Day: 4 January 2022

Why Mill’s ‘Harm Principle’ is Useless Against Mandatory Vaccination

In a recent piece for the Daily Sceptic, David Martin Jones and Michael Rainsborough object to the attempt by medical ethicist John Harris in the Telegraph to co-opt the famed liberal-utilitarian philosopher J.S. Mill to the side of mandatory vaccination. Mill was a keen defender of individual freedom, but allowed that actions which affect others may be regulated by Government. Harris argues that for a person to refuse vaccination constitutes, using Mill’s words, “a positive instigation to some mischievous act”, and thus is not a protected form of personal discretion.

Jones and Rainsborough object that this misrepresents Mill, who rather held that conduct may be prohibited under his famous ‘harm principle’ only if it is “calculated to produce evil to someone else”. This formulation of Mill’s principle suggests it is only intentional (“calculated”) harm to others that Mill thinks may be prohibited, while unintentional harm escapes the scope of coercive regulation.

But does Mill really hold that it is only intentional harm to others that may be coercively prohibited? It’s hard to square that with the following statement of his principle, found in the same essay (emphasis mine):

For such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishments, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection.

Plainly, actions that are “prejudicial to the interests of others” are not only intentional ones, as many unintentional actions can be prejudicial to others’ interests. Furthermore, Mill here is saying that it is up to “society” to determine whether, given such prejudicial action, some measure or other is “requisite for its protection”. It is therefore hard to see how an appeal to an action being unintentional can save it from coming under the scope of “harm” for Mill and thus subject to the control of “society”.

Besides which, Jones and Rainsborough themselves allow that Mill, as a “utilitarian and a moral consequentialist” would “quite possibly”, in the modern context given the existence of socialised healthcare, have argued that “if a responsible adult refused the vaccination the NHS offered to prevent an infectious disease, the individual would either forego any right to NHS treatment or be required to pay the cost of his care”.

Boris Says We Can “Ride Out This Omicron Wave”

At today’s Downing Street press conference, Boris said he was going to recommend to Cabinet tomorrow that we stick to ‘Plan B’, i.e. not impose any more Covid restrictions. True, he left his options open, as he always does, but given that the Omicron wave is peaking it seems unlikely he’ll change his mind.

He opened by urging “utmost caution”, saying anyone who thinks our battle with Covid is over is “profoundly wrong”. But we also know, he said, that Omicron is milder than previous variants and not translating to into the same intensive care demand as previous cases. (That’s borne out by the latest ICNARC data, released on Christmas Eve, which shows Covid patients in ICU remaining flat.)

He went on to say that thanks to the “substantial” levels of immunity in the population, there was a good chance we can “ride out this Omicron wave”. But the weeks ahead will be “challenging” and some essential services will be disrupted due to staff absences. He said that 100,000 key workers in England, “from food processing to transport to Border Force”, will have to test every day they are working from January 10th, which is supposed to help with staff absences, though may backfire if more people test positive.

In a welcome change from his last press conference, he clarified that when he said nine out of 10 Covid patients in intensive care were unvaccinated he meant 90% hadn’t had a booster, not that 90% were completely unvaccinated. (The BBC reported this wrongly.) He added that about 60% of Covid patients in ICUs are unvaccinated, which is the figure that appeared in the latest ICNARC report (61%).

Sir Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said Covid hospitalisations in London were still going up, but neglected to mention that at least a third of infected patients only have COVID-19 incidentally, i.e. they were admitted for something else, and the reason numbers are increasing is because there’s a bottle-neck of patients who’ve been earmarked for discharge but who can’t be because of absences among care workers. (See the Telegraph report on this from yesterday.)

That would explain why the number of Covid in-patients in London is going up while admissions in the community are falling. The number for the past seven days has gone down, week-on-week (see below).

27-Dec: 321 28-Dec: 331 29-Dec: 361 30-Dec: 330 31-Dec: 246 01-Jan: 251 02-Jan: 262

The most ominous thing Boris did was to hint that Covid Passes will soon be withdrawn from those that haven’t had a booster. I imagine that this tightening of the Covid passport rules won’t require parliamentary approval so can be done without risking another rebellion. Bound to be controversial with the Parliamentary Conservative Party, though.

All in all, quite good news.

You can read the Telegraph‘s report about the press conference here.

Djokovic Granted Permission to Compete in Australian Open Despite Being Unvaccinated

There follows a guest post by tennis fan David Hansard, a contributor to the Daily Sceptic as well as Quillette and the Conservative Woman, about the news that Novak Djokovic, the highest ranked male player in the world, has been granted an exemption to the rule that all competitors in the Australian Open have to be vaccinated. Needless to say, this has annoyed a lot of Covid hysterics.

Contrary to many people’s expectations, world number one Novak Djokovic, has announced he is to compete for a tenth Australian Open title. Following months of doubt and speculation about whether he would be allowed to play, he has been granted a medical exemption from being vaccinated against Covid. The news came only 12 days before the tournament is due to begin.

Djokovic has always refused to reveal his vaccination status. It was assumed by many – correctly, it now turns out – that he has not been vaccinated. Under tournament rules everyone who attends – whether players, spectators, media or staff – must either be vaccinated or have an exemption.

As one of the fittest people on Earth, it was difficult to see how Djokovic would be granted an exemption. For a long time it seemed that his only option was either to get vaccinated or to miss out on what has been the most successful tournament in the champion’s career – he’s the current title-holder. The latter seemed the far likelier outcome. Djokovic’s challenge to Federer and Nadal as the male player with the most grand slam titles looked set to be delayed until later this year.

But after his request for exemption was granted by medical experts in Australia, he is now on his way to Melbourne.

It has delighted many but – as expected – it has also annoyed some in the tennis world, including Andy Murray’s brother Jamie. A lot of the reaction on social media has been particularly splenetic, whether against Djokovic himself, the tennis authorities, or the Victorian authorities, who have waived the need for him to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. The torrent of abuse began minutes after the news broke. Djokovic was immediately cast as evil and selfish, indifferent to others’ well-being. Tournament organisers were attacked for recklessly showing favouritism to a crowd-pulling player, prioritising profit over public health.

It does not seem to matter to most critics whether Djokovic has, in fact, got a valid reason for exemption, or even that exemption is allowed under the rules. For the most part they vaguely assume he is being dishonest, and that despite his application having been anonymously assessed by two independent panels, something nefarious is afoot. Nothing washes with them, including the possibility – as the BBC reports – that the exemption may have been granted because vaccination can be deferred if you have recently been infected with Covid. Tournament Director Craig Tiley has said some other players have already been granted exemption, yet Djokovic is the one in the cross hairs.

We will probably never know the reason for the exemption, and rightly so. It’s a private matter. But whatever the explanation, the response of his critics, though expected, is disappointing. Their intolerant and inflexible behaviour is distinctly authoritarian, something we have grown used to from the start of the pandemic.

Djokovic didn’t become the world number one – and arguably the greatest male player of all time – just because of his supreme tennis skills. It’s also thanks to his commitment, persistence and physical and mental resilience. Many who are unhappy with the tournament’s decision have expressed the hope that Djokovic will be punished by the crowd in Melbourne, and his performance adversely affected. That’s wishful thinking. Although Djokovic is not entirely immune to the feelings of spectators, his critics will be disappointed if they believe a few boos will prevent him from winning another grand slam tournament.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison has threatened to put Djokovic “on the next plane home” if he can’t provide evidence of his vaccine exemption status.

Here Comes the French Variant…

Scientists at the IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille, France, have announced the discovery of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, which they say has more mutations than Omicron and may be more resistant to vaccines. Firstpost has the story.

Here’s what we know so far of this new COVID-19 variant:

• Researchers say that it contains 46 mutations – even more than Omicron – which makes it more resistant to vaccines and infectious.
• Some 12 cases have been spotted so far near Marseille, with the first linked to travel to the African country Cameroon.
• Tests show the strain carries the N501Y mutation – first seen on the Alpha variant – that experts believe can make it more transmissible
• According to the scientists, it also carries the E484K mutation, which could mean that the IHU variant will be more resistant to vaccines.
• It is yet to be spotted in other countries or labelled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organisation.

The variant was discovered on December 9th, so we might have expected it to have spread a bit further and faster by now if it is going to make a big impact – Omicron, by comparison, was already on its way to world domination by this point. So this may be just one of many non-event variants.

France is currently experiencing a strong winter surge dominated by the Omicron variant and the Government is responding by tightening the vaccine passport regime.

Hospital Admissions of Children With Eating Disorders Surge 70% Since Pandemic

The number of children being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder has surged almost 70% since the pandemic began, according to official figures, with psychiatrists warning they are being overwhelmed by the numbers needing help. The Telegraph has the story.

Experts said repeated lockdowns and periods of isolation had caused “devastating” effects on children’s mental health, fuelling a sharp rise in anorexia and bulimia. They said such uncertainty had left many children feeling they had lost control of their lives – a factor which can provoke eating disorders.

Charities warned that those admitted to hospital were only the “tip of the iceberg” as the vast majority of those suffering eating disorders do not receive care as an inpatient.

The NHS provisional data show 4,238 hospital admissions for children aged 17 and under between April and October last year. The figure is a 69% rise compared with the same months before the pandemic, when there were just 2,508 admissions.

Overall, the data show there were 23,302 admissions for eating disorders among all age groups in the financial year 2020/21, up 21% on the 19,244 admissions among all age groups recorded in 2018/19.

Provisional data for April to October 2021 show there were 15,941 admissions so far among all age groups, suggesting 2021/22 will be the highest year yet for those of all ages.

Dr Agnes Ayton, the chairman of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The hidden epidemic of eating disorders has surged during the pandemic with many community services now over-stretched and unable to treat the sheer number of people needing help.

“We are at the point where we cannot afford to let this go on any longer.”

Worth reading in full.

Even Professor Lockdown Admits Omicron Plateauing

Professor Neil Ferguson has said Covid hospital admissions in London are flatlining and we can expect them to start falling nationally in a week’s time. MailOnline has more.

One of the Government’s gloomiest advisers today became the latest expert to admit that London’s Omicron outbreak may have already peaked as pressure grew on Boris Johnson to stop the ‘farcical’ self-isolation crisis that threatens to paralyse the nation.

At least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have said they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks while train operators and bin collection services around the country are having to cancel services because so many staff are off isolating.

There is growing anger among backbench Tory MPs and business leaders that the nation is being ground to a halt by a Covid variant that a mountain of evidence has shown is much milder than previous strains and causes little or no symptoms for the overwhelming majority. …

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, said: “I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued, it’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet.”

He added: “I would say that with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.

‘Whether they then drop precipitously or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July – of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau – remains to be seen, it’s just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of open schools again will be.’

Discussing the current Omicron outbreak, Professor Ferguson – nicknamed ‘Prof Lockdown’ for his grim modelling that spooked ministers into introducing draconian curbs last spring – said the variant had not had much time to infect pupils before schools shut for the Christmas break, and a rise in cases is now expected.

“We expect to now see quite high infection levels – of mild infection I should emphasise – in school-aged children.”

He added that the “good news” about Omicron is that “it is certainly less severe” than previous variants of Covid and that has helped keep hospital numbers down compared with previous peaks.

“And then the vaccines – as we always expected they would – are holding up against severe disease and against severe outcomes well.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as, as the Prime Minister said, a difficult few weeks for the NHS.”

And the normally-pessimistic Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson – a key No 10 adviser whose modelling has bounced the country into previous lockdowns – claimed infections were plateauing in Omicron hotspot London and could start to fall nationally in just a week.

Worth reading in full.

That’s quite a turnaround from Ferguson’s earlier prediction that Omicron could result in 5,000 deaths a day. But given his track record, does this more optimistic assessment mean Covid admissions to London hospitals are about to start soaring? Let’s hope not!

Wearing Face Masks in School Classrooms is Not a Requirement, Government Guidance Shows

Despite widespread reports that masks are to be required in classrooms as pupils return to schools across the country today, the updated Government guidance shows that this is only a recommendation, not a requirement. Here is the relevant section (emphasis mine).

Where pupils in Year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on August 31st 2021) and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by pupils, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas. This is a temporary measure.

From January 4th, we also recommend that in those schools where pupils in Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn in classrooms. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons. This will also be a temporary measure. …

We would not ordinarily expect teachers to wear a face covering in the classroom if they are at the front of the class, to support education delivery, although settings should be sensitive to the needs of individual teachers. …

Face coverings do not need to be worn when outdoors.

Schools, as employers, have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 which includes making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. They also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils, to support them to access education successfully. No pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

It should be noted that this is guidance for schools rather than pupils, so a school might decide to follow the Government recommendation by requiring its pupils to wear face masks. However, they should still not deny education to pupils if they do not wear one. The usual exemptions also apply, including where wearing a mask causes “severe distress” and “to avoid the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others” (and let’s face it, how can covering your mouth and nose for most of the day with an item that obstructs breathing, gathers germs, contains harmful levels of toxic substances, and prevents normal human interaction not put you at risk of harm?).

Government coronavirus guidance can be found here.

If readers have any stories of pupils being penalised for not wearing a mask you can email us here.

We Can’t Vaccinate the Planet Every Six Months, Says JCVI Chief

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the head of Britain’s vaccine body, has said fourth jabs should not be offered until there is more evidence as he warned that giving a new dose to people every six months was “not sustainable”. In an interview with the Telegraph the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) also said there was no point in trying to stop all infections, and that “at some point, society has to open up”.

Speaking to mark the first anniversary of the AstraZeneca jab rollout last January, Sir Andrew said: “The worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter.”

He wants lockdowns to be consigned to history, adding: “At some point, society has to open up. When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time.

“But that’s a decision for the policy makers, not the scientists. Our approach has to switch, to rely on the vaccines and the boosters. The greatest risk is still the unvaccinated.”

Sir Andrew cautioned against blindly following Israel and Germany, which have given the green light to a second set of boosters to all over-60s.

“The future must be focusing on the vulnerable and making boosters or treatments available to them to protect them,” he said. 

“We know that people have strong antibodies for a few months after their third vaccination, but more data are needed to assess whether, when and how often those who are vulnerable will need additional doses.”

Vaccines can rapidly be adapted to fight new variants, but he said: “We can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months. It’s not sustainable or affordable. In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”

Worth reading in full.

It’s the Economist, Stupid

We’re publishing an original essay today by David Stacey about the failure of the Economist to critically evaluate the pro-lockdown case. You’d expect the Economist, which prides itself on its mastery of data and its political independence, to inject a note of scepticism into its coverage of the global pandemic. Instead, it’s just slavishly regurgitated the official narrative. Here’s an extract:

With its data analysts, its unquestionably talented writers and economically literate worldwide readership the Economist was surely well placed to rise above the global Covid hysteria and rigorously pursue its masthead ambition of “taking part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.

From the start, however, it has, along with the rest of the legacy media, been consumed by an ostensibly virtuous but myopic fixation on “death with covid” mortality figures to the exclusion of all else. At the same time as Andrew Lewis observed in a letter to the magazine on July 24th 2021, portraying those who oppose lockdowns as “crackpots motivated by conspiracy theories”. Each week the Economist’s pages have been filled with the evidence of the disastrous costs of lockdowns (which it unfailingly refers to as the “cost of covid”) and the economic and social crises they have created, while failing to show that the lockdowns made any material difference to the spread of the virus. The Economist had the opportunity to provide serious, fearless, real-world, data-driven coverage that challenged the official “truth”, shone a light on the unprecedented vested interests and explored other strategies, the economic impact of which might have been less disastrous, not least for developing countries. Countries with whose welfare the magazine has previously aligned itself, where tens of millions have been plunged into poverty.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up