The One Thing That Might Persuade Me to Get Jabbed

In my most recent Spectator column, I describe my recent bout of Covid and why it has almost – almost – persuaded me to get vaccinated.

While I was ill I read the following sentence in an article by Ed West, which put the wind up me: “An unvaccinated man in his fifties has about a one-in-150 chance of dying if he catches Covid, and is much more likely still to be hospitalised, put in ICU and left prematurely aged.” He didn’t give a source for the one in 150 figure, but that was on the high side, surely? Concerned, I commissioned a professor of epidemiology to calculate Omicron’s infection fatality rate for my Daily Sceptic website and he came up with 0.04 per cent, or one in 2,500, a figure that includes the vaccinated. Slightly higher for men in their fifties no doubt, but not one in 150.

However, the second part of Ed’s sentence – that the unvaccinated are more likely to end up in ICU than the vaccinated – is probably right. Was that where I was headed? I know, I know. My chances of being hospitalised, let alone put on a ventilator, were low, assuming it was Omicron. But what if it wasn’t? Or what if it was and I just got unlucky? I could picture the newspaper headline: “Unvaccinated lockdown sceptic in intensive care with severe Covid.” It wouldn’t be long before the BBC’s Clive Myrie was standing at the end of my bed, microphone in hand, asking me how I felt about not being jabbed.

This, for me, is the best argument against remaining unvaccinated. Not the risk of being in ICU and left ‘prematurely aged’ or worse, but the absolute certainty that if that happened I would be ridiculed mercilessly by my enemies. Totally undeserved, of course. I’m dubious about the effectiveness and durability of the Covid vaccines and concerned about the lack of medium- and long-term safety data, but I think of myself as a ‘vaccine sceptic’ rather than an ‘anti-vaxxer’ – and even that is over-stating it, as I’ve got nothing against the MMR. Nevertheless, you can bet your bottom dollar that if I was hospitalised with the virus I would be branded a “leading anti-vaxxer” and pilloried accordingly. In the eyes of the vaccine enthusiasts, anyone who expresses the slightest smidgen of doubt is a science-denying ‘conspiracy theorist’ and if they’re laid low by COVID-19 that’s divine justice.

Worth reading in full, obviously.

Stop Press: I’ve just been interviewed by Brendan O’Neill for his podcast to mark the second anniversary of the Free Speech Union. You can listen that here.

Fact-Checking the BBC’s ‘Fact Check’ of The Doctor Who Challenged the Health Secretary on Vaccine Mandate

The BBC has published another of its questionable ‘reality checks‘, this one by the aptly-titled “disinformation reporter” Rachel Schraer. Her target is doctor Steve James, who directly challenged Health Secretary Sajid Javid on the science behind the impending vaccination mandate when Mr. Javid visited the hospital where he works last week. Schraer, whose medical and scientific credentials are unclear, has taken it upon herself to assess Dr. James’s claims in a piece entitled “Fact-checking the doctor who challenged the Health Secretary“, saying the claims are “not exactly what the evidence shows”. However, the evidence she picks for this ‘fact check’ is very selective, and she overlooks several studies that do indeed back up what the brave doctor was saying.

Dr. James told Mr. Javid: “The vaccines are reducing transmission only for about eight weeks with Delta. For Omicron, it’s probably less.”

‘Disinformation reporter’ Schraer responds:

While vaccines remain very good at protecting against becoming severely ill with Covid, the protection they give against catching it and passing it on does wane more quickly.

Dr. James was referring to a study that found a vaccinated person with Covid was just 2% less likely than an unvaccinated person to pass it on, 12 weeks after a second Oxford-AstraZeneca jab – he acknowledges his reference to “eight weeks” was an error.

But the same study found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which NHS staff are likely to have had, endured better. Vaccinated people had a 25% lower risk of infecting others than unvaccinated people after 12 weeks.

Well, 25% is not very much, and this is not the only study which looks at this, with others finding even smaller effect. A study in the Lancet found no difference in household secondary attack rate depending on whether the index case was vaccinated, and correspondingly no difference in viral load. A study by the U.S. CDC also found no difference in infectiousness and concluded: “Clinicians and public health practitioners should consider vaccinated persons who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 to be no less infectious than unvaccinated persons.” UKHSA and others have also found viral load no lower in the vaccinated. These studies are all pre-Omicron, which is likely to be even more able to evade vaccines.

Whistleblowing BBC Journalist Exposes Lockdown Zealotry of Colleagues

A pseudonymous BBC reporter calling himself Charlie Walsham has written a brilliant exposé in the Spectator about the pro-lockdown bias of his colleagues. Here’s how it begins:

I have been a BBC journalist for many years, and in that time I have been committed to impartiality and the corporation’s Reithian values to inform and educate. My despair about the BBC’s one-sided coverage of the pandemic though has been steadily growing for some time. And in early December, as I listened to a BBC radio broadcast, I felt the corporation reach a new low.

During a morning phone-in show on 5Live the topic of discussion was Covid jabs and whether they should be mandated, or if punitive action should be taken against those who refuse them, such as imposing lockdowns on the unvaccinated. Setting aside the fact that these authoritarian measures are now considered a matter for breezy debate, I at least expected a balanced discussion.

This was wishful thinking on my part, as ‘Michael from Birmingham’ – a caller – was about to find out. Michael told the host he hadn’t been vaccinated because he didn’t trust ‘the data’ and cited historic incidents of documented corporate malfeasance by pharmaceutical giants to explain why he was concerned. Now you may disagree with Michael, or think him completely deluded, but he was still a person who had genuine fears about the vaccine and its safety. Yet instead of holding a reasoned debate with his concerned caller, the host immediately lost his temper, talked over Michael, implied he was a flat-earther and then muted him entirely.

It was an interaction that goes to the very heart of the dismal failure of BBC News. I have been working at BBC News throughout the Covid era and have witnessed how the insatiable demands of the 24-hour news cycle have exacerbated a serious and protracted crisis. I have also seen how any attempt at balance has been abandoned in favour of supporting and promoting Covid restrictions.

Man Calls for Introduction of Arm Bands That Show Wearer Has Weakened Immune System and Would Like to Keep Distance

It was revealed last week that the BBC is offering white lanyards to staff who are returning to the office but would like to continue ‘social distancing’. The Corporation has since exceeded itself by publishing an article highlighting “calls” for the introduction of wearable symbols showing that the wearer has a weakened immune system and would like to keep a distance.

There’s just one call mentioned in the article, actually, from a man who would like the system to become an “accepted way of people identifying themselves”.

Neil Collingwood, 64, from Leek, Staffordshire, said the ending of England’s lockdown rules on July 19th was not good news for people less able to fight off Covid. 

Even people with two vaccine jabs were not completely without risk, he said. 

He has made a prototype armband.

It “is bright orange and uses the universal symbol for first aid”, Mr Collingwood explained. 

He has it in mind for adults with weakened immune systems, or who are immuno-suppressed, and less able to battle infections naturally. …

“There are about half a million people in the U.K. whose immune systems are not effective,” he said. 

Recent studies suggest they do not receive as much protection from Covid vaccines as other people.

Mr Collingwood, who has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, as well as type one diabetes, leaves the house only to exercise and occasionally take photographs as part of his work as a historian and author. …

“I’ve already had people who have refused to get out of my way,” he said, “with one person shouting ‘grow up it’s not going to kill you.'”

“Some of the people in my situation may be 10 or 12 years old, they will never – as things stand – be able to have normal lives,” said Mr Collingwood. 

“I probably don’t have all that long left, but I’m damned if I want to sacrifice what time I have got left because of stupidity, and the fact we are not being considered as a very important vulnerable group.”

Worth reading in full.

BBC Offers Lanyards to Staff Wanting to Continue Social Distancing When Returning to the Office

Having recognised that a sizeable proportion of its workforce does not want to return to normality just yet, the BBC is offering white lanyards to staff who are returning to the office but would like to continue ‘social distancing’. Employees are also being asked to disclose their vaccination status, but they have been told they will still be able to come to offices if they have not been vaccinated against Covid. The Telegraph has the story.

A memo sent to BBC employees on Friday by Bob Shennan, the BBC’s Managing Director, said the organisation “knows that some of you are anxious about returning to the office” in September.

“To address this, we are introducing a new white BBC lanyard to indicate that the wearer wishes to be given extra space. If you see a colleague wearing this lanyard then please respect their position,” he wrote.

He told staff the white lanyards would co-exist with their “sunflower” equivalents used by people with hidden disabilities. 

BBC staff were also informed that the number of people allowed to use office lifts simultaneously would rise as more employees return to the office. 

Some signs restricting the amount of toilet facilities that can be used would also be removed, Mr Shennan wrote.

A BBC spokesman said: “We’re taking some simple and effective steps for staff safety and to ensure that critical public services remain on air.”

The Government has endorsed homemade badges made by the “Distance Aware” initiative that read “please give me space” and encouraged people to print them out at home if they were worried about a lack of social distancing.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A reader has been in touch with details of an email sent to the staff at his local gym containing instructions from the Government to “set a good example” by continuing to wear face masks.

Just been to my Nuffield gym in Kingston, chatting to the trainer and he showed me the email to all staff from the CEO. Apparently, all the big health clubs and gyms were ordered in to see the Government and were told they must “do their bit” from July 19th. That means all staff carrying on wearing masks in order to “set a good example”. So, this is coming from the Government, not the health clubs and you can bet if gyms were ordered in so were supermarkets, etc. Say no more. Not really freedom is it?

The BBC’s Dishonest Attack on Ivermectin

The following article by Dr Edmund Fordham and Dr Tess Lawrie was first published by HART and is reproduced here by kind permission.

The July 3rd episode of Tim Harford’s More or Less: Behind the Stats, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, spread more medical disinformation with a piece entitled “Is ivermectin a Covid wonder drug?” Timed to follow publication of an article in Clinical Infectious Diseases by Roman et al on June 28th, this piece seems a clumsy attempt to discredit the landmark British study of Bryant, Lawrie et al which was published by the American Journal of Therapeutics in June and has recently appeared in the current (July) print edition.

Though published by British authors – based at Dr Tess Lawrie’s Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd in Bath and the University of Newcastle — and despite these authors lacking any conflicts of interest, BBC Radio 4 made no attempt to contact any of the study authors for interview or ‘right of reply’, which is a fairness obligation under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Instead, Harford spoke to one Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Bryant et al have published the world’s first Cochrane-standards systematic review and meta-analysis of available randomised clinical trials of ivermectin in treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Review of 3,406 patients in 24 randomised trials demonstrated a mortality risk reduction of 62% on ‘moderate certainty’ evidence. The documentation is meticulous and comprehensive. Its restriction was to ‘randomised’ clinical trials because non-randomised studies are typically disregarded by regulatory authorities. There was no ‘cherry picking’: all available trials at the study cut-off date were included.

Meyerowitz-Katz referred to Roman et al, with an almost identical but not the same title, which also claims to be a systematic review and meta-analysis. The study surveys only 1,173 patients over 10 studies, with the remaining known randomised trials arbitrarily excluded. Moreover, the article misreports published clinical trial data in a way that verges on falsification of data, as an Open Letter to the Editor-in-Chief has detailed. The initial misreporting while on the preprint server medRxiv included a farcical reversal of the treatment and control ‘arms’ of the clinical trial of Niaee et al, drawing protest from Dr Niaee himself which can still be found in the comments section of medRxiv. Unfortunately for Clinical Infectious Diseases, further misreporting (undetected by the journal’s peer reviewers) remains, in a way that renders the article worthless. Further background on the sources can be found here.

Government NERVTAG Adviser Appears on the BBC Questioning the Models, Masks, Lockdowns and More

Professor Robert Dingwall, perhaps the most sceptical member of Government advisory group NERVTAG (which feeds into SAGE), appeared on BBC Radio 5 on Friday morning to talk to presenter Rachel Burden about the Indian variant, vaccines, models, masks and social distancing. This is about as sceptical as you will get on the BBC, and Rachel finishes by saying “I know there’ll be scientists who disagree with you, but we try and reflect the broad range of views here”, which will come as a surprise to many. Let’s hope she keeps her job after letting such heresy air on the BBC. You can listen here (2:43-2:50) and Lockdown Sceptics readers Teresa Wood and Stuart Robertson have kindly sent us a transcript.

Rachel Burden (0:04): What’s your assessment of how dangerous this variant is at the moment?

Robert Dingwall (0:09): Well I think it is very important not to confuse two things. The first is to say that something is more transmissible does not mean that it’s going to create more severe infection. In a sense you can see this is a trial run for what it means to live with COVID as an endemic infection as we will do in the future, the Indian variant, by saying it’s more transmissible, it’s perhaps easier to catch it, but all the evidence so far is that the vaccines continue to offer very effective protection, and where the infection is clustering in younger people, this is in age groups who are very unlikely to get seriously ill as a result. So we shouldn’t expect to be seeing the sort of waves of hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit admissions and deaths that we’ve, we’ve seen previously.

Rachel Burden (1:04): Well that’s really encouraging because I was reading some stats this morning that had been produced by SAGE, I think, which was suggesting that if it was X percentage more transmissible that we can be seeing 6,000 hospitalisations in the summer by August and so on and all of that looks really quite alarming, particularly as we’re just beginning to open up, but as we know there is no perfect modelling when it comes to this virus is there?

Robert Dingwall (1:27): Well indeed. One of the problems with the models all along has been the lags between obtaining new data, and understanding for example the linkage between mild infections and hospitalisations, which has changed quite drastically since the beginning of the vaccination programme. So the models are a helpful thing to think with, but we shouldn’t take them as crystal balls. And in this case it really is very hard to see, as the vaccination programme continues to roll on, where all those extra admissions and deaths would come from.

Rachel (2:08): You’re speciality is not specifically for virology, but, but, sociology, but I just wonder with that in mind how do you manage public expectations at a time like this because we’re trying to always find that balance here, myself and Nikki on the show between, you know, reflecting the confidence and positivity people are beginning to feel, that which I think is really important, but with that sort of background anxiety and I suppose some realism that this virus isn’t just going to disappear overnight, and we need to be aware of that still. How do you advise the government to manage public expectations around that.

Sunetra Gupta’s Colleagues Come to Her Defence After Rude, Dismissive BBC Interview

Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford, gave an interview to BBC News last week which may be a new low in the Beeb’s one-sided coverage of the lockdown debate. The interviewer, Annita McVeigh, treated the distinguished Oxford scholar as if she was a David Icke figure whose views were completely beyond the pale. At one point, as Prof Gupta was making the case for lifting all restrictions immediately, McVeigh cut across her, saying, “Sorry to interrupt you, Professor, but multiple scientists say lockdowns have worked, the Government says so too.” Gupta patiently replied: “That doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Professor Gupta’s fellow signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard, have come to their colleague’s support.

Professor Kulldorff said: “After one year of covering the pandemic, it is surprising that some journalists still do not understand basic principles of epidemiology and public health. Rather than interrupt her, BBC could learn a lot from Professor Gupta, one of the world’s preeminent infectious disease epidemiologists.”

Professor Bhattacharya added: “Dr Gupta’s comments to the BBC were correct. There is a growing scientific consensus that the lockdowns have failed to control the spread of Covid in nearly every country that has imposed them. The scientific community even more strongly agrees that lockdowns have hampered vital public health priorities along other dimensions, including cancer prevention, mental health, and health inequality. That the BBC does not know these facts indicates how narrow a set of scientific advisors they rely on.”

What They Don’t Talk About on the BBC

We’re publishing an original post today by Dr Mark Shaw, a retired dentist and regular contributor to Lockdown Sceptics. After getting a double-dose of pro-lockdown propaganda on the BBC last week – first on Question Time, then on Any Questions – he was moved to write this piece. He made a list of those questions BBC correspondents and editors should be asking but aren’t:

  • The scandalous failure and cost of NHS Track and Trace and the serious inaccuracies of the PCR and lateral flow tests upon which lockdown strategy were/are based.
  • Why broadcasters have not been reporting over the years how lethal and devastating flu is and how serious its post-viral effects are; and that flu kills far more young people than Covid.
  • Why the BBC is not reporting projections of the non-Covid death toll resulting from lockdown.
  • While I believe informed adults should be able to choose to smoke, why are reporters not drawing attention to the fact that, despite a global annual death toll around three times that of Covid, the Government does not ban tobacco use to “save lives” and “protect the NHS”?
  • Why has the BBC given so little time to discussing lockdown alternatives, the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of lockdowns and mask wearing, the HART Report (“COVID-19: An overview of the evidence”), and the enormous influence and control that SAGE has in Government policy making.
  • Why, in discussing the pros and cons of this particular vaccine rollout, has the BBC submitted nothing but the ‘pros’ and virtually nothing of the risks?
  • Why has there been no comprehensive investigative journalism into the scientific and healthcare authorities that prevent their employees from speaking openly about the effects lockdowns are having on their institutions, their patients and themselves?

Worth reading in full.

Negative Impact of Restricting Travel Extends Far Beyond Tourism

The broadcast media is wrong to focus only on holidays abroad when considering travel restrictions, Lord David Blunkett says. In a letter published in yesterday’s Telegraph, he highlights that the impact on trade and aviation is just as important.

Am I the only one who is tired of interviewers on broadcast media, particularly the BBC, asking: “Do you think it will be impossible to go on holiday abroad this year?”

Questions on this theme are not only put to politicians, but also to anyone with any kind of expertise – whether it’s relevant or not – on an almost hourly basis. This obsession then drives the narrative, which affects how decisions are taken.

Decisions about foreign travel have ramifications way beyond whether anyone can go on holiday. All of our future trading arrangements depend on people being able to be on site, to demonstrate products, and, of course, to be able to maintain and service what is delivered. Maintaining our aviation capacity is as much about freight as it is about passengers, and when airlines go into liquidation and airports cease to be viable, all of us lose out.

Perhaps in the weeks ahead these kinds of questions might replace the constant reiteration of the anxiety displayed by broadcasters.