Flat White

The unresolved debate on Covid vaccines

12 November 2021

12:00 PM

12 November 2021

12:00 PM

In an article last month, I noted the puzzling UK official data that confirmed the efficacy of vaccines in reducing hospitalisations and deaths but with infections for 40-49 year olds, the unadjusted rate per 100,000 people was more than double for the vaccinated than the unvaccinated. The latest weekly data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), covering weeks 40–43 for 2021, confirm the pattern of double and higher rates for the vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated for those aged 40-79 (Figure 1). 

As this began to register with a broader public, it created a controversy among experts and between different agencies. Cambridge University’s David Spiegelhalter condemned the statistics as ‘deeply untrustworthy and completely unacceptable … simply an artefact due to using clearly inappropriate estimates of the population’. But in a paper on 27 October, a team from Queen Mary University of London ‘found numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies’ in various relevant public government datasets. 

By reverse-engineering estimates of mortality by age category and vaccination status, they concluded that official statistics on vaccine effectiveness  ‘may be underestimating the mortality rates for vaccinated people in each age category’. Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, defended the statistics while noting that differences in risk, behaviour and testing between the vaccinated and unvaccinated should inject caution into inferring vaccine effectiveness from the data.  

Figure 1: Infections per 100,000 

NB: ‘Fully vaccinated’ means 2 doses; hospital admissions and deaths within 28 days of a positive test  

In late October the UKHSA finally folded and removed the controversial charts in its surveillance report for week 43. Now the Agency monitors but no longer publishes the figures on vaccine effectiveness. Nevertheless, Ed Humpherson, DG for Regulation in the Office for Statistics Regulation, published an open letter to UKHSA CEO Dr Jenny Harries on 1 November, repeating the criticisms of the data that continued to be published in table form.

I’ve drawn my own chart on infections using the tables from week 44; and on infections, hospitalisation and mortality trendlines from weeks 36–44 (Figures 2-4). The latter is an effort to get away from the controversy over population estimates as the denominator by charting the progress within the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. Hopefully, this permits us to look at the growth or reduction of cases over time within each age category in the separate groups. We see a faster rise in infections among the vaccinated (Figure 2), and a rise in hospitalisation and mortality among the vaccinated alongside a fall in these metrics for the unvaccinated (Figures 3, 4). 

Figure 2: Infections per 100,000 people aged 40–49 

Figure 3: Hospital admissions per 100,000 people aged 40–49 

Figure 4: Deaths per 100,000 people aged 40–49 

Sources: Covid-19 vaccine surveillance reports, weeks 36–38 (Public Health England); Covid-19 vaccine weekly surveillance reports, weeks 39–44 (UK Health Security Agency). 

There are other reasons for caution against too optimistic a reading of the efficacy of vaccines in reducing hospitalisation and mortality rates. The heavy concentration of Covid dead among people in aged care institutions suffering from multiple comorbidities means that significant numbers of these people would have succumbed within a year or so anyway. Thus the Italian Higher Institute of Health recently adjusted the number of deaths caused by (not with) Covid since February 2020 from over 130,000 to under 4,000.

By contrast post-vaccination illnesses and deaths are not attributed to the vaccines unless investigations confirm a causal link, so the benefits are not assessed against the risks of serious side effects. Vaccinations also create evolutionary pressure on a virus to mutate into new variants, says the French virologist Prof. Luc Montagnier, the 2008 Nobel Laureate for Medicine. 

Against the backdrop of a lack of scientific certainty on many key aspects of pandemic policies, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, first reported in July and subsequently published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventive Medicine Reports in October, found that the more highly educated people remained the more vaccine-hesitant between January–May. Vaccine-hesitancy ranged from 7.3-9 per cent in computer/mathematical professions and educators to 14.5 per cent among healthcare workers. More than half of the hesitants expressed concerns about side-effects and lack of trust in the Covid vaccines and over a third said they didn’t need it or didn’t trust the government. 

Most Covid dead are denied early treatment, weakening the claim that a vaccine is the only solution. The rapid waning of protection from serious illness necessitates booster jabs with unknown impacts on the body’s immune systems. On 22 October, Boris Johnson admitted that ‘double vaccination provides a lot of protection against serious illness and death but it doesn’t protect you against catching the disease, and it doesn’t protect you against passing it on’, hence the need for boosters. But the demand for booster jabs in rich countries undermines the pursuit of universal global vaccination, as can be seen in Figure 5. 

Figure 5: The widening inequality caused by booster vaccines 

Source: Financial Times, 2 November 2021 

Meanwhile the case against mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports is greatly boosted by the example of Florida. It currently has the lowest case numbers of all the US states and Figure 6, Covid heat maps from the New York Times three months apart, depicts the shift in the virus from the southeast to the southwest without any change in behaviour by people in the two regions.

As is the near-universal pattern, Florida’s fourth Covid wave collapsed as rapidly as it had ascended despite the lack of regulations. Hospitals weren’t overwhelmed at any point and over 90 per cent of the over-65s have voluntarily been vaccinated. But for lockdown fanatics, the upward trajectory was caused by the refusal to mandate restrictions and the collapse was sheer dumb luck.

‘A visit to Florida’, where 99.8 per cent of people have survived the pandemic without any restrictions, Adam Creighton concluded in The Australian, ‘highlights the gap between the reality of people’s lives and the perception of chaos created by mainstream media’.  

Figure 6: The shifting Covid heat map in the US 

Source: Tom Woods newsletter, 8 November 2021 


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