South Africa

More Reasons to Doubt the Covid Vaccines Really Deliver 90% Protection Against Death

The UKHSA’s latest vaccine surveillance report includes this table on page 11:

Fig 1

In essence, it claims ongoing efficacy against death from COVID-19 at about 88% following three vaccinations for the over 50 year-olds. Does this mean that in the absence of the vaccines we would expect deaths of the triple-vaccinated to be 8.3 times higher than it has been? Let’s assemble some data from Government sources and see if this can really be true.

Up until week 13 2022, the UKHSA used to report deaths from Covid by age and vaccine status. Fig 2 reproduces this last data table. The absolute numbers may have changed in the five weeks since then but the relative rates of death in the various groups had been fairly stable for the weeks prior to this and I suspect they still are.

South Africa Brings in Restrictions to Combat New Variants – But is the ‘Wave’ Already Running Out of Steam?

South Africa has ramped up its restrictions again in response to the recent reported rise in infections associated with new subvariants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 as the southerly country heads into winter.

South Africa never lifted its mask mandate and, though the mandate was due to end this week, has now extended it. It never lifted it despite the country skipping the Omicron BA.2 wave and having low infection levels for months, its original Omicron wave being much smaller than in other countries (see below) and the variant anyway being considerably milder and posing no threat.

Covid Hospital Admissions Drop for 22nd Day in a Row – But New Variants in South Africa Raise Questions of What Comes Next

Latest Covid hospital data show there were 1,198 new admissions with Covid in the U.K. on April 27th (60% of which were incidental), which marked a 19% decrease on the previous week and a fall for the 22nd day in a row, as the Omicron BA.2 wave continues to decline. However, news of a rise in reported infections and hospital admissions in South Africa linked to new variants has raised questions of what might come next. MailOnline has more.

A delay to the Government’s dashboard update on bank holiday Monday means today’s stats include four days’ worth of numbers – after ministers stopped publishing the figures on weekends following ‘Freedom Day’.

It shows there were 35,635 new positive Covid tests over the last four days, working out at an average of just 8,900 daily cases since Friday. There were also 407 total deaths, equivalent of just over 100 daily.

Case numbers logged by the central testing scheme are becoming increasingly unreliable now that free swabs have been stopped for the vast majority of Britons. 

Meanwhile, latest Covid hospital data show there were 1,198 new admissions for the virus on April 27th, which marked a near-19% decrease on the previous week. 

Daily hospitalisations have now fallen for 22 days in a row – despite NHS leaders calling for masks and outdoor mixing to return just weeks ago.

Pressure is mounting on the U.K. to scrap its daily Covid stats after Ireland said it would discontinue its updates in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, South Africa has once again become a focal point of the pandemic amid a fresh Covid surge of new subvariants. Covid cases have nearly quadrupled in a month nationally and hospital admissions are ticking up in Gauteng province, the former epicentre of the original Omicron wave. 

The world watched in horror last November as the super-infectious Omicron strain (BA.1) spread through South Africa at unprecedented speed – which turned out to be mild. But now the country finds itself at the cusp of a fresh explosion in infections, this time due to sub-strains that appear even more transmissible and resistant to antibodies.

Researchers on the ground in South Africa say the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants can evade immunity and cause symptoms in people who were infected with their parent strain just months ago. What is still unclear is whether the new wave will create milder or more severe illness — but experts tell MailOnline the former is more likely, for the U.K. at least.

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.

Latest NHS Data Shows Number of Covid Hospital Patients Half What it Was This Time Last Year

Our in-house doctor reflects on the year gone by, noting the Daily Sceptic’s excellent track record of identifying important issues about the NHS’s management of Covid months before the mainstream media.

As 2021 draws to a close, it is customary to reflect on the year gone by and to anticipate what the new one might bring. Looking back, it isn’t excessively hubristic to feel pride in the achievements of the Daily Sceptic community. We have established a good track record of identifying major issues around the NHS’s management of the pandemic before they became widely known.

We identified high rates of nosocomial infection. Denied by the NHS, then accepted. We spotted errors in attribution of deaths to Covid which were due to other causes. Denied, then accepted. We have exposed numerous public misrepresentations of data by NHS leaders. Often denied then reluctantly accepted, sometimes under pressure from the Office for National Statistics. False positives yielded by PCR Tests? Officially denied. Yesterday accepted by the U.S. Government.

Most recently we noticed a substantial proportion of hospital inpatients classified as Covid were in fact incidental infections. Denied, and ignored until this week when the rest of the commentariat suddenly discovered the Primary Diagnosis Supplement, published weekly since July. We have been analysing that data regularly since the summer. For much of the last 18 months I have been repeatedly struck by the observation by the American writer and politician Upton Sinclair – “It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.”

This helps explain why, for the last 12 months, the Daily Sceptic has failed to make much of an impact, but something has changed in the last couple of weeks. Even the Guardian now accept that the figures on ‘Covid admissions’ grossly overstate the number of patients acutely unwell, and if opinion polls can be believed, our points seem finally to be landing with the public at large.

Catching Omicron May Protect Against Delta

Catching the Omicron variant of Covid may also help people fend off Delta, new research suggests. MailOnline has more.

Academics took blood samples from people struck down with the ultra-infectious variant and measured their antibody levels. They then looked at how well the virus-fighting proteins reacted to both Omicron and Delta.

Lab tests, conducted two weeks after patients joined the study, showed antibody levels spiked 14-fold in response to Omicron.

But there was also a 4.4-fold increase against Delta, according to the findings which took the researchers by surprise.

Other studies delving into the topic of cross-variant immunity showed antibodies made in response to Delta reacted poorly to Omicron.

Professor Alex Sigal, a virologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who led the research, said it suggested Omicron could usher in the endemic phase of the pandemic.

He said: “The increase in neutralising immunity against Omicron was expected, that is the virus these individuals were infected with.

“However, we also saw that the same people – especially those who were vaccinated – developed enhanced immunity to the Delta variant.”

Professor Sigal added: “If, as it currently looks like from the South African experience, Omicron is less pathogenic, then this will help push Delta out.”

He said this was because it should “decrease the likelihood someone infected with Omicron will get re-infected with Delta”.

“If that is true, then the disruption Covid has caused in our lives may become less,” Professor Sigal continued.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Three-quarters of people in the U.K. with Cold-like symptoms are likely to have Covid, according to a new Zoe Covid study. The Guardian has more.

Omicron Hospitalisation Rate Just a FIFTH of Delta, Study From South Africa Finds

A pre-print study from South Africa, published on Tuesday, has found that the risk of being hospitalised with Omicron is just a fifth of the risk with Delta. The study looked at all probable Omicron infections in the country between October 1st and December 6th, and took into account factors associated with hospitalisation such as vaccination status and age. It found that the adjusted risk of being admitted to hospital with probable Omicron infection (defined as S-gene dropout, SGTF) compared to non-Omicron infection is just 0.2, i.e., a fifth of the risk, or an 80% reduction.

Here are the results as stated in the abstract:

From October 1st through December 6th 2021, 161,328 COVID-19 cases were reported nationally; 38,282 were tested using TaqPath PCR and 29,721 SGTF infections were identified. The proportion of SGTF infections increased from 3% in early October (week 39) to 98% in early December (week 48). On multivariable analysis, after controlling for factors associated with hospitalisation, individuals with SGTF infection had lower odds of being admitted to hospital compared to non-SGTF infections (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 0.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.1-0.3). Among hospitalised individuals, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, the odds of severe disease did not differ between SGTF-infected individuals compared to non-SGTF individuals diagnosed during the same time period (aOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.3-1.4). Compared to earlier Delta infections, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, SGTF-infected individuals had a lower odds of severe disease (aOR 0.3, 95% CI 0.2-0.6).

The researchers say the reduction in severity is likely in part to be a result of high population immunity, a factor which would also apply to the U.K after several waves of Covid.

The study confirms the findings from Denmark of a 60% reduction in hospitalisation risk.

Meanwhile, reported infections in Gauteng province continue to decline.

Nonetheless, SAGE continues to make the case for restrictions – and Boris continues to listen.

Read the full study here.

Stop Press: Imperial College London has published a pre-print study on early Omicron hospitalisation rates in England estimating that, compared to Delta, infection with the Omicron variant has a reduced risk of serious illness (defined in terms of a certain length of hospital stay) of 40-45%.

South Africa’s ‘SAGE’ Tells Government: End Contact Tracing and Self-Isolation for Covid Because It’s Not Worth It

South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid, a similar body to SAGE, has written to Health Minister Joe Phaahla recommending that all contact tracing and self-isolation of contacts for Covid be stopped because it is unnecessary and ineffective. South Africa is the original epicentre of the Omicron outbreak so this advice should be a strong signal to Boris Johnson and the rest of the world that the panic about Omicron is unwarranted.

The Committee’s experts write:

We propose that quarantining be discontinued with immediate effect for contacts of cases of Covid. This applies equally to vaccinated and non-vaccinated contacts. No testing for Covid is required irrespective of the exposure risk, unless the contact becomes symptomatic. We further propose that contact tracing be stopped.

They explain:

Crucially, it appears that efforts to eliminate and/or contain the virus are not likely to be successful. Therefore, it is critical that the role of containment efforts like quarantine and contact tracing is re-evaluated.

They add:

The inability of the current testing strategy to identify the bulk of cases is illustrated by the high SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity rates seen across multiple provinces in serosurveys, implying that only a fraction of cases (perhaps one in 10, or even less) are ever diagnosed.

It stands to reason that if the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed, then the vast majority of case contacts are also not diagnosed. This means that quarantining and contact tracing are of negligible public health benefit in the South African setting.

The Daily Sceptic has been sent a copy of the memo, which is reproduced in full below.

Omicron is Not ‘Surging’, Boris. There’s a Ton More Testing – and Infections Are Already Peaking

Boris Johnson said yesterday that Omicron is “surging across the country now” and warned that “we reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health, to protect the NHS. We won’t hesitate to take that action.” The Telegraph reports.

The Prime Minister has said the Government “reserves the possibility” to implement further Covid restrictions amid surging Omicron cases, and warned that the current situation is “extremely difficult”.

Speaking in Downing Street, Boris Johnson said the latest data will be kept under constant review “hour by hour”, and refused to rule out further measures after Christmas. 

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health, to protect the NHS,” he said. “We won’t hesitate to take that action.”

Asked about what types of restrictions could be reimplemented, he said: “We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.”

But is it really true that Omicron is surging and warrants the Prime Minister breaking his repeated promise that the lifting of restrictions in the summer following the vaccine rollout was “irreversible”?

Not according to the latest data. Yesterday’s reported infections for the U.K. were at 91,743, down from three days ago.

The peak by specimen date is still December 15th and the figures for the following days, while incomplete, do not suggest it will be topped soon.

Delta is Holding its Own Against Omicron. Why This Shows Us Natural Immunity at Work

The Omicron variant is known to have a relatively high number of mutations, including in the spike protein, and is therefore better than previous variants at escaping vaccine immunity, especially, and also natural immunity. As a new pre-print study from South Africa explains:

The Omicron variant is characterised by between 26 and 32 mutations in the spike protein many of which are located within the receptor binding domain (RBD). In addition Omicron has three deletions and one insertion in the spike protein, and mutations outside of the spike protein. Many of the mutations are either known or predicted to contribute to escape from neutralising antibodies, and work on earlier variants of concern has demonstrated that such variants can be antigenically very distinct.

The study looks at the reinfection rate in successive waves in South Africa and finds that the recent Omicron surge was characterised by a reinfection risk over twice as high as in the original wave – though it should be noted that this is from a low base, as studies have found natural immunity to confer 85-90% protection from reinfection (pre-Omicron).

As far as vaccines are concerned, the UKHSA recently acknowledged the weak protection from two doses of the vaccines against Omicron, even publishing a graph showing negative effectiveness for the AstraZeneca vaccine, albeit with very wide confidence intervals.

Nonetheless, there is good evidence that previous infection will continue to provide robust protection against the variant, albeit at a slightly reduced level. Further evidence of this enduring protection comes in the UKHSA’s latest daily Omicron report from December 19th. It shows that Omicron is partially replacing Delta to different degrees in different regions, suggesting the two variants are largely competing for the same pool of susceptible people.