Omicron Variant

NHS Vaccine Mandate is “Under Review” Says Sajid Javid, as Deadline Approaches

Ministers are “reflecting” on plans for mandatory jabs for NHS staff, the Health Secretary has said, with the policy “under review”, despite the fact the deadline falls next week. The Telegraph has the story.

Sajid Javid said that while the principle behind the stance remained unchanged, the “very different” nature of the Omicron variant had to be taken into account.

The Health Secretary said around 77,000 NHS workers remained unvaccinated against Covid, saying it was the “professional duty” of every NHS worker to be vaccinated.

He said efforts to boost uptake in recent weeks meant that at some trusts as few as 25 out of 5,000 staff had given a “firm refusal”.

Nationally, around 5% of NHS staff have yet to be vaccinated.

Mr Javid hinted that the deadline of February 4th for staff to have their first jab – or face dismissal in April – could still be delayed, or see a booster added to requirements.

The Health Secretary said the decision to introduce mandatory jabs was driven by the need to protect patient safety.

Mr Javid told the Health and Social Care Committee: “That was the principle and we weighed it up. The dominant variant at the time was Delta … the dominant variant now, in fact, almost all cases, is Omicron.”

He said people had “made representations” to him about Omicron being “very different” to Delta, in that while the former is more transmissible it is “intrinsically less severe”.

Mr Javid said while some people had urged him to add boosters to the mandatory requirement, others have called for it to be scrapped altogether.

He said: “I think it is right in light of Omicron that we reflect on all this and keep all Covid policies properly under review. Because Omicron is different to Delta. Equally, we don’t know what the next variant is going to be … But we are reflecting on all this.”

We don’t know what the next variant is going to be – but there’s no reason to think it will evade the vaccines less than Omicron, as that’s not really how viral evolution works.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Infections in England Dropped Last Week, ONS Data Confirm

Coronavirus infections in England declined again last week despite infections continuing to rise in children, figures from the ONS showed today. MailOnline has more.

Government analysts estimate 2.6 million people in the country were infected on any day during the week ending January 22nd, compared to 2.9 million one week earlier. Both figures equate to one in 20 people in England carrying the virus.

It marks the second week in a row that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has projected a fall in prevalence, illustrating how the Omicron wave fizzled off after causing infections to spiral to pandemic highs.

Cases are now trending downwards in all age groups apart from under-16s, with the return to classrooms earlier this month thought to be behind the trend.

The ONS survey is regarded as the most reliable indicator of the UK’s outbreak because it uses random sampling of around 100,000 people, rather than relying on people coming forward to be tested.

Official daily numbers show cases have plateaued at around 90,000 per day, following a fortnight of infections being in freefall. This was before the effects of lifting Plan B restrictions in England have even been felt.

Work from home guidance was revoked last week, while Covid passes and requirements to wear face masks in public spaces will come to an end tomorrow. Boris Johnson has also said he wants the self-isolation rules to be ditched by the end of March as part of the UK’s plan to ‘live with the virus’ like flu.

The report, used by ministers to guide Covid policy, is normally published on Friday – but its release was moved while infections run at unprecedented levels. 

The ONS said the proportion of children aged two to 11 in England who were infected increased for a second week in a row, while cases among 12 to 16-year-olds are now also on the rise. 

However, infections among all other age groups are still declining, according to the statisticians. 

All parts of England are seeing a drop in case rates, apart from the South West, where the trend in cases is uncertain, the ONS said.

Worth reading in full.

Deaths Trending 6% Below Average in Mid-January – Time to Accept It’s Over

Winter deaths are usually running high at this point in January, but this year is different. According to the latest figures from the ONS, released today, in the week ending January 14th there were 6.1% fewer deaths than the five-year average in England and Wales (872 fewer deaths). Note that the five-year average the ONS uses doesn’t include 2020, but 2016-19 (which has historically low mortality) and 2021.

In the previous week there were 7.8% fewer deaths than the five-year average (1,036 fewer deaths).

A reflection of the mildness of Omicron and the level of immunity in the population, this makes 2021-22 a mild flu season, and further underlines how unjustified any measures to combat coronavirus now are. The state of emergency and all laws and guidance – including the vaccine mandates – must be removed without delay so that healthy normality can be restored.

This article has been corrected for a mistake in the information about which years are included in the ONS five-year average.

WHO Claims We’re Only at “Halfway Mark” of Pandemic and Warns Against Treating Covid Like Flu

The World Health Organisation has said we are only at the “halfway mark” of the pandemic and warned against treating Covid like flu, days after the Government said it intended to do just that. MailOnline has the story.

David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid, said the comparisons were irresponsible because they suggest coronavirus “has suddenly got incredibly weak”.

He told Sky News: “It can also mutate and form variants and we’ve seen several but we know there are more not far away. 

“So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else – it’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning.”

The official called on leaders to “stay focused on the job” as he claimed we were only at the “halfway mark” of the pandemic. 

Parallels between coronavirus and influenza are being drawn in the U.K. now that Omicron is causing around the same number of deaths as a bad flu season.    

Boris Johnson last week signalled his intention to lift isolation rules for Covid sufferers, highlighting that people with flu don’t legally have to quarantine. 

And Health Secretary Sajid Javid pointed to the U.K.’s falling case numbers and relatively low hospital rates as he said “we need to learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu”.

Asked about the comparisons, Dr. Nabarro told Sky News: “I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the WHO don’t know.

“You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before.”

Did you spot the factual error there, saying Omicron was causing the same number of deaths as a bad flu season when deaths in the most recent week were well below average?

Dr. Nabarro’s comments also make no sense in the U.K. context, as he refers to “people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before”, which refers to almost zero percent of the U.K. population.

Will they ever let the emergency end?

Worth reading in full.

Unprecedented Low Hospital Demand: NHS Data Show a Quarter of ICU Beds Unoccupied in Mid-January

There follows a guest post by our in-house doctor, who notes the NHS has revealed that almost a quarter of ICU beds in English hospitals are unoccupied in the middle of January, which is unprecedented in recent history – normal ICU bed occupancy at this time of year is well over 90%. Why then the continued narrative of fear and doom in some quarters?

On Wednesday January 19th, Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons that the majority of ‘Plan B’ restrictions would end in England on January 26th. Any objective analysis of the U.K. data confirms the information from South Africa in early December in relation to the mild nature of Omicron was correct. Finally, the Government has been persuaded that our South African colleagues did know what they were talking about.

After a brief incursion onto the territory of Libertaria, the forces of Hysteria have been repelled and British citizens partially regain their sovereignty. Time to hang out the bunting and open the champagne? I think not.

Reaction by lockdown zealots to removal of societal restrictions has been tediously predictable. In an echo of July 2021, a range of commentators are again using compliant mainstream media outlets to predict imminent catastrophe if societal restrictions are lifted and to condemn the Government for putting public safety ‘at risk’. Before looking at warnings of doom in more detail, I will briefly examine the data which have led to the volte face by the Government. I will not dwell too long on these numbers as most readers will already be aware that the “nailed on tsunami of admissions” has simply failed to show up. Again.

Graph 1 shows the most important information this week from the Primary Diagnosis spreadsheet. Readers will recall this shows the total numbers of patients in hospital on vertical orange bars, versus the number of people in hospital with acute Covid on blue bars. The ratio between the two is depicted by the grey line. Notice the blue bars (people ill with Covid) are falling on the right-hand side of the graph, as is the ratio. So, when the BBC reports that Covid inpatient numbers are about 15,000 and static, the true picture is there are fewer than 8,000 patients and the numbers have been falling for the last 10 days.

Graph 1

Graph 2 shows the true numbers for London, which front runs the rest of the U.K. True numbers of Covid patients are 40% of the daily reported figure and numbers have been falling steadily since January 4th.

Natural Immunity Superior to Vaccine Immunity, CDC Study Finds

A study by the U.S. CDC (a Federal Government health agency) has found that natural immunity is superior to vaccine immunity alone, and that being vaccinated on top makes little difference, confirming the findings of several studies in other countries.

The study looked at Covid infection and hospitalisation rates in California and New York during the Delta period, June to November 2021. The chart below shows the hazard rates over time for the four cohorts (no vaccine and no prior infection; no vaccine and prior infection; vaccine and no prior infection; vaccine and prior infection) for hospital admissions, adjusted for age – focus especially on the relative heights of the three dashed lines near the bottom.

The authors write: “These results demonstrate that vaccination protects against COVID-19 and related hospitalisation, and that surviving a previous infection protects against a reinfection and related hospitalisation.” Note that the unvaccinated group here is split between those who are and are not previously infected, so is not directly comparable to the UKHSA data which does not make this distinction.

The authors note that, while prior to July the vaccinated were better off than the previously infected, come the summer and the arrival of Delta, prior infection was stronger.

Similar to the early period of this study, two previous U.S. studies found more protection from vaccination than from previous infection during periods before Delta predominance. As was observed in the present study after July, recent international studies have also demonstrated increased protection in persons with previous infection, with or without vaccination, relative to vaccination alone.

In a nod to the superior effect on the immune system of exposure to the virus, they comment : “This might be due to differential stimulation of the immune response by either exposure type.”

The vaccines waned in efficacy over time and against Delta, the authors note: “Importantly, infection-derived protection was greater after the highly transmissible Delta variant became predominant, coinciding with early declining of vaccine-induced immunity in many persons.”

In contrast, protection from natural immunity didn’t appear to wane: “Whereas French and Israeli population-based studies noted waning protection from previous infection, this was not apparent in the results from this or other large U.K. and U.S. studies.”

Leaked Department of Health Memo Warns Ministers That NHS Vaccine Mandate May Not Survive Judicial Review as Vaccine Effectiveness Falls to Zero

As the deadline for the NHS vaccine mandate approaches and worries about staff shortages and unfair treatment rise, a leaked document from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issues ministers with a stark warning, saying the new evidence on Omicron – showing vaccine effectiveness dropping to zero – casts doubts over the new law’s “rationality” and “proportionality”. The Guardian has the story.

Two jabs will become compulsory for frontline NHS staff from April 1st after MPs voted on the legislation last month.

But the document, drawn up by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) officials and seen by the Guardian, said the evidence base on which MPs voted “has changed”, creating a higher chance of objections and judicial review.

The effectiveness of only two vaccine doses against Omicron, and the lower likelihood of hospitalisations from the milder variant, are cited.

More than 70,000 NHS staff – 4.9% – could remain unvaccinated by April 1st, the document says. NHS trusts in England are preparing to start sending dismissal letters from February 3rd to any member of staff who has not had their first dose by then.

Amid significant pressures on the NHS, last week groups including the Royal College of Nursing urged Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to delay the legislation, known as “vaccination as a condition of deployment” (VCOD2). An earlier VCOD1 rule applied to care workers and came into force on November 11th.

On Tuesday the Royal College of Nursing said the leaked memo should prompt ministers to call a halt to the imposition of compulsory jabs, which it called “reckless”. …

The document prepared by DHSC officials noted that two vaccine doses provide up to 32% effectiveness against Omicron infection, which wanes to in effective zero 20 weeks later.

At the time the policy was developed, two-dose effectiveness against infection with the Delta variant was substantially higher – 65% with Oxford/AstraZeneca and 80% with Pfizer/BioNTech, the DHSC memo said.

Booster jabs have since been shown to be highly effective but are not part of the law for NHS workers.

The article quotes from the memo itself:

U.K. Lockdown “Working” as Cases Plummet. “Thank God I Listened to Neil Ferguson,” Says Boris.

Cases of COVID-19 in England fell again today with 97,770 reported, the first time there have been fewer than 100,000 reported since December 27th and a drop of 36% in a week.

The number of Covid patients in ICU also continued to fall.

Senior Government figures said that it showed the lockdown imposed on the advice of senior advisers before Christmas was working to control the outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant, but warned the public mustn’t become complacent and think it is over. “Lifting restrictions too quickly will just result in a resurgence of the virus which will overwhelm the NHS,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

With infections currently higher in Scotland than south of the border, Nicola Sturgeon said that her additional restrictions, requiring people to keep their masks on while eating, was clearly making an impact. “What we need to keep in mind is that the infection rate would certainly be much worse had we not brought in these additional measures. Modelling from Imperial College has shown that Scots are particularly infectious while eating, and without this measure there would currently be 800,000 people in ICU with Covid in Edinburgh alone.”

Michael Gove said: “Some people say that Covid waves just fall by themselves, and spread dangerous ideas online implying that restrictions are not needed to control coronavirus outbreaks. The fact that infections are falling after we brought in restrictions shows the importance of using these tried and tested measures. Government is working closely with technology and social media companies to ensure all dangerous content online is removed.”

The Prime Minister echoed these sentiments. “Thank God I Listened to Neil Ferguson,” he said. “His predictions are always spot on.”

Fact-checkers, please ensure your satire detectors are fully functioning before engaging with this post.

Why Does Natural Immunity Not Exist For the QCovid Risk Calculator?

There follows a guest post by a Daily Sceptic reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, who has some questions about the changing risk estimates being produced by the QCovid risk calculator and why important factors like previous infection are not taken into account.

The QCovid risk calculator was developed by University of Oxford, commissioned in 2020 by the Chief Medical Officer for England on behalf of the U.K. Government, and describes itself as a “clinical decision tool intended to support conversations between clinically trained professionals and patients about COVID-19 risk”. There is a clinician tool and a patient tool; the clinician tool differs only in some of the questions but delivers the same estimates.

I am a 49 year-old female with no pre-existing health conditions of note and am not obese. My daughter is a 19 year-old female with no pre-existing health conditions of note and is not obese. We ran the QCovid risk calculator in summer 2020 when considering the risk posed to ourselves and therefore the potential benefit of a vaccine.  My risk of dying was one in 62,000 or 0.0016% and my risk of hospitalisation was one in 4,000 or 0.025%. My daughter’s risk of dying was one in 500,000 or 0.0002%. This data must have related to the variants around at the time although the risk calculator never made that clear.  

I checked the risk calculator again multiple times over the past 18 months and it had not changed (or possibly was not updated).  

I checked again on January 11th 2022 and the calculator has changed. The questions are the same, but the data generated is different. 

  1. You can now select whether or not you are vaccinated – however it doesn’t ask which vaccine you might have had, or indeed when it was delivered. We now know this makes a difference. It also doesn’t make any reference to the number of doses. This also makes a difference.
  2. The risk assessment doesn’t delineate between variants and we know Omicron is significantly less harmful than Delta or Alpha.  Are they suggesting the risk posed to my health is equivalent?

I have a BSc in medical biochemistry and a Masters in law; I am analytical and data driven – I spend my days reviewing data, searching for patterns and loopholes. I am not a mathematician, but something about the data the calculator is now offering doesn’t feel right. The estimates provided by QCovid for both people (mother and daughter) are below, vaccinated and unvaccinated:

Coronavirus is Nowhere Near Endemic, Says WHO

The coronavirus is “nowhere near” endemic, the World Health Organisation has said, and will not reach this point until it is “stable” and stops triggering unpredictable waves of infection that don’t “rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability”. The Telegraph has the story.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday Dr. Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, said it’s still too soon to suggest the world is moving into an endemic phase of COVID-19 – in spite of assertions from politicians in countries including the U.K. and Spain. …

“In terms of endemicity, we’re still a way off,” Dr. Smallwood told journalists. “Endemicity assumes that there’s stable circulation of the virus, at predictable levels with predictable waves of transmission… that doesn’t rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability. But what we’re seeing at the moment, coming into 2022, is nowhere near that… we can’t just sit back and see a stable rate of transmission,” she said. 

“We still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that’s evolving quite quickly and posing quite new challenges. So we’re certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic. It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage.”

At the weekend the Cabinet Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he believes the country is “witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic”, while Spain’s Prime Minister this week urged Europe to consider the possibility of treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness, such as flu. 

But Dr. Smallwood warned governments “to hold back on behaving as if it’s endemic before the virus is actually behaving as if it’s endemic”.  She added that widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be “very very key in moving toward this scenario”. 

Worth reading in full.

Note the multiple fantasies in this alarmist statement. “Widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be ‘very very key in moving toward this scenario'” – even though we already have very widespread vaccine take-up and infection rates are as high as ever.

Endemicity requires stability that “doesn’t rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability” – even though there is no evidence “external forces” (i.e., interventions) have done anything to limit the spread of the virus.

Endemicity “assumes that there’s stable circulation of the virus, at predictable levels with predictable waves of transmission” – even though there’s nothing predictable about existing endemic viruses like those which cause colds and flu.

So what’s the idea now? Vaccines don’t stop the spread, restrictions don’t stop the spread, hardly anyone is getting very sick and health services can cope, but for some reason we still have to stay on an emergency footing and not move on from the pandemic?

Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said that a vaccine for Omicron will be ready in March and the company has begun manufacturing the doses. He also admitted that two doses are no longer any good against severe disease – though he may have had other motives for implying more doses of his product are necessary for protection. The Independent has the story.