United States

Actor Steve Burton Fired From Soap for Refusing to Get Vaccinated

American actor Steve Burton has been sacked from his role in the U.S. soap General Hospital, where he has played the character Jason Morgan since 1991, because of his refusal to get vaccinated. Filming takes place at ABC studios, which requires all actors to be vaccinated, with Burton following in the footsteps of his former colleague Ingo Rademacher, who was also kicked from the show for not being vaccinated. Sky News has the story.

Burton, who has played the role of Jason Morgan in the long-running U.S. soap since 1991, confirmed the news in an Instagram video on Tuesday evening.

The show, which is made by Disney-owned ABC Studios, requires its Zone A (those actively working on set) actors and staff to be vaccinated against Covid.

He said: “Unfortunately, General Hospital has let me go because of the vaccine mandate. I did apply for my medical and religious exemptions, and both of those were denied. Which, you know, hurts.

“But this is also about personal freedom to me.”

Burton went on to say: “Maybe one day if these mandates are lifted, I can return and finish my career as Jason Morgan. That would be an honour.”

ABC has since confirmed that Burton’s departure is linked to his non-compliance with the show’s vaccine mandate.

He follows colleague Ingo Rademacher out the show’s door, who was also let go for publicly refusing to comply with the show’s vaccine mandate.

Using Instagram, Rademacher frequently rallied against vaccine mandates, telling those who had taken the jab that they were only doing for themselves.

Worth reading in full.

600 Google Employees Sign Manifesto to Overturn the Company’s Vaccine Mandate

Google, which employs approximately 150,000 people in the U.S., has mandated that all workers who interact with Government contractors be fully vaccinated, even if they work from home, with all other employees ordered to report their vaccination status. However, the new measure has encountered opposition within the company itself as roughly 600 members of staff have signed a manifesto demanding that Google “be inclusive to all Googlers” and overturn this policy, while calling on fellow employees to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle”. MailOnline has the story.

The tech giant is requiring its more than 150,000 U.S. employees to report their vaccination statuses and all employees who work directly or indirectly with Government contracts to be vaccinated, whether they plan to work in the office or not. 

The manifesto, which has been signed by at least 600, or less than 0.5% of all Google employees, asks company executives to abandon the policy to create a mandate “inclusive of all Googlers”, CNBC first reported. 

It urges workers to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle” and encourages them not to allow the mandate to influence their decision to be inoculated. 

Google had set a November 12th deadline for employees to request vaccine exemptions, and employees will be required to work in the office three days a week starting January 10th. 

This comes after President Joe Biden announced that all U.S. companies with 100 or more employees must require their staff to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid by January 4th, 2022.

The authors sent the open letter, with the subhead “Respect the User”, to Google’s Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, the document states. 

“I believe that [CEO] Sundar’s Vaccine Mandate is deeply flawed,” the manifesto says, describing executives’ leadership as “coercive” and “the antithesis of inclusion”.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company’s requirement for employees to be fully vaccinated to return in-person in a blog post in July. “Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai wrote at the time.

The manifesto insists that the policy “publicly and possibly embarrassingly exposes” employees’ private choices. 

Worth reading in full.

Why Boris Has Gone Gaga For ‘Build Back Better’

borisbuildbackbetter.jpg

We’re publishing a guest post by an academic economist about why Boris, who used to be a borderline climate change sceptic, has passionately embraced a ‘Net Zero’ agenda. Could it be because he wants to curry favour with Joe Biden?

Many of his supporters are dismayed that Boris Johnson seems to be buying in so deeply to the hardcore green agenda. This is doubly so when we consider how this agenda might overlap with the powers the Government has accrued over the course of repeated lockdowns. You need not be a full-throated believer in the coming Great Reset to see that green activists are angling to leverage these new powers to impose their radical program on the population.

Those that are dismayed by this latest evolution of Johnson’s politics have been scrambling for an answer. Johnson does not personally seem like an enthusiast for hard green policies. Yes, he used to bike around London as mayor – but this hardly indicated that he was interested in the more totalitarian aspects of the green agenda.

Some have turned to the influence of Johnson’s latest wife: Carrie Symonds. The profile fits. Symonds seems like a squishy ‘right-thinking’ London liberal with an instinct finely-tuned to get as close to power as possible. Sorry Boris, but she probably did not marry you for your looks or your dependability.

In what follows I am not dismissing this personal dimension but think that it needs to be viewed in a broader context. Johnson may bend to Carrie’s will behind closed doors, but this cannot explain why the whole Tory Party has painted itself green.

Biden Vaccine Mandate Will Fine Businesses $14,000 for Each Unvaccinated Employee

From January 4th, U.S. businesses which hire more than 100 employees will have to ensure that their workforce is fully jabbed (any which remain unvaccinated will have to do weekly Covid tests), or face close to $14,000 in fines. The mandate will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) through usual workplace inspections, with repeat offenders at risk of being punished by a staggering $136,532 fine. The Mail has more.

Workers who fall under Biden’s order will need to receive their final dose – or only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – by January 4th of the new year, the official said. After that date, employers will need to implement at least weekly Covid testing for those who aren’t fully vaccinated.

Enforcement of the rule, an official said on a background call Wednesday evening, will be just as that of any other rule, which includes inspections to check for compliance. 

Red states are likely to rebuke the new rule, and it is currently unclear how the Federal Government will grapple with that if they try not to comply.

A fact sheet of the new rule from the White House Thursday morning states OSHA is “making clear that their new rules pre-empt any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing”.

Republicans are furious over the new rule. 

“Our economy is crumbling, and President Biden is doing everything in his power to make it worse”, Senator Marsha Blackburn said in a statement. “While businesses scramble to fill the 10.4 million open jobs in our country, Biden’s vaccine mandate will push even more Americans out of the workforce”.

She also tweeted Thursday morning: “Joe Biden is firing essential workers.”

Republican Representative Jody Hice of Georgia insisted to the Mail: “No American should be forced to choose between putting food on their tables or receiving a vaccine.”

GOP Representative Byron Donalds of Florida told the Mail: “Despite the Democrats’ shellacking this week, the Biden administration is pressing on with their unconstitutional mandate requiring private businesses to mandate vaccination to avoid fines up to $1 million”

“Americans from southwest Florida and all across the nation will have to choose between food on the table or taking a shot they feel they do not need”, he lamented. “This tyrannical mandate is a gross infringement of medical privacy and the individual rights of every American and won’t hold water in the judicial system”.

The stringent new guidelines have been put in place amid widespread backlash to mandates, including bids from Republicans to overturn it to keep people in their jobs, fears of staff shortages and first responders in major cities being turned away from work. 

Vaccine mandates have already been put in place in many cities across the country.

Worth reading in full.

U.S. Vaccine Panels Approve The Pfizer Vaccine For Five-to-Eleven Year-Olds.

Advisory boards working in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved the use of the Pfizer jab for five to 11-year olds, outlining that the benefits outweigh the potential risks posed to this age demographic. Although the decision now awaits formal approval from the FDA and CDC as a whole, it is expected that both organisations will confirm the original verdict, meaning that 28 million U.S. schoolchildren will soon be eligible for the vaccine. BBC NEWS has the story.

Following the FDA independent advisory committee’s green light on Tuesday, the CDC is expected to follow suit on November 2nd, meaning jabs for five-year olds could begin as soon as a day later.

The Pfizer vaccine is already approved for American adults and adolescents, but it has not yet been fully approved for most school-aged children.

Among those between five and 11 years-old, there have been about 1.8 million Covid cases confirmed in the US, according to the CDC. Fewer than 200 have died, and most of those had underlying medical conditions.

Some medical experts say that, given the persistence of the Delta variant and the return to in-person schooling, vaccinating children is a crucial next step in fighting the pandemic.

“Parents need to understand the urgency of vaccination because the pandemic is not over”, said Dr. James Versalovic, pathologist in chief at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH)…

Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge for US medical authorities. Uptake in the adult population has stalled below 60% over the past several months.

Only a third of parents in a poll last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would get their children vaccinated ‘right away’. Another third said they would like to ‘wait and see’.

Some parents have expressed concern about hundreds of cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, that have been reported predominantly in young adults who took the vaccine, mostly after the second jab.

Worth reading in full.

Firing Nurses Who’ve Worked Through the Pandemic Is a Disgrace

Across the United States, nurses and other healthcare workers are being fired for not getting vaccinated. Is there any better illustration of the folly of our public health establishment?

These nurses have served on the frontline for more than eighteen months, helping to treat Covid patients day after day, while most of the people demanding vaccine mandates were sitting at home on their laptops.

“Thanks for all your hard work. Oh, you don’t want to get the vaccine? Well in that case, sayonara.” In addition to being mean-spirited, the policy of firing unvaccinated healthcare workers doesn’t really make any practical sense. And that’s putting it charitably.

A large percentage of frontline healthcare workers have already been infected. This means the protection they have against reinfection is actually better than what the vaccines provide.

I reviewed some of the evidence in a recent post. But don’t take my word for it. New undercover footage shows Pfizer scientists saying that natural immunity is “probably” better than immunity from the vaccines.

As I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean that nobody stands to benefit from vaccination. But it does undermine the case for making those who’ve already been infected get the jab. Their natural immunity works just fine.

This point has been made eloquently by the Great Barrington author Martin Kulldorff. In a recent article, he argued that hospitals “should hire, not fire, nurses with natural immunity”. Yet within a matter of hours, Kulldorff’s article had been censored by LinkedIn. (Such petty interference in the scientific debate is now routine on social media.)

So there’s absolutely no case for firing healthcare workers who have natural immunity. What about those who haven’t been previously infected?

Even here, the case for mandates is weak at best. We know that vaccine-induced immunity against infection wanes over time. Six months after vaccination, you’re not that much less likely to become infected than someone who’s never been vaccinated.  

This means that mandating vaccines for healthcare workers is no guarantee of safety. If there’s a ward full of vulnerable patients, ensuring that every nurse is vaccinated won’t necessarily prevent someone from catching Covid, and then spreading it to the rest.

The only surefire way of protecting vulnerable patients is testing everyone before they go into the ward. Positive test? Well, you’ll have to stay at home or work in another part of the hospital for the next few weeks.

There are also the rights of workers themselves to consider. If the vaccines had no side effects and offered lasting protection against infection, the case for mandates would be strong. But the vaccines do have side effects (albeit rare ones) and they don’t provide lasting protection against infection.   

As Oxford philosopher Julian Savulescu argues, autonomy is a core principle of medical ethics, so any policy that violates autonomy (such as mandatory vaccination) can only be justified if it confers substantial third-party benefits. Yet it’s not clear that Covid vaccines do confer such benefits.

What’s more, getting vaccinated isn’t the only way to reduce one’s risk of infection. Avoiding large gatherings is another. Should hospitals be able to require that their staff avoid large gatherings, so as to reduce the risk of infection even further? Most of us would say “no” because it violates individual autonomy.

Of course, keeping Covid out of high-risk hospital wards is an important goal. And although mandatory vaccination is no guarantee of safety, it probably does have some effect, at least for the first few months.

Surely there’s a workaround for nurses who opt against vaccination? For example, they could be tested three times a week until they acquire natural immunity. The costs of such testing could even be deducted from their pay checks (although given the number of unused tests lying around, I don’t see the need).  

Firing healthcare workers who haven’t been infected is mean-spirited and unnecessary. Firing those who have been infected makes no sense at all. Never mind vaccine mandates; we need mandatory training for bureaucrats to make them understand natural immunity.

Why Are People’s Risk Perceptions So Skewed?

Yesterday I noted that, 18 months after the start of the pandemic, a sizeable chunk of Americans still dramatically overestimate the risks of Covid. In a recent poll, more than one third said the risk of being hospitalised if you’re not vaccinated is at least 50%.

Of course, you’d expect some people to get the answer wrong just because we’re dealing with a small quantity, and there’s always going to be some degree of overestimation. But many people were off by a factor more than 10. What accounts for this?

Interestingly, Democrat voters’ guesses were much higher than Republican voters’ – about twice as many Democrats said the risk of being hospitalised if you’re not vaccinated is at least 50%. This suggests a role for ideology.

Throughout the pandemic, the ‘Democrat position’ has been to support restrictions and mandates, whereas the ‘Republican position’ has been to oppose such measures. This is clearly visible in a plot of U.S. states by average stringency index. Almost all the ‘red’ states are on the left-hand side, while almost all the ‘blue’ states are on the right.

Given that partisans (on all sides) like to avoid cognitive dissonance, they tend to adopt beliefs that are consistent with their party’s platform. Since Democrat politicians have been busy imposing all sorts of restrictions and mandates, Democrat voters have adopted beliefs that imply those measures were justified.

Most survey respondents don’t know numbers like ‘the risk of hospitalisation for people who aren’t vaccinated’ off the top of their head. Instead, they probably make a guess based on all the relevant information they can recall.

Democrat voters, who’ve spent the pandemic consuming media like MSNBC, CNN and NPR, will recall numerous incidents of pundits saying that Covid is extremely dangerous, and we have to do whatever we can to stop the spread.

They will also recall that they were locked down for months, that their kids’ schools were closed, and that they had to wear a mask whenever they went to the grocery store. 

Putting all this information together, they will tend to assume that the risk of being hospitalised from Covid is extremely high. ‘Why else,’ they might ask, ‘would there have been so many restrictions?’

Note: Republicans also overestimated the risk of being hospitalised from Covid, albeit to a lesser extent than Democrats. This indicates that people’s skewed risk perceptions cannot be blamed solely on the content of left-wing media (or the policies implemented in ‘blue’ states).  

The psychological quirk that may account for people’s skewed risk perceptions has a name in psychology: the availability heuristic. As Steven Pinker notes, “people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind”.

Because plane crashes always make the news, people tend to overestimate the risks of air travel. And they may overestimate the risks of Covid for the same reason.

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been treated to morbid ‘daily death numbers’ – but for only one cause of death. Perhaps if these figures had been reported for all causes of death, people’s risk perceptions would be slightly less skewed. (Or perhaps they’d just be terrified of everything…)

During a pandemic, we obviously do want people to take precautions; we don’t want them nonchalantly walking into a care home when they have a high fever and a nasty cough. Yet – contrary to what some in government seem to believe – we don’t want people to be utterly terrified either.

There’s been so much attention on people claiming Covid is “just the flu” that the media has largely ignored the other end of the spectrum: people who believe Covid is the bubonic plague!

We can agree it’s bad if people underestimate the risks. But it’s also bad if they overestimate the risks. We want them to have the right risk perceptions. That way, they can make informed decisions.

Democrats Still Dramatically Overestimate the Risks of COVID-19

In a previous post, I noted that people tend to overestimate the risks of Covid, especially the risks to young people – which are vanishingly small.

In a Gallup poll last year, 41% of Democrat voters in the U.S. said that the risk of hospitalisation is at least 50%! (And Republicans didn’t do much better). However, that poll was taken in December. Has people’s understanding improved since then?

According to a new poll, the answer is ‘not at all’. Gallup posed a similar question as before, only this time they asked about vaccinated and unvaccinated people separately.

Note: the questions were not identical. In last year’s poll, they asked, “What percentage of people who have been infected by the coronavirus needed to be hospitalised?” In the recent poll, they asked, “What percentage of people have been hospitalised due to the coronavirus?”

The denominator for the first question is ‘people who have been infected’, while the denominator for the second is ‘everyone’. However, many respondents may have assumed that the second question was referring to ‘people who have been infected’. This should be kept in mind when interpreting the results.

The chart below shows results for the version of the second question that asked about unvaccinated people:

Once again, 41% of Democrats (and 22% of Republicans) said that the risk of hospitalisation for those who aren’t vaccinated is at least 50%. The correct answer is less than 5%, so these respondents were off by a factor of more than 10. Only 42% of Republicans – and just 18% of Democrats – were in the right ball-park.

Democrats did do substantially better when asked about the risk to vaccinated people, as the chart below indicates. In this case, the majority of both groups were in the right ball-park. However, more than one in five respondents still gave an answer of 10% or more.

As I mentioned last time, part of this overestimation may reflect a general psychological tendency to overestimate small quantities; though I should stress, only part. After all, Republicans were much less likely to answer “50%” when the question referred to unvaccinated people.

It’s staggering that 18 months after the start of the pandemic, almost one third of Americans say the risk of being hospitalised from Covid if you’re not vaccinated is at least 50%. Clearly there has been a failure of communication on the part of public health authorities.

This finding may help to explain bizarre phenomena like the fact that young, fully vaccinated Americans are still wearing face masks outdoors.

One Stanford student, Maxwell Meyer, spent an hour ‘bike-spotting’ on a popular campus thoroughfare. For each bike that went past, he recorded whether the rider was wearing a helmet, a face mask, or both. Of the 400 cyclists that he observed, 34% were wearing a mask but no helmet! (And 7% were wearing both.)

Aside from some people simply being clueless about the risks, Meyer notes that wearing a mask has become a form of social signalling (‘I’m the sort of person who cares about doing his part’). Though of course, wearing a mask under such circumstances does approximately nothing – other than raise the question of how on earth you got into Stanford.

Even after lockdowns ended, various types of ‘Covid theatre’ have dragged on for months. This isn’t so surprising when you consider people’s skewed perceptions of the risks.

Switch to Remote Learning Caused Large Decline in U.S. School Enrolment

We know that the switch to remote learning caused large increases in school dropout in middle-income countries like Brazil. But what about rich countries like the United States? There you’d expect the switch to be more or less seamless.

Not so, it appears. A new paper documents a dramatic decline in U.S. school enrolment last year, of which around 25% is explained by the switch to remote learning. Thomas Dee and colleagues analysed data on a large sample of K–12 public schools, comprising 17 million students across 34 states. Their main finding is shown in the chart below:

Although school districts that retained in-person learning saw a decline in enrolment, the decline was far larger in those that switched to remote learning. The authors confirmed that this finding held up in more sophisticated multivariate analyses.

Their estimates suggest that “offering remote-only instruction increased disenrollment by 42% (i.e., a change from 2.6 to 3.7%) relative to in-person instruction”. The decline in enrolment was concentrated in kindergarten.

How many students are we talking about? Roughly 57% faced remote-only instruction at the start of the 2020 school year. And about 49 million were enrolled in 2019. This means the switch to remote learning caused about 300,000 additional students to disenroll (49M x 56% x 1.1 ppts).

Interestingly, the disenrollment effect of remote learning was larger in rural areas, which may be due to a lack of high-speed internet access (though the authors were not able to explicitly test this hypothesis).

So where did all the disenrolled pupils go? As the authors note, there are several possibilities. They may have switched to private schools or home-schooling, decided to skip or delay kindergarten, become truant, or dropped out of school altogether.

The study’s findings indicate that a large number of parents did not want their children to participate in remote learning. This ‘revealed preference’, the authors note, is consistent with a report published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine last year. It concluded that schools should “prioritize reopening with an emphasis on providing full-time, in-person instruction”.  

Last year’s decline in enrolment, which was exacerbated by the switch to remote learning, may have profound consequence in the years to come. If many students do not return to the school system, they may never gain the qualifications necessary to attend college and advance in the labour market.

And if most students do return, having simply delayed kindergarten (a practice known as ‘redshirting’), they will enter an unusually large, mixed-age cohort. The members of this cohort could face large class-sizes and other challenges throughout their educational careers.

Last year, school districts across the U.S. took the unprecedented step of closing schools and instead providing remote-only instruction. Previous studies have found that the switch to remote learning caused sizeable learning losses – at least in the short run. Thomas Dee and colleagues have shown that it exacerbated disenrollment in the U.S.

Will school closures be judged as a wise policy in hindsight? The answer is almost certainly ‘no’.

Are the Vaccines Declining in Effectiveness Against Serious Disease?

Reported positive ‘cases’ have been increasing slightly in the U.K. recently, though the trend appears to be flattening.

United Kingdom

Interestingly, the rise has been concentrated outside England, which has been declining in the last week or so.

England

Scotland has seen the most striking rise, linked it appears to the return of children to school on August 18th.

Scotland

The Scottish surge in ‘cases’ is linked to a surge in testing – it seems that parents have not been testing their children over the summer, and the requirement to do so for school has picked up a load of hidden infections (presumably these children and their families have not been isolating over the summer either).