Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 16 September, 2021

 

A reader pointed out that two significant groups exempted from President Biden’s vaccine mandate are members of Congress and their staff, and the federal court system.  It is possible/probable that Biden lacks the authority to enforce a vaccine mandate on these groups under the “separation of powers” doctrine, although that’s a doctrine Presidents have been happy to challenge in the past when it suits them, including even President Biden.

Even if Biden graciously decided not to test the limits of his power in that area, there is certainly nothing stopping him from challenging Congress, its members and its employees, to matching him and his Presidential mandates and vote their own matching self-mandate.

As for the courts, there’s something slightly awkward about seeing judges, exempt from a vaccine mandate and possibly not being themselves vaccinated, now ruling on vaccine mandates, especially if they do so affirmatively.  The first thing anyone demanding others be vaccinated should always be that they themselves be vaccinated.

Pfizer has now submitted a formal request document for the FDA to approve a third dose of its vaccine.  Its request is based on a compressed study of a mere 306 people (no, I didn’t forget to add at least two more zeroes, that is the totality of the study group size), with the study not yet complete, and none of those people are younger than 18 or older than 55.  Twelve adults aged between 65 and 85 also completed a Phase 1 study, but neither a phase 2 nor phase 3 study.

One of the 306 people had a heart attack but this was said to be unrelated.  In addition to 24 severe immediate reactions to the shot (such as fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever), a further 45 people (15%) subsequently reported adverse events during the one month after their booster shot.

In their application Pfizer said the incidence of Covid infections among double vaccinated people equated to a rate of 70.3 cases per 1,000 person years.  That’s an almost meaningless figure, and not nearly as accurate as the “70.3” number implies.  If, as they also say, protection diminishes over time, how recently vaccinated were the 70.3 people per 1,000 person years?  Recently, or a long time ago?  Most of all, how does that compare to overall Covid infection rates in the US this year?

We can sort of answer that last question.  From 1 February through 14 September, there have been 15.362 million Covid cases reported in the US.  That translates to an infection rate of 73.8 cases per 1,000 person years.  Now of course, some of those (how many?) are people who have been vaccinated, perhaps getting infected at a rate of 70.3/1,000 person years, so the non-vaccinated people, to compensate, might be getting infected at a rate of 75 – 80/1,000 person years.

That is a calculation that can be criticized several different ways, and I’m not claiming it to be an exact number at all, but what it does show, in very general terms, is that being vaccinated seems to reduce your chance of getting the virus by about 5% – 10%.  That’s massively less than we expected, isn’t it – what happened to the 95% or so efficacy rates we were promised?

Yes, I know, it reduces your risk of serious infection and death by much more than that, and those are the numbers that the 95% type numbers were measuring.  But most of us were expecting more than a 5% – 10% reduction in getting infected, weren’t we.  You know, the whole “no need to wear masks, safe to go out and meet/mix/mingle, eating at restaurants now okay” and so on thing.

And, as for the 95% reduction in serious cases/death – how is that working out?  Let’s look at that, too.

From 15 November 2020 through 15 January 2021 (ie the period immediately before vaccines started to be dispensed) there were 12.842 million Covid cases in the US.  Shifting 15 days forward to more closely match deaths to cases, there were 181,000 deaths, a fatality rate of 1.41%.  Now lets look at the most recent period, with vaccines now being widely distributed.  For the two months of July and August 2021, there were 5.684 million cases, and for the shifted-ahead matching two months, there were 57,300 deaths, a fatality rate of 1.01%.

So, the fatality rate as dropped from about 1.41% to about 1.01%.  What does that mean in terms of vaccine effectiveness?

On 1 July, 46.4% of the US population was fully vaccinated, rising to 51.8% on 31 August.  Let’s call that an average of 49%.  So, let’s say that the 51% unvaccinated population was dying at a rate of 1.44%, the same as before, which would account for 41,750 deaths.  This is actually probably a little on the high side, because each month that passes sees our hospitals get slightly better at managing Covid cases.  But let’s accept it for now, so as to give the vaccine “the benefit of the doubt” in the number we now calculate.

The remaining 15,550 deaths come from the vaccinated people, which we’re saying represent 49% of cases, 2.79 million, and is a 0.6% mortality rate.  So the vaccine reduces our chance of dying by almost 60%, best case scenario.

That’s surely not 95%, is it.  Instead of 5 people per 100 dying, we now have 40 people – eight times more.

Again, these numbers are massively approximate and contain some huge assumptions that are dubious rather than robust.  But, for an order of magnitude look at things, we can see the impact of vaccination has been about a 5% reduction in risk of infection and a 60% reduction in risk of death.

Of course, the big “Get Out of Jail Free” card the vaccine advocates will play is that these efficacy claims were all made before the impact of the Delta variant was known.  That’s not really true.  As I’ve observed before, the Delta variant was already a known issue back in October.  The vaccine advocates deliberately chose to narrowly frame their efficacy claims in the most favorable way possible.

Plus, one other consideration.  If the Delta variant really is destroying the effectiveness of the current vaccines, why is Pfizer advocating that our booster shot should be more of the same?  Why are they not suggesting a different vaccine?  We have been told, by the mRNA advocates, that they can “dial up” a new designer mRNA chain in a matter of hours or days – indeed, the official story of developing the current mRNA vaccines is that it took a weekend to develop the vaccine, then the remaining eight or so months to test/trial it and process the paperwork for approval.

If a new vaccine is needed (and I agree it seems needed) why is Pfizer continuing to push the old vaccine that clearly isn’t making the grade any more (and perhaps never did)?

To summarize, Pfizer is asking to approve a third vaccine dose, for everyone, of all ages, based on an incomplete study of 306 adults between the ages of 18 – 55.  Just remember, they are asking the FDA – the same FDA that refuses to allow ivermectin as a treatment, even after 116 studies, 76 of which are peer reviewed, because “there isn’t enough evidence”.  26,398 people have participated in the IVM studies, with strong signals being found for IVM effectiveness, and the drug being known to be perfectly safe.

Double standards, much?  Details of the Pfizer application here.

Talking about the “breakthrough cases” that people are reporting after being vaccinated, the prevailing narrative is they are mild.  Maybe, many times, that is correct; and of course, many times, an unprotected Covid infection is mild, too.  But, sometimes, that is not the case at all, as this article reminds us.

RIP, Veronica Wolski.  Who she?  She is the lady who briefly enjoyed (in the circumstances, the word “suffered” might be more appropriate) a brief moment of fame.   She had to go to hospital with Covid, and was refused Covid treatment there.  Would ivermectin have saved her?  Tragically, we’ll never know now, but we do know that the hospital preferred to see her die than allow her access to this 100% safe treatment.

We need to start making hospitals and physicians accountable for such fundamental and intentional errors in care.

Can you tell me who said, in a 20 May interview with the Washington Post, “Well, I don’t think we should be that concerned right now about how long they’re [vaccines] effective. I think they will be effective long enough that we will get to the point where we are not going to be necessarily worrying about a surge… [as] highly effective as these vaccines are and you get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, the chances of there being a surge are extraordinarily low “.

This same person went on to say “I really don’t think it’s accurate to say that we will need boosters X number of months from now. We may not need it for quite a while… Will this be a situation where over the years, we may need intermittent boosts? Again, you want to be prepared for that, Yasmeen, but you don’t know definitely if we’ll need it”.

The same person had more to say.  Talking now about the future, he said “I would hope it would be much closer to elimination than just control. That’s going to depend entirely on the success, which I believe we’re going in the right direction, of the vaccine program”.

On 20 May we were averaging 28,580 new Covid cases a day.  Since that time, vaccines have been decried as fading, some countries are now giving third shots after six months, and US cases have surged to, currently, over 150,000 cases a day.

Does that sound like a person with a good grasp of the reality of the situation?  Someone you’d trust?  It was, of course, the omnipresent, but perhaps not omniscient, Dr Fauci.

Current Numbers

Montenegro and Andorra swapped places in the minor country list, and the number one spot, held for a long time by Seychelles, is getting within challenging distance.  At the bottom of the minor country list, French Polynesia amusingly revised its numbers from last week, the net result being a decline rather than rise in cases for the week.

Several changes in the major country list, most notably Britain going up two places, although this is probably better described as France and Spain dropping at a greater rate than the UK.  No changes in the death rate list.

In the Covid activity last week list, highly double and sometimes triple vaccinated Israel now tops the list.  The UK happily dropped four places, while the US unhappily rose one place (although its actual level of new Covid cases was almost unchanged, week on week).

Europe had an overall 7% drop in new case numbers, with France reporting a 28% drop, Spain and Portugal both with 26% drops, and the UK with a 22% reduction.  At the other end of the scale, Romania had the worst week with an 85% increase in cases.  Slovenia’s cases rose 43%, and Slovakia had a 42% rise.

Canada had a 16% rise in cases, while Mexico had a 19% drop.  The world as a whole enjoyed an 8% drop in new cases (3.76 million new cases for the week).

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Seychelles (207,861) Seychelles (211,370)
2 Andorra (194,776) Montenegro (198,173)
3 Montenegro Andorra
4 Gibraltar (160,605) Gibraltar (162,208)
5 San Marino San Marino
6 St Barth St Barth
7 Bahrain Bahrain
8 Maldives Maldives
9 Georgia (143,955) Georgia (148,176)
10 French Polynesia (142,053) French Polynesia (142,037)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (156,724) Czech Republic (156,981)
2 USA (124,692) USA (127,897)
3 Netherlands Netherlands
4 Argentina Argentina
5 Sweden Sweden
6 France (105,093) UK (107,426)
7 Spain (104,818) France (105,958)
8 UK (104,407) Spain (105,316)
9 Portugal Belgium
10 Belgium Portugal
11 Brazil Brazil
12 Colombia (95,581) Colombia (95,776)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Peru  (5,926) Peru  (5,932)
2 Czech Rep  (2,834) Czech Rep  (2,834)
3 Brazil (2,730) Brazil (2,749)
4 Argentina Argentina
5 Colombia Colombia
6 Belgium Belgium
7 Italy Italy
8 Mexico (2,039) Mexico (2,071)
9 USA (2,024) USA (2,065)
10 Tunisia (2,009) Tunisia (2,037)

 

Top Rates in New Cases Reported in the Last Week (new cases per million) for Countries over one million population

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Mongolia  7,108 Israel  6,431
2 Israel  6,215 Mongolia  5,769
3 Cuba  5,870 Serbia  5,262
4 Malaysia Cuba
5 Georgia Georgia
6 UK  3,450 Malaysia
7 Serbia  3,438 Botswana
8 Costa Rica  3,218 Slovenia
9 Palestine USA 3,155
10 USA 3,145 UK  3,052
11 Slovenia Costa Rica
12 Switzerland  2,609 Palestine  2,912

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

As the world wrestles with Covid – almost certainly a man-made virus that escaped from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, we wonder whether this article should excite or terrify us.  The terrible problem that can not now be resolved, with Pandora’s Box being thoroughly opened, is that biological experimentation is becoming easier and easier for anyone to do.  How can we control something like this, when the “cost of entry” is so low?

Here’s one of the all-too-common platitude laced “nothingness” articles that contrive to sound wise while saying nothing.  But what made me almost choke on my coffee, while reading it was this “know it all” statement offered, without any proof or evidence :

 Reports of current strains breaking through vaccinations or triggering higher fatality rates have not held up to rigorous scrutiny thus far.

To be blunt, that is utter nonsense.  Vaccinated people are getting Covid at rates little lower than unvaccinated people, and plenty are dying.  For example, as we’re about to see in the next item, a report in England showed that 47,000 vaccinated people came down with the Delta variant between 1 Feb and 2 Aug this year.  Of those people, 402 died.  Near the beginning of today’s diary entry, Pfizer conceded that vaccinated people are getting the virus at a rate little different to unvaccinated people.

How can articles make such beyond-obvious nonsensical claims?

Talking about nonsensical claims, here’s a very lengthy article that is so far removed from mainstream perceptions about the virus and vaccines as to encourage one to automatically reject its content.  But the author appears to have some decent credentials, and the publication itself, while “open-minded” about issues, is moderately serious and sensible.  Most of all, the claims in the lengthy article are often apparently substantiated by links to source data that seems beyond reproach – for example, the author’s claim that vaccinated people are dying at a rate five times higher than unvaccinated people is based on figures reported by England’s national public health data reporting system.  (The table he refers to is on pages 18 and 19 of the report).

So let’s drill down into that claim to see if he is correct, while also being aware that maybe there are other factors rather than just the vaccinated or not issue, at play, here.

Something is immediately obvious in the table – the number of vaccinated people over 50 getting the Delta variant is massively higher than the number of unvaccinated people.  Don’t rush to say this means the vaccine is not working.  This difference is probably in line with the predominance of being vaccinated among the over 50s.  If we say 90% of over 50s are vaccinated, that would suggest a nine times greater number of infections, if the vaccine had no effect. We see an actual 6.2 times greater infections, meaning the vaccine is about 30% effective in the over 50s – that’s a disappointing number, to start with, but the response to that is “the vaccine doesn’t stop you getting infected, it stops you dying”.

So let’s move on to the death counts.  In the older people the mortality rate is lower among the vaccinated people – 1.8% instead of 6.0%.  That’s almost exactly as it should be.  The vaccine has prevented 30% of infections in older people, and of those infected, it has reduced the death rate by 70%.  That’s a very good thing, not a bad thing at all.

In this case, the author’s claim is groundless.  The initial difference and apparent greater number of deaths among vaccinated people is actually a “good” thing – most of the younger people didn’t get hospitalized at all, just the more vulnerable older people.  When analyzed by age group, rather than overall, the vaccine is working, not failing.

This is an example of how it is so difficult to know who or what to trust, whether they be writing credibly in favor of, or against, any particular issue.  How is it that an apparently well-credential writer made such a simple and basic error?  It is hard to think of an innocent explanation.

This article talks about a common blunder, termed “Simpson’s Paradox”.  It makes great reading, and explains how the author of the article, above, was able to conclude one thing by grouping data together, whereas, when separating the data, the opposite is actually correct.

Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine

As you surely know, the anti-IVM people delight in describing ivermectin as “horse deworming medicine” and make much of desperate calls to poison centers as proof that it is dangerous.  In reality, not only are there very few calls to poison centers, but most of the calls are from people simply calling to ask what the proper dose is.  And while ivermectin, originally developed for humans, not horses, can be used with many animals, for many things, the same as people, it has been prescribed literally billions of times for people all around the world, for a broad range of ailments.

But if calls to poison centers are a reason to ban ivermectin (which of course they aren’t), what do we make of the growing number of people being poisoned by hand sanitizer?  Should that be banned, too, or only sold via a doctor’s prescription?  Where are the scary headlines about hand sanitizer?

Vaccine News

In Britain, their “top doctors” have decided to recommend 12 – 15 year olds get vaccinated.  But we really wonder about the science behind this review.  Will they get the same dose as adults?  What testing/trials were conducted, and what different dosages were tested?  Why did they decide to recommend it for 12 year olds, but not 11 year olds?  Why are they saying these children should get only one dose instead of two?  Will they need a booster shot, and if so, when?

And what does it mean when they say “there was not enough benefit to justify vaccinating these children on health grounds”?

Care to bet as to how many of these questions were thoroughly examined and tested in trials?  But, not to worry – the “top doctors” have decided.

The concept of a booster, discussed above, seems to have an unstoppable force to it, no matter what the underlying science (or lack thereof) may show, and no matter that many medical experts and even senior FDA members are opposed.  Why are the politicians so eager to squirt this stuff into us a third time, but the medical experts so hesitant?  What happened to “follow the science”?  Are vaccine boosters merely a “feel good” measure to calm the general public?

We know the FDA lost two senior managers because they did not want to support the booster shots, and felt the politicians were forcing the issue.  But what about the CDC?  What is its position?  This article, while not ascribing a position or opinion to the CDC, claims it might be withholding critical data about booster shots.

And in news you couldn’t make up, Health Canada has come up with new names for the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named SpikeVax, and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria, they said.  Why the renaming?  And, really, what terrible names.

Timings And Numbers

The UK is enjoying dropping case numbers, and the US may also be seeing dropping cases, too.  Why?  Certainly in the case of the UK, the country is becoming less and less restrictive.  Is it possible that a combination of past-infection immunity and vaccine immunity is finally starting to have an effect?  Let’s hope so.  The above table shows us where various countries are in their respective vaccination programs.  You can add at least another 13% to those numbers for US past-infection people, and at least 10% for the UK – well, in theory you could, but many of those people have also been vaccinated, so maybe not.

But with total numbers now reaching 70%, one way or another, for a growing number of cases, maybe that is enough?  Strictly speaking, when allowing for vaccine effectiveness, it is almost certainly not enough, but it is certainly at a point where it is slowing things down.  But if the claims, sometimes made, that the actual number of Covid cases is vastly higher than the officially reported numbers, that would help to push us much closer to the necessary levels.

Would you like to make a quick $1 million?  A person has a $1 million bet open to anyone who believes they can prove him wrong in his claim that the Covid vaccines have resulted in over 20,000 deaths.  The official count is somewhere under 500.  The CDC says no-one has died from the vaccines.

He writes about it here, and here are the formal conditions of the bet.  He is even willing to modify the terms of the bet if someone feels them to be unfair.

Why has no-one rushed to take him up on that bet?  The silence is surprising.  If I was a Health Dept official in charge of counting vaccine related deaths, and came up with a number under 500 that I then published as the official count, I’d sure be rushing to pick up a fast and certain $1 million.

Talking about numbers, I regularly bemoan the inaccuracy of just about every measure and count of Covid impacts.  Neither our counting of cases nor our counting of deaths is close to accurate, and indeed, the numbers are so imprecise and vague that I can’t even express an opinion as to if the numbers are over or under counted.  There are cogent points in favor of both opinions!

This article refers to another measure of Covid activity, a measure I’ve never focused on at all, but which the article claims to have been the “most reliable” – the number of admitted Covid patients in hospitals.  After claiming this used to be the most reliable measure, the article now concedes it no longer is.

Shortages

Idaho is now rationing health care across the entire state, due to the pressure of growing numbers of Covid patients.  The article also mentions that parts of Montana and Alaska have similar rationing in effect.

The clear subtext is that this is all the fault of the unvaccinated.  I’m a bit torn on this – both the accuracy of the “crisis” and who to blame.

As for the accuracy of the crisis, there have been plenty of other articles with totally wrong claims – ventilator shortages, hospitals turning away patients, doctors having to decide who to treat and who to leave to die, and so on.  Maybe this article is the exception that proves the rule and is 100% accurate on every point.  But I did note reference to both ventilator shortages and oxygen shortages – if there is a ventilator shortage, why are ventilators not being borrowed from other less stressed hospitals, elsewhere?  And anyone who hasn’t been asleep for 18 months knows that oxygen is in demand, why weren’t adequate supplies obtained ahead of time?  Covid hospitalizations are never a surprise.  First a person gets infected, and becomes a statistic.  Maybe, a week or more later, they then move on to hospitalization – so at the very least, hospitals know a week in advance what to expect, and with only a little bit of extra effort, and using the various projections out there, they can more generally project the future further out as well.

Two points.  First, is this really the fault of “bad” unvaccinated people?  Or of incompetent and penny-pinching hospital administrators?

Second, if the hospital system is stressed, and no matter what the reason, there’s an obvious and nearly instant, low-cost, solution.  Start giving people ivermectin as soon as they first get infected.  Based on the studies, that is likely to reduce hospital admissions at least three-fold.  Voila (or, as so many people mistakenly and hilariously mistype, “viola”) – problem solved.

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again on Sunday.

 

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