Day: 12 December 2021

News Round-Up

Is Vaccine Effectiveness Against Death Mostly a Statistical Illusion?

One of the big challenges in analysing the data on Covid has been definitions. What is a Covid death, what is a Covid case or infection? What the data appears to say can change radically depending on the definitions adopted.

This has been a particular issue with vaccination, as vaccination status is subject to a variety of conflicting definitions. In particular, when does someone count as vaccinated? Is it as soon as they have the needle in their arm, or do they remain ‘unvaccinated’ after that for a period of time, say seven, 14 or 21 days?

For instance, the recent ICNARC report stated the number of ICU admissions by vaccination status. But it also clarified that ‘unvaccinated’ includes those who received a jab less than 14 days prior to testing positive. This means that some (an unknown number) who were counted as unvaccinated had in fact received a dose.

This may be more than just a minor problem. For one thing, there is now a lot of evidence that people are more vulnerable to infection in the days following their jab, likely due to temporary immune suppression. This means a significant proportion of the vaccinated who are susceptible to infection with the current dominant variant are infected in the immediate post-jab period when in many studies and reports they don’t count as vaccinated. This creates a ‘survivorship bias‘ in the remaining vaccinated group that exaggerates vaccine efficacy. For instance, in a study of the U.S. nursing home population published in NEJM, once the post-jab period was included – when the vaccinated experienced higher incidence than the unvaccinated – the overall proportion of vaccinated and unvaccinated groups testing positive was the same at 6.8%. This makes it essential that all the data is presented, including for past-jab periods, and definitions are clear.

A similar problem occurs with the classification of deaths as vaccinated and unvaccinated. New analysis led by Norman Fenton, Professor in Risk Information Management, and Martin Neil, Professor in Computer Science and Statistics, both at Queen Mary, University of London, has highlighted a strange anomaly in the ONS deaths data that may be indicative of a deeper problem. They noticed that if non-Covid deaths in the unvaccinated were plotted against time over the course of the vaccine rollout then a strange spike appeared during the rollout in which the mortality rate among the unvaccinated shot up to well above the background level. The same thing happened with the non-Covid mortality rate in the single-dosed as second doses were rolled out, and the phenomenon was repeated in each age group as vaccines were administered.

Unvaccinated Close Contacts Must Self-Isolate Under New Rules, Which The Double Jabbed Can Avoid If They Test Negative

Under new rules, which will be implemented by the Government this Tuesday, double vaccinated close contacts of Covid cases will not have to self-isolate if they receive a negative test – an option which isn’t open to the unvaccinated. In addition, those who are double jabbed but initially test negative will be recommended to take daily lateral flow tests for the next seven consecutive days. BBC News has the story.

Those who test positive, develop symptoms, or are unvaccinated should self-isolate for 10 days.

But people will not need to isolate if the tests remain negative and they have had at least two vaccine doses.

It means people in close contact with suspected or confirmed Omicron variant cases no longer always need to isolate.

NHS lateral flow tests – which are available in boxes of seven – are free from pharmacies or via online order.

The Government said the change in guidance “aims to reduce pressures on people’s everyday lives by replacing the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days”.

Anyone who has a positive result from a rapid test should take a confirmatory PCR test to verify the result, as well as continue to self-isolate.

They do not need to continue taking rapid tests during the isolation period.

If the PCR result comes back negative, contacts can leave self-isolation but should continue to take rapid lateral flow tests for the remainder of the seven days.

This change follows a significant rise in Omicron cases across the U.K. with the new variant expected to become the dominant strain by mid-December.

The latest Omicron case numbers on Sunday show 1,239 new daily cases, bringing the total number of Omicron cases in the UK to 3,137 – although the real number is estimated to be much higher.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are taking this proportionate and more practical measure to limit the impact on people’s day-to-day lives while helping to reduce the spread of Omicron.”

The Government says this new advice will be in guidance rather than law initially, but this will be kept under review.

Worth reading in full.

Austria Loosens Its Lockdown Restrictions – But Only for the Vaccinated

In what the Austrian Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, has described as an “opening with a seatbelt”, the Government has terminated national lockdown measures, and has granted each of its nine provinces the power to strengthen or relax their own Covid measures. However, unvaccinated Austrians are denied the right to enter public places that have been allowed to re-open, such as entertainment venues and non-essential shops, with the unjabbed only allowed to leave their homes for buying food, exercise, or going to the doctor. The Guardian has the story.

The rules, which vary by region within the country, largely allow for the reopening of theatres, museums and other cultural and entertainment venues on Sunday. Shops will follow on Monday.

Some regions are reopening restaurants and hotels on Sunday, while others will wait until later in the month. In all cases, there will be an 11pm curfew for restaurants, and masks will still be required on public transport and inside stores and public spaces.

The chancellor, Karl Nehammer, last week called the move an “opening with a seatbelt”, giving each of Austria’s nine regions the ability to loosen or tighten restrictions based on the local situation.

Unvaccinated people will still be subject to the lockdown restrictions and should remain at home for all but a handful of specific reasons, such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Since the start of the lockdown, new case numbers have plummeted in Austria. On Friday, the country reported 367.5 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 1,102.4 on the first day of the lockdown in November.

Hospitalisations from the virus have not dropped as sharply as new case numbers. There are currently 567 Covid patients in intensive care units across the country, only slightly down from 572 on the first day of the lockdown last month.

Austrian officials have stressed that high rates of vaccination are necessary to control the virus. Just 67.7% of the population are fully vaccinated, a relatively low rate for western Europe, and the Government has introduced measures to put increasing pressure on unvaccinated individuals to get the jab.

Worth reading in full.

Big Pharma Will Make Omicron-Specific Booster Shots Even Though They’re Not Needed, Says Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House Chief Medical Adviser, has spoken of his confidence that existing vaccines will be able to effectively target the Omicron variant, and that a new booster jab created to specifically fight this new strain is not needed. However, Fauci has said that pharmaceutical companies will produce vaccines that are variant-specific regardless. RT has the story.

“I’m not so sure that we’re going to have to get a variant-specific boost vaccine to get an adequate protection from Omicron,” Fauci told the health news website STAT on Friday. “Because if you look at protection against variants, it appears to relate to the level of immunity and the breadth of the immunity that any given vaccine can instil on you.”

While some experts have expressed concerns that the Omicron variant of the Covid is better able to evade the current crop of vaccines, Fauci has continued to place his faith in these shots. So too has Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, though he has claimed that a fourth dose may be needed to combat the new strain.

“With Omicron we need to wait and see because we have very little information. We may need [the fourth dose] faster,” he told CNBC this week.

While Fauci said that an Omicron-specific booster likely won’t be needed, he did add that drug companies like Pfizer “are going to be making variant-specific boosters.”

Worth reading in full.

Is there Any Evidence that the New Lockdown Measures will Work?

There follows a guest post in which ‘George Santayana’, the pseudonym of a senior executive in a pharmaceutical company, asks if there is there any evidence that the new lockdown measures will work? After examining the impact of similar measures in Scotland and Wales in the last six months, he concludes that they will not.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that England would be moving to implement stricter mask mandates, work from home orders and vaccine passports in certain situations to try and do something to limit the rise of the Omicron variant. This is the so-called ‘Plan B’ and, although nowhere near a full Lockdown, involves the U.K. Government flexing its authoritarian muscles and imposing a range of restrictions on England in the name of saving us from viral Armageddon. But is there any evidence that these measures will help?

Effectively since ‘Freedom Day’ (July 19th, 2021), we’ve been doing a real-world experiment in England, Scotland, and Wales because, while England dropped mask requirements and had never implemented vaccine passports, the other two nations maintained the requirement for face coverings and introduced vaccine passports in some settings. In effect, Scotland and Wales all went to versions of ‘Plan B’ and, as a result, we can compare the effect that these extra restrictions have had on SARS-CoV-2 infection and Covid-related deaths to those in England as a way of understanding the potential impact of ‘Plan B’ in England.

Let’s start by thinking about what we might predict would have happened if ‘Plan B’ measures had had any significant effect in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Scotland and Wales. Firstly, we would predict that, looking at levels of infection within the general population, we should see a clear difference between England, as the control group, and Wales and Scotland, with England performing worse with respect to the number of infections per head of population or perhaps showing worse trends in things such as more rapid increases in rates of infection or slower recovery from a ‘wave’ of infections. Similarly, if we consider Covid-related deaths, we’d expect that ‘Plan B’ would help Scotland and Wales avoid a larger number of Covid related death compared to England, which would again be at the bottom of the league table. Finally, as the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) implemented by Wales and Scotland in their ‘Plan Bs’ are similar, we might expect that any trends we observe in looking at infections and deaths in these two countries are more similar to each other than to England, corroborating the idea that these improvements are due to ‘Plan B’.

Let’s first look at the infection data, which we can pull directly from the latest ONS survey that can be found here.

In Figure One, I’ve reproduced the results from the ONS coronavirus infection survey for England, Wales, and Scotland. The arrows on the graphs on the left-hand side indicate the approximate position of July 19th (‘Freedom Day’).

The Evidence That Vaccine Passports Are Worse Than Useless

As the scale of the Commons rebellion over the Government’s imposition of ‘Plan B’ measures grows ahead of the vote on Tuesday, at the Daily Sceptic we thought we’d take a look at the evidence for vaccine passports.

Regrettably, the measures are likely to pass regardless of the size of rebellion owing to Labour support, but the number of rebels currently looks large enough to mean the Government will be relying on opposition votes – yet another sign of Boris Johnson’s weakness and the precariousness of his position.

The Government’s ‘Plan B’ measures include expanding the mask mandate to most indoor venues except hospitality and the reintroduction of guidance to work from home. But by far the most egregious aspect is the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and larger venues, the first time these have been imposed in England. If the vote passes, the passports will be mandatory from Wednesday.

The Scottish Government last month published a report which supposedly backed up the case for continued use of vaccine passports north of the border, first introduced on October 1st. The Spectator‘s data journalist Michael Simmons went through it, however, and found its case paper-thin. It provided no evidence that vaccine passports increased vaccine uptake, stating: “The rate of overall increase in first and second doses, has been similar across four U.K. nations”. Indeed, following introduction of the passes, uptake in England actually outpaced that in Scotland among adults (passports did not apply to children), increasing 1.6% in England to Scotland’s 1.3%.

Simmons points out that according to the latest ONS data, as of November 15th, 95.3% of adults in England have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, slightly higher than in Scotland where it’s 95%, despite the vaccine passes. It’s hard to see how these could get much higher, however draconian the vaccine coercion becomes.