Public Health England

Are Vaccines Driving the Omicron Wave?

Among the more reliable guides to the real prevalence of COVID-19 are the data collected on antibodies acquired following infection (measured as N-antibody levels, in contrast to S-antibody levels, which are acquired from both infection and vaccination).

Below is the latest graph from the UKHSA showing how antibody levels in blood donors in England have changed since autumn 2020.

From this and earlier UKHSA/PHE reports we can infer that the first wave infected around 5.7% of the population (though data from this period is mixed, with some showing up to 8.3%), the Alpha wave infected around 9.9% (perhaps a bit less if you use a higher first wave estimate – either way the first two waves together infected around 16%), the Delta wave infected around 8% and the Omicron wave has infected around 21.4% (so far). On these data, around 45% of the country have now been infected at least once at some point during the four Covid waves. Note this doesn’t allow for any waning of infection-acquired antibodies, which would mean these are lower-bound estimates.

Vaccine Passports Make No Sense as the Vaccinated Are More Likely to Be Infected, Scientists Tell MPs

It makes “little sense” to impose any kind of vaccine certification scheme, an expert panel of scientists has told a cross-party group of MPs, since Government data indicates that “vaccinated people over 30 years are now more likely to be infected than the unvaccinated”.

The comments were made at a hearing for an enquiry into Covid passes set up by the Pandemic Response and Recovery All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The group, established in the autumn to scrutinise the Government’s response to the pandemic, will gather information from doctors, public health officials, business owners and parliamentary colleagues before setting out its conclusion to Government ministers.

Co-chaired by Conservative MP Esther McVey and Labour MP Graham Stringer, the APPG says it will examine the pros and cons of such a scheme and the rationale behind it, as well as global evidence of whether they work. 

Esther McVey said:

Why Are the UKHSA’s Estimates of Vaccine Effectiveness Consistently Far Higher Than Other Studies?

The latest UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report was released yesterday. It has a new section entitled “Vaccine effectiveness publications” which lists the relevant UKHSA and PHE publications, and which may well have been added in response to the emails of Daily Sceptic readers asking for an update on the UKHSA vaccine effectiveness study.

The top item in the list is the latest from their ongoing test-negative case control study – or rather the update-before-last, as for some reason the link goes to a pre-print from September, which then redirects you to a newer version published on October 6th. In any case, this means I was incorrect to state that there had not been an update using data since May, as these papers had somehow flown under my radar (for which, sincere apologies). In fact, the latest update uses data up to September 3rd, so still two months behind and including nothing from the autumn, but it’s certainly better than stopping in spring.

The chart below shows the estimates over time for the two main vaccines, indicating declining effectiveness.

It is immediately apparent, however that these estimates are significantly above those found in other studies. The new study claims, for example, that the AstraZeneca vaccine remains 47% effective after 20 weeks (five months), when a recent Swedish study found it was down to zero (or lower) after four months. It puts Pfizer at 70% effective after 20 weeks (five months), when the Swedish study put it at 47% after four to six months, and zero after seven months. A Qatari study similarly found the Pfizer vaccine effectiveness down to around zero after five to seven months (these figures are all for symptomatic infection). The UKHSA acknowledges the Qatari study and says it is in line with its own findings in terms of showing decline, but doesn’t discuss why its own study still found substantial protection when the other did not.

The suspicion is that there is something wrong with the design of the UKHSA study that means it is coming up with inflated vaccine effectiveness estimates owing to biases that it is failing to adjust for (and may not be able to). That was certainly the inkling I got in May when I analysed the study design when it first came out with data up to February 19th.

ONS Reported to U.K. Statistics Authority by Former Senior Employee For Misleading Claim That “Risk of Death is 32 Times Higher in the Unvaccinated”

A former senior figure at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has criticised his old employer for breaching the Code of Practice for Statistics over its biased presentation of data relating to the vaccines.

James Wells, a statistician who served as head of the ONS UK trade team until 2019, has written to the UK Statistics Authority objecting to a new report, published November 1st, which leads with the statistic that “the age-adjusted risk of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in fully vaccinated individuals”.

However, as James points out, 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 massively skews the implied vaccine effectiveness, as a fair comparison would only include periods when a significant proportion of the country was vaccinated.

An earlier version of the same report was released in September using data from January 2nd to July 2nd, which I criticised at the time. It made a similarly sensational claim about the high number of deaths in the unvaccinated compared to the vaccinated, garnering headlines that just 1% of deaths in the first six months of 2021 (640 out of over 50,000) were in fully vaccinated people. This was technically true, but completely misleading in terms of what it appeared to tell us about the effectiveness of the vaccines. Neither the ONS nor the journalists reporting on the data took care to make this clear.

Infection Rates More than Twice as High in the Vaccinated, New UKHSA Data Shows, as Agency Dismisses Own Data as ‘Biased’. But Why No New VE Estimate Since May?

The latest UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report was released Thursday, and its authors are now bending over backwards to keep their critics happy. Following a telling-off this week from the U.K. Statistics Authority, the UKHSA’s Head of Immunisation, Mary Ramsay (pictured above), published a blog post explaining what they’ve done to appease their detractors, while the report now states no fewer than four times, twice in bold typeface, that “these raw data should not be used to estimate vaccine effectiveness”. Ramsay grovels:

To make our data less susceptible to misinterpretation, the U.K. Health Security Agency has worked with the UK Statistics Authority to update some of the data tables and descriptions in the report, specifically around rates of infection in vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. In our commitment to transparent and clear data, we regularly review our publications to ensure they reflect the current situation within the pandemic, and we will continue to work with our partners at the statistics bodies, to ensure our reporting is as scientifically robust as possible.

As I noted last week, the UKHSA does not accept the criticism of its population estimates levelled by, among others, David Spiegelhalter, who declared that using them was “deeply untrustworthy and completely unacceptable”.

The agency instead takes the view that the problem is systemic biases in the data which mean it “should not be used” to estimate vaccine effectiveness. But as I have noted repeatedly, those biases just mean that the estimate will be of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness, which is a perfectly legitimate quantity to estimate and has its uses, particularly when looking at trends or when there is reason to think the biases may be relatively small. (For instance, a recent vaccine effectiveness study in California adjusted its raw data for 22 different factors but in almost all cases the adjustments were tiny.)

The UKHSA report itself correctly gives the definition of vaccine effectiveness: “Vaccine effectiveness is estimated by comparing rates of disease in vaccinated individuals to rates in unvaccinated individuals.” The U.S. CDC, likewise, states the definition as “the proportionate reduction in disease among the vaccinated group”. The CDC distinguishes “vaccine efficacy”, estimated from controlled studies, from “vaccine effectiveness”, which is used “when a study is carried out under typical field (that is, less than perfectly controlled) conditions”. It is therefore not appropriate for the UKHSA, a Government agency, to insist that its data “should not be used” to estimate vaccine effectiveness, which is a false statement and amounts to attempted Government censorship of scientific enquiry.

Pressure Mounts on the UKHSA to Stop Publishing Data Showing Infection Rates Higher in the Vaccinated

The Prime Minister may have acknowledged reality and stated that being double vaccinated “doesn’t protect you against catching the disease, and it doesn’t protect you against passing it on” but others appear to remain in denial.

On Sunday I asked whether now that the PM had let the cat out of the bag the media would start reporting properly on the UKHSA data showing higher infection rates in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated. It appears the answer is no, at least if the Times‘s Tom Whipple is any indication.

In a typically mean-spirited piece – in which anyone who doesn’t agree with his favoured scientist of the hour is smeared as a conspiracy theorist and purveyor of misinformation – Whipple quotes Cambridge statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter, who heaps opprobrium on the U.K. Health Security Agency (the successor to PHE) for daring to publish data that contradicts the official vaccine narrative. Spiegelhalter says of the UKHSA vaccine surveillance reports:

This presentation of statistics is deeply untrustworthy and completely unacceptable… I cannot believe that UKHSA is putting out graphics showing higher infection rates in vaccinated than unvaccinated groups, when this is simply an artefact due to using clearly inappropriate estimates of the population. This has been repeatedly pointed out to them, and yet they continue to provide material for conspiracy theorists around the world.

This is the graphic he is presumably referring to.

If Professor Spiegelhalter has a source for his claim that higher infection rates in the vaccinated are “simply an artefact” of erroneous population estimates then he doesn’t provide it.

Infection Rate in Vaccinated People in Their 40s Now More Than DOUBLE the Rate in Unvaccinated, PHE Data Shows, as Vaccine Effectiveness Hits Minus-109%

In the latest Vaccine Surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) the infection rate in double-vaccinated people in their 40s went above 100% higher than in the unvaccinated for the first time, reaching 109%. This translates to an unadjusted vaccine effectiveness of minus-109%.

Vaccine effectiveness continues to drop fast in all over-18s (see chart at top), hitting minus-85% for those in their 50s, minus-88% for those in their 60s and minus-79% for those in their 70s. (For definitions and discussion of limitations see here.)

Vaccine Effectiveness Drops Again, Now as Low as Minus-86% in Over-40s, Latest PHE Data Shows

The latest Public Health England (PHE) Vaccine Surveillance report was released on Thursday, meaning we can update our estimates of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness from real-world data.

As before, the report itself states this is “not the most appropriate method” to assess vaccine effectiveness as it is not adjusted for various confounders (and they do not provide the data that would allow such adjustments to be made). ‘Fact-checking’ website Full Fact (funded by Big Tech) are currently trying to censor the Daily Sceptic because, they claim, this means it is ‘incorrect’ to use the data in the report to calculate vaccine effectiveness. This is not true, however: regardless of what PHE deems to be the “most appropriate method”, vaccine effectiveness is defined as the reduction in the proportion of infections in the vaccinated group compared to the unvaccinated group, and it is perfectly acceptable to estimate it from population data, as long as any limitations in the data are acknowledged.

It is certainly not ‘incorrect’ to use the latest population-based data to get an up-to-date estimate of unadjusted vaccine effectiveness as part of tracking how the vaccines are performing on the ground.

Perhaps the most important limitations in this data are that the high-risk were originally prioritised for vaccination and that those who have been previously infected may be more likely to decline vaccination. Both of these would artificially lower the estimate of vaccine effectiveness. However, a recent population study in the Lancet adjusted its vaccine effectiveness estimates to take account of no fewer than 22 different confounding factors, including these, and in almost all cases this resulted in very little change. For instance, here are the adjusted and unadjusted estimates against infection by age. (Note that the high values here are for the whole study period; what the study showed overall is that in more recent months vaccine effectiveness has been dropping fast.)

Fact-Checking the Fact Checkers

One of my recent posts on the Daily Sceptic was the subject of a ‘fact check‘ by Full Fact, which self-importantly describes itself as “the UK’s independent fact checking organisation” but is in fact funded by Google, Facebook and George Soros, among others, to help them suppress unapproved news and views. Even U.K. broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it relies on the organisation to tell it what to censor regarding COVID-19, so unfortunately the dog has teeth and can’t just be ignored as one more absurd website with excessive faith in its own infallibility.

The post in question, from September 10th, simply reported on Public Health England’s latest Vaccine Surveillance report, which included infection rates by vaccination status for the previous month so allowed the calculation of an unadjusted estimate of vaccine effectiveness. Full Fact, however, took exception to the idea that vaccine effectiveness can be estimated in this way, because it wasn’t adjusted for confounders. Or used the wrong population data. Or because the article included the (entirely accurate) claim that the PHE report showed higher infection rates in the vaccinated in some age groups. Or because the heading didn’t include ‘caveats’. Or something. In any case, it was ‘incorrect’.

Here follows my correspondence with them, attempting to explain that the factual errors lay entirely in their ‘fact check’, not in my piece.

New Lancet Study Confirms Plummeting Vaccine Effectiveness

A study appeared in the Lancet this week confirming that vaccine effectiveness against infection is fading fast.

The study involved 3,436,957 people over the age of 12 who are members of the healthcare organisation Kaiser Permanente Southern California. It sought to assess the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19-related hospital admissions for up to six months, with a study period covering December 14th, 2020, to August 8th, 2021.

Comparing fully vaccinated to unvaccinated, and controlling for confounders such as prior infection, the researchers found that effectiveness against infection plummeted from 88% (95% confidence interval 86-89%) during the first month after double-vaccination to 47% (43-51%) after five months. The variation by age (depicted above) was largely within the margins of error.

Among sequenced infections, the researchers found vaccine effectiveness against Delta infection was 93% (85-97%) during the first month after double-vaccination but dropped to 53% (39-65%) after four months. Effectiveness against infection from other variants the first month after double-vaccination was 97% (95-99%), but declined to 67% (45-80%) at 4-5 months.

Pfizer vaccine effectiveness by Covid variant