Day: 26 November 2021

News Round-Up

Republic of Ireland to Begin Vaccinating Children as Soon as Possible

Paul Reid, the head of the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), has said that the Government has already begun planning a child vaccination campaign which he hopes begins “as quickly as possible”. Yesterday, the the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved use of the Pfizer jab for five to 11 year-olds, with the vaccine now waiting approval from the country’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which will most likely follow the EMA’s original decision. The Times has the story.

Reid said delivery of the children’s vaccine across Europe was scheduled towards the end of December. “What we would be doing in the meantime is mobilising a plan and the channels in which we would prepare the vaccination of those younger age groups,” he said at a HSE weekly briefing.

The EMA said that a lower dose of the vaccine would be administered to primary school children (10 µg compared with 30 µg), with research showing that younger children produced a comparable immune response with the lower dose to that seen in people who received the higher dose.

The agency said the most common side effects in children aged five to 11 year-olds were mild or moderate, and similar to those recorded in older age groups. It said the benefits of vaccinating younger children outweighed the risks, particularly among those with conditions that increase the risk of severe forms of the disease.

Reid told yesterday’s briefing that there was a “really serious and continued escalation” of Covid transmission in the community. He noted that the public had responded to calls to work from home and curb social activities, but said this needed to be sustained because transmission levels were “still far too high” and putting severe pressure on the health system.

“We are still in a very volatile position overall in terms of where the virus is at,” he said.

There were 4,764 new Covid cases reported yesterday, with 598 people in hospital (down 13 from Wednesday) including 126 in intensive care (up six). The briefing was told that in the past week 395 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, an increase of 29% on the previous week. The five-day moving average of daily cases is at 4,665 compared with a peak of 6,867 in January.

Reid acknowledged the recent delays in accessing PCR tests during a week in which there has been no availability for testing in many counties across the country. The briefing was told that the HSE had increased its testing capacity and that 210,000 tests were completed in the past week. Three more PCR test centres are expected to open over the next week, including one in the Midlands and two on the east coast.

Reid said the healthcare system was “not elastic” and “not infinite” in terms of the demands it could meet. He said it would be misleading to suggest it could keep “surging up” and that there would be some testing delays.

“We put in the capacity but there are limits as to what capacity we can keep pumping into a system at these levels,” he said. “There does come a point where we have to be up-front, and we have been up-front, to set out that there will be people who experience some delays in terms of getting their test.

“Those who have been clinically prioritised are receiving tests in a very timely manner on either the same day or next day. But we do acknowledge some people are waiting with the significant numbers that we have coming through in terms of self referrals.”

Worth reading in full.

Nu Variant: Sajid Javid Says U.K. “Must Move Quickly, and At The Earliest Possible Moment”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has told the Commons that the new Nu variant identified this week in Botswana is of “huge international concern” and that: “One of the lessons of this pandemic has been that we must move quickly, and at the earliest possible moment.”

Although he said we don’t know “definitively” whether the exponential growth in reported infections in South Africa is directly associated with the new variant, he added that analysis suggests there may be many cases that haven’t been detected so far.

“We’re heading into winter and our booster programme is still ongoing, so we must act with caution,” he said.

The FTSE 100 crashed 3.4% on the news of the new variant’s emergence, revealing investors’ worries about the impact a new, potentially vaccine-evading variant might have on economic activity.

Ross Clark summarises the reasons for the concern:

Victoria’s Mandatory Vaccination Law Comes into Force

In Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, a mandatory vaccination law impacting the lives of close to 1 million Australians has come into effect. The mandate stipulates that those working in jobs on the state’s authorised worker list, such as professional athletes, mining workers, and journalists, must now be double vaccinated. The Mail Australia has more.

About 1 million Victorian workers must now be fully vaccinated to continue working after a major vaccination deadline passed overnight.

All those in jobs on the state’s authorised worker list were required to have two doses of a Covid vaccination by Friday, November 26th.

Industries on the list include the  Australian Football League and other professional athletes, lawyers, journalists, mining workers, court staff and personal trainers.

It comes as the Services Vic app has been updated to allow parents and guardians to add their children’s vaccination certificates.

Previously, parents had to carry printouts to prove children under 14 years-old had been vaccinated to attend places like non-essential retail stores and events.

But the app now allows dependents to be added, so a child’s digital vaccination certificate can be included with their parent’s or guardian’s.

Foster carers will also be able to add a kid’s certificate to their app, as long as they have access to the child’s Medicare account.

Young people aged over 14 years-old can have their own Medicare account and can therefore share their digital certificate on the Services Vic app in the same way as adults.

Victoria passed a major vaccination threshold on Thursday, with more than 90% of all people aged over 12 years-old now fully vaccinated.

The Health Department announced late on Thursday that the state’s domestic travel permit and traffic light system had ended, with anyone from all states and territories now allowed to enter regardless of their vaccination status.

Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie said the permits, which were introduced in January 2021, were “designed for a time before we had a vaccine” to prevent virus incursion from other states and territories.

Worth reading in full.

ONS Slapped Down by UK Statistics Watchdog For Misleading Claim that Unvaccinated Have “32 Times” Risk of Covid Death

Ed Humpherson, Director of U.K. Statistics Authority the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), has written to Emma Rourke, Director of Health Analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to criticise the agency for a report it put out in October claiming that: “Between January 2nd and September 24th 2021, the age-adjusted risk of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in fully vaccinated individuals.”

As James Wells, a statistician who served as head of the ONS UK trade team until 2019, pointed out when he wrote to the OSR to complain about the report earlier this month, this statistic uses data from January 2nd to September 24th 2021, which includes the bulk of the winter deaths at a time when almost no one was vaccinated. This skews the implied vaccine effectiveness, as a fair comparison would only include periods when a significant proportion of the country was vaccinated.

American Schools Forcing Students to Eat Outside in the Cold Due to Fear of Covid

In New York state, primary school children have been forced to eat their lunch outside despite plummeting temperatures, while students in California are following the same protocol and have endured rainy weather. School districts that are introducing these rules are doing so to help prevent the spread of Covid on the premises. The Mail has the story.

Elementary schools from New York to California are forcing students to eat outdoors in an effort to protect them from Covid, despite plummeting temperatures in the Empire State and rainy weather on the west coast.

And now, parents are lashing out against the school districts that are imposing those social distancing rules.

In New York City, elementary school students were forced to eat their lunches in cold weather on Wednesday.

“It’s getting a little ridiculous at this point,” a mum at MS 104 in Manhattan told the New York Post.

“They’ve eaten outdoors every day this week. It’s cold.”

In Brooklyn, another mum of a student at a Park Slope elementary school said her child began complaining about eating in the ever-dropping temperatures, having done so since the beginning of the school year back in late August.

“We’ve heard no plans to bring them inside anytime soon,” she told the New York Post.

“In fact, they are still asking for parents to give the school their Fresh Direct bags to create seating pads. It doesn’t sound like they’re going in.”

In New York, the Department of Education has allowed principals to come up with their own lunch plans for this school year.

While not every school in the city is forcing students to eat outdoors, every school’s lunch plan must comply with social distancing rules, meaning more students are taking their meals outside.

Kids in balmier California are also being made to eat outside. And while there’s less chance of freezing weather, those youngsters must contend with soggy lunches as they’ll be forced to eat outside if it rains. 

“My kid has his rain gear, he has his rain jacket,” said Tristan Leong, a parent of two kids in the Davis, California school district.

“Everyone kinda scratched their heads and said wait a minute, there’s no cover for them,” Leong said, according to ABC10.  

Leong brought the issue up to school board members Thursday night after receiving an email last Monday from his child’s principal, saying that students must eat outside due to Covid restrictions, while adding that they should have rain coats, warm jackets and even a change of clothes too when going to school. 

“It’s totally just common sense, it shouldn’t be political at all, this is not a right or left issue, this is just let kids eat lunch normally,” Leong said. 

The Davis Joint Unified School District refused to comment on the matter on camera, according to ABC10, however the news outlet did receiving a statement that was sent out to families district-wide.

“In consultation with the Yolo County Public Health Officer, Dr. Sisson, we believe the health risk to students is greater eating indoors unmasked than eating outdoors in inclement weather, under a covered area for a short period of time.”

Worth reading in full.

Changing Attitudes to Lockdown in Left-Wing Media

We know that public health authorities have done major U-turns on both lockdowns and face masks. These things were advised against in the pre-Covid era, but they’ve since become part of ‘The Science’ we’re all meant to follow.

What about left-wing media outlets, which have been so insistent on the need for restrictions? Have they always sung the same tune regarding lockdown, or has their stance shifted along with ‘The Science’?

In the Anglosphere, two of the most influential left-wing outlets are The Guardian and the New York Times. Let’s begin with the former.

On 2nd Februrary 2020, The Guardian ran an article titled ‘China’s reaction to the coronavirus outbreak violates human rights’. (Hat tip to Francois Balloux for bringing this piece to my attention.)

“That the Chinese government can lock millions of people into cities with almost no advance notice,” the author wrote, “should not be considered anything other than terrifying.” Although part of her objection was that residents “had no time to buy food, medicine, or other essentials”, the use of “terrifying” suggests a certain scepticism about the policy itself.

“International law,” she went on to note, “is clear that during a time of public health emergency, any restrictions on human rights should be based on legality, necessity, proportionality and grounded in evidence.” And as people like Francis Hoar have argued, it’s far from clear that lockdowns meet this standard.

On 3rd February, The Guardian published an article titled ‘More surveillance, tighter controls: China’s coronavirus crackdown’. The author noted: “Observers and human rights groups say authorities are going too far.”

Yet one month later, the paper seemed much more sanguine, running a piece that described China’s lockdown as “brutal but effective”. Based on reports that case numbers had been brought down dramatically, the authors wrote, “Beijing’s approach appears vindicated”.

The Guardian later editorialised in favour of both the first and second U.K. lockdowns. Neither of these editorials mentioned “human rights” (though the first did note that citizens are “willing to cede their liberties” once the state “takes responsibility”).

Now let’s look at the Gray Lady, America’s newspaper of record. On 22nd January 2020, the Times ran an article titled ‘Scale of China’s Wuhan Shutdown Is Believed to Be Without Precedent’.

“China,” the author wrote, “is engaging in a balancing act with a long and complicated history fraught with social, political and ethical concerns.”

The author quoted a legal expert, who said that “the shutdown would almost certainly lead to human rights violations and would be patently unconstitutional in the United States”. This expert said that selective quarantines “could be effective”, but that China’s response “goes much further than that”.

Fast forward to March, and the Times was out in force making the case for a national lockdown. “All Americans need to shelter in place,” the editorial thundered. Like in The Guardian’s pro-lockdown editorials, no mention was made of “human rights”.

However, the paper did find space to write that “the United States still has a chance to apply hard lessons learned by China”.

To be clear: I’m not claiming The Guardian or The Times did anything fundamentally wrong from a journalistic standpoint. It’s good for newspapers to air a variety of views. And they should be free to change their editorial stance as new information comes in.

What’s more, China’s lockdown – from what we can tell – was more draconian than the ones imposed in Europe and the U.S. So it’s not necessarily inconsistent to defend the latter while criticising the former.

However, the timing and wording of the relevant articles clearly raises questions about the intellectual basis for lockdowns. Reading the early pieces about China’s lockdown, followed by the later editorials, one is struck by the difference in emphasis: human rights and civil liberties versus case and death numbers.

It all adds to the impression that lockdowns were implemented frenetically, without sufficient regard for individual rights, let alone overall costs and benefits.

Higher Infection Rates in Vaccinated Not an Artefact of Wrong Population Data, New Analysis Shows

Back in October, when the critics rounded on the UKHSA for publishing vaccine data that didn’t fit the narrative, front and centre of their complaints was the claim that they were using poor estimates of the size of the unvaccinated population, and thus underestimating the infection rate in the unvaccinated. Cambridge’s Professor David Speigelhalter didn’t hold back, writing on Twitter that it was “completely unacceptable” for the agency to “put out absurd statistics showing case-rates higher in vaxxed than non-vaxxed” when it is “just an artefact of using hopelessly biased NIMS population estimates”.

To the UKHSA’s credit, while it conceded other points, it never gave in on this one, sticking to its view that the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) was the “gold standard” for these estimates. It pointed out that ONS population estimates have problems of their own, not least that for some age groups the ONS supposes there to be fewer people in the population than the Government counts as being vaccinated.

How can we know which estimates are more accurate? A group of experts has applied analytical techniques in order to estimate the size of the unvaccinated population independently of ONS and NIMS figures. Using three different methods, experts from HART found that estimates from all three methods were in broad agreement with the NIMS estimates, whereas the ONS estimate was a much lower outlier.

Only One Side Gets to Tell Their Story When Nurses Disagree About Covid

We’re publishing an original piece today by Professor Roger Watson and Dr. Niall McCrae, both registered nurses, about an attack on one of them in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, which he used to edit! He asked for a right of reply, and it was granted, but when he submitted it it was rejected. Here is an extract:

One of us was the subject of a thinly veiled attack in the editorial pages of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, one of the oldest, most respected, and the highest cited academic nursing journal in the world. The thesis of the diatribe was that there was only one side to the Covid crisis, that the public health message must not be contradicted and that prominent members of the profession must not speak out in contravention of that message. We would find ourselves on the ’wrong side of history’. It must be comforting to live with such a delusion. Both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks considered that they were on the right side of history; one by predestination and the other through the inevitability of the Marxist dialectic and the uprising of the proletariat. Where are they now?

The editorial is free to read – “Nurses on the wrong side of history: Covid risk minimisation, vaccine refusal and social privilege“. It is notable that the second author is the current Editor-in-Chief of the journal. It may also be worth noting that both of us are former editorial board members of the journal and one of us was the previous Editor-in-Chief for 10 years. Being on good terms with the current Editor-in-Chief, he emailed her to enquire about the possibility of a rejoinder and received a very positive reply. He also put up a complimentary message on Twitter saying the editorial was constructive and well written and that he hoped a debate would be possible. Towards that end we prepared a constructive and polite rejoinder (reproduced in its entirety below) and duly submitted it. The response was a flat refusal to publish.

Worth reading in full.