of success.

‘Our attempt to prove the Riemann hypothesis will encourage more women and minorities to enter the field of mathematics because…’ You get the idea.

Rasmussen’s finding is therefore consistent with two distinct types of politicisation. First, funding agencies may have become politicised. (And in fact, we can already see this in the text quoted above). And second, scientific research itself may have become politicised.

Further research is needed to quantify the scale of each of these types. (I suspect that both are getting worse, or at least have been for the last decade.) Nonetheless, Rasmussen’s report provides valuable insights into a troubling phenomenon, and is worth reading in full.

Why Are Sweden and India Not Seeing a Covid Surge?

Why are some countries surging this autumn but others aren’t, at least not yet? Much of Europe is now seeing sharp rises in reported infections. In some it appears to be a delayed Delta surge, but in others like France, Netherlands, Norway and Finland it comes after an earlier summer Delta ripple that looked like it had gone away. Yet India, which had (quite literally) the mother of Delta surges, has not seen any new rise despite only 29% of its population being double-vaccinated, and despite the festivals of Diwali and Durga Puja, widely warned about as a transmission risk, taking place in the autumn.

Sweden, meanwhile, has somehow so far managed to avoid Delta surges altogether, after being hit relatively hard in spring 2020 and winter 2020-21. The country famously imposed only light restrictions (no stay-at-home orders, school or business closures or mask mandates at any point). Similarly, few restrictions were imposed in India in 2021, and there is also doubt about how far Indian citizens have followed any restrictions that were brought in; in any case, high population antibody rates were subsequently reported. Are India and Sweden benefitting from a more robust immunity owing to greater exposure prior to this autumn? What happens this winter will help to clarify this question.

The U.K. meanwhile is experiencing a strangely drawn-out Delta epidemic. Beginning in June, it has now been simmering away at around about the same level for five months, neither exploding as the models predicted, nor dropping off again back to low levels, as earlier waves have done.