Understanding the Covid Odds

Perhaps the biggest barrier to ending the pandemic and its related interventions and theatre is the irrational fear that many people still have of the virus, a fear that ironically (though not surprisingly from a psychological perspective) grips the vaccinated much more than the unvaccinated. John Tierney in City Journal has crunched the numbers to help people come to a rational assessment of their risk.

It’s obviously not easy to give up fear of COVID-19, to judge from a recent survey showing that the vaccinated are actually more frightened than the unvaccinated. Another survey found that most Democratic voters are so worried that they want to make it illegal for the unvaccinated to leave home. But before you don another mask or disinfect another surface, before you cheer on politicians and school officials enforcing mandates, consider your odds of a fatal Covid case once you’ve been vaccinated.

Those odds can be gauged from a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, published by the Centers for Disease Control. They tracked more than one million vaccinated adults in America over most of last year, including the period when the Delta variant was surging, and classified victims of Covid according to risk factors such as being over 65, being immunosuppressed, or suffering from diabetes or chronic diseases of the heart, kidney, lungs, liver or brain.

The researchers report that none of the healthy people under 65 had a severe case of Covid that required treatment in an intensive-care unit. Not a single one of these nearly 700,000 people died, and the risk was miniscule for most older people, too. Among vaccinated people over 65 without an underlying medical condition, only one person died. In all, there were 36 deaths, mostly among a small minority of older people with a multitude of comorbidities: the 3% of the sample that had at least four risk factors. Among everyone else, a group that included elderly people with one or two chronic conditions, there were just eight deaths among more than 1.2 million people, so their risk of dying was about one in 150,000.

Those are roughly the same odds that in the course of a year you will die in a fire, or that you’ll perish by falling down stairs. Going anywhere near automobiles is a bigger risk: you’re three times more likely during a given year to be killed while riding in a car, and also three times more likely to be a pedestrian casualty. The 150,000-to-one odds of a Covid death are even longer than the odds over your lifetime of dying in an earthquake or being killed by lightning.

John goes on to note that “studies have shown that natural immunity is much stronger and longer-lasting than vaccine immunity”, and while the threat of Covid is greater for unvaccinated adults, the case for vaccine mandates is obsolete “now that it’s clear that vaccination doesn’t prevent reinfection and transmission”.

Worth reading in full.

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:

Pro-Lockdown SAGE Advisor Stephen Reicher Thinks Caring about Freedom is Selfish and Wants Us to Surrender to the Supreme Authority of the State For Ever in the Name of Compassion

We’re publishing a guest post today by Professor David McGrogan, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Business at Northumbria University, about the recent twitter rant of Stephen Reicher, a lockdown zealot who sits on SAGE. Reicher was absolutely horrified by Sajid Javid’s suggestion that we have to learn to live with the virus and that means taking personal responsibility for managing our own behaviour. He is one of many so-called experts who are ranting and raving about the lifting of restrictions on July 19th – out in force on the airwaves today –  believing its a terrible dereliction of duty on the Government’s part.

Stephen Reicher, a psychologist who sits on SAGE, recently made headlines with a twitter rant against Sajid Javid. It is full of bluster, bombast and keyboard-warrior aggression like twitter rants always are, but also contains one tweet that is highly revealing about the pro-lockdown mindset.

“Above all,” Reicher tells us, “it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ [sic] Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.’”

We’ve heard this kind of thing a lot, of course: one of the chief rhetorical devices of the pro-lockdown movement is the depiction of anybody who dissents as selfish. Those of us who are sceptical can only possibly be that way because we just want to go to the pub and everybody’s grannies can simply go hang. But it is worth dwelling on certain assumptions underlying the tweet, because they help us to understand a little bit more about the worldview upon which people like Stephen Reicher base their views and advice.

The first is the elision between ‘we’ and the state, which has characterised support for lockdown since the very beginning, and which suggests both a disregard for the distinction between the public and private spheres and a lack of concern for, or appreciation of, the existence of a society as a thing independent from the realm of politics. No sceptic I am aware of has ever taken the position that life should have continued completely as normal during the pandemic period. Our position has been that it is up to us (or the ‘”we” concept’ as Reicher might put it) to make those decisions for ourselves in consideration of those around us, rather than to have the State impose them on us from above. It is not about anarchic libertarianism sticking two fingers up to authority. It is about taking responsibility for our own actions, like adults.

There is something deeply Hobbesian about the view to which Reicher subscribes: the idea that the leviathan must take responsibility for every aspect of our lives, since left to our own devices we’re simply incapable of making sensible decisions. The difficulty that somebody in his position faces, of course, is that once that logical leap has been made, everything is up for grabs – the state might as well make all significant decisions for everybody for ever, since it alone possesses the advice of the ‘experts’, and since we’re so damned untrustworthy and stupid. Perhaps he finds that idea appealing, but if he does, he is in a tiny minority.

The second is the unstated rejection of individual rights. As Ronald Dworkin, probably the most important legal philosopher of the latter part of the 20th century, was wont to emphasise, individual rights have no meaning unless they trump considerations of the general welfare. If individual rights (to free expression, conscience, assembly, liberty, etc.) have to give way if it is for the good of the ‘general welfare’, then that means individual rights do not exist. Whenever politicians deem it important to override them, then they can, because it will always be possible to declare a policy to be in the ‘general welfare’. Civil liberties are only worth more than the paper they are written on if they protect individual freedom even though it is not in the general welfare. There may be circumstances in which a serious public emergency will trump even that consideration (and one individual’s rights can be limited by another individual’s competing rights, of course). But that situation has to be extremely rare. And we are certainly not in such a situation now that all of the vulnerable have been double-jabbed and almost all other adults at least partially vaccinated. Stephen Reicher may not deem it important to live in a rights-respecting democracy, but he should say so if that is his opinion.

The third, and in my view most troubling, is the implication that freedom itself is selfish. Public health may be a “we” thing, but that does not mean that freedom is an “I” thing. No sensible liberal thinker has ever argued anything other than that individual freedom comes with, and is contingent upon, responsibility, self-control, discipline, restraint, and community-mindedness. To live as a free individual means to live in a dense network of mutual respect, protection, cooperation and compassion, because otherwise one cannot live at all. To be free means to live with the consequences of one’s actions – and that means to act at every turn in the awareness that there are other people around oneself, whose needs and desires are to be respected and mutually bolstered with one’s own. Freedom is a “we” thing – it is probably the most important “we” thing of all. This is to be contrasted with the alienating, atomised, individualised world of the lockdown advocates: no socialising, schooling, community activities or even sex except where mediated by the authority and permission of the state. No society, no family, no friends – unless the state lets you.

I know who needs to get his head around the “we” concept – and it isn’t Sajid Javid.

Why Lockdown Doesn’t Work: The Surprising Fact that Halving Your Frequency of Exposure Barely Cuts Your Infection Risk

A common criticism of lockdown sceptics who draw attention to the copious data that restrictions and social distancing make little or no difference to infection rates is that we are denying “germ theory”. By which is meant that we are denying the fact that viruses are transmitted from sick people to those they come into contact with and hence that reducing those contacts will significantly reduce the infection rate.

However, this criticism fails to recognise that risk of infection is not proportional to frequency of exposure. It doesn’t take into account the counterintuitive fact that halving your exposure, say, doesn’t halve your risk of infection, not even close.

Consider the case of John, who is one of the unfortunate few who is highly susceptible to infection, so that whenever he is exposed for a non-trivial length of time he has a 0.8 (i.e., 80%) chance of being infected. Suppose that under normal circumstances he attends four places in a week where he might be exposed outside his home, maybe the supermarket, his workplace, the pub and the barber or doctor.

What is his probability of being infected during the week? It’s one minus the probability of him not being infected. The probability of him not being infected at the supermarket is 1-0.8=0.2 (to keep things simple we assume that in all four contexts he visits he is exposed to the virus). Then the probability of him also not being infected at the pub is 0.2×0.2=0.04. Then add in two more contexts where he has to avoid infection, so multiply by 0.2 twice more, and you get the answer: 1-(0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2)=0.998, or 99.8% risk of infection. In other words, John’s chances of getting through the week when attending four places of exposure without being infected is almost nil.

Now suppose that due to restrictions, John halves the number of places he goes where he is exposed, dropping the pub and workplace maybe but still going to the supermarket and the doctor or barber. So he halves his risk of infection, right? Wrong. That’s not how risk works when the event is a binary one (getting infected or not) that you are trying to avoid. That’s because you only have to get infected once to ‘lose’, but you have to avoid it every time to ‘win’. John’s probability of being infected during the week now is 1-(0.2 x 0.2)=0.96. So halving his amount of exposure during the week reduced his risk of infection from 99.8% to 96%, i.e., it just made it slightly less certain.