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Was Vaccine Announcement Delayed to Help Biden Win?

“You delayed the vaccine announcement to stop me taking credit for it.”

On September 22nd Matthew Lynn wrote an article for the Spectator that in hindsight looks rather prophetic – sort of:

It could be the most audacious piece of political theatre of modern times. At the end of next month, just a week or so before Americans choose their next president, we could see Donald Trump standing on the White House lawn in front of a handful of friendly journalists, rolling up his sleeve and looking solemnly into the camera with hardly a wince as a nurse expertly administers America’s newly licensed coronavirus vaccine. ‘We did it,’ he will announce, adding that the biggest mass vaccination programme in history is ready to roll out. ‘An American vaccine that has made America great again.’

Far-fetched? Ridiculous? Perhaps not. Even though trials of Britain’s Oxford vaccine were paused this week, others remain on track. Trump dropped the broadest possible hint about his thinking when he said on Monday: ‘We’ll have the vaccine soon, maybe before a special date. You know what date I’m talking about.’ If he rushes through a shot for election day he will be far from alone in twisting immunology in pursuit of ideology.

Was it fear of precisely this piece of political theatre that caused Pfizer/BioNTech to delay releasing the good news about their vaccine until after the US networks had called it for Biden? Donald Trump certainly thinks so. The Daily Wire has more.

President Donald Trump claimed on Monday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Democrats delayed releasing news on a potential vaccine to hurt his reelection chances.

Trump made the allegation on Monday evening over Twitter after news broke of a potential Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 being authorized by the end of November. The drug manufacturer released early survey results of its vaccine, created with the German drug manufacturer BioNTech, showing it to be potentially 90% effective at inoculating against the disease.

“The [FDA] and the Democrats didn’t want to have me get a Vaccine WIN, prior to the election, so instead it came out five days later – As I’ve said all along!” Trump tweeted.

However, Max Nisen, who covers the pharmaceutical industry for Bloomberg Opinion, doesn’t think it’s true.

In an interview with Axios, Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla said that the independent board monitoring the trials only began receiving data on the trial last Thursday or Friday, convened to discuss it Sunday, and that he received the information on the positive results later that day. They weren’t sitting on the data. If there’s any possible point of controversy, it’s in a recent change in the decision of when to start looking at trial results. That requires a bit more explanation, but I think it was wholly justified and not politically motivated. Bourla says that if data were available pre-election, the company would have released it.

Vaccine trials like this one are “event-based.” They compare the number of confirmed Covid cases among those who get the vaccine to those that take an inactive placebo. Pfizer planned early looks at the data to see if it was working after 32 confirmed cases, 62, 92, and 120 cases before conducting a final analysis at 164. That plan was controversial, because it was more aggressive and included a much earlier peek at the data than protocols put forward by other companies.

At some point – the companies haven’t disclosed precisely when or even if it was pre- or post-election – the developers had discussions with the FDA and decided to skip the first analysis. By the time they finished those discussions and looked at the data, there were 94 cases. It’s not clear if the analysis would have arrived before the election even without the change. What’s clear is that the company hadn’t hit the threshold as of Pfizer’s earnings call Oct. 27th – and recording cases and analyzing them takes time. Either way, waiting for more cases is a good scientific decision. Small sample sizes bring statistical bias, so a 90% plus efficacy rate after 94 cases is far more convincing than the same figure after just 32. On top of that, because of FDA safety requirements, announcing the results earlier almost certainly wouldn’t have led to an earlier authorization.

Worth reading the Bloomberg piece in full.

Stop Press: Giles Coren has written a terrific piece for the Times headlined: “Smug Brits for Biden had me warming to Trump.” Here’s an extract:

And the more my dearest friends and relations posted screengrabs of Obama’s creepy butler (“Lay the table in the morning room, Joe, the Clintons are coming for brunch”) edging ahead in Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, with little fist bump emojis, the more I started to mutter under my breath, “come on Trump, come on The Donald . . .”

A Vaccine Jab? After You, Prime Minister

A surprising number of Britons would be wiling to take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provided politicians take it first. That was the finding of a poll carried out by the Daily Mail. A whopping 74% of people said they either definitely or probably would be willing to take it, while just 18% said they would definitely or probably not be. But the sting in the tail, as far as the pro-vaccine political class is concerned, is that 43% of respondents said politicians should take it first.

Looks like Boris may have to do a John Gummer, who famously fed a burger to his four year-old daughter in 1990 to prove that eating British beef carried no risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Apart from the amusing response to the political question, the Daily Mail poll makes for pretty depressing reading.

The poll also showed that Pfizer’s breakthrough jab was the best news of the year for many – and as significant as the fall of the Iron Curtain.

However there was a note of caution, with seven in ten feeling lockdown restrictions should stay in place for now…

According to today’s Mail poll the elderly, who are at greatest risk from the pandemic, are most enthusiastic about being vaccinated. A total of 86 per cent of over-65s would have it and only 2% of them would refuse point-blank.

The elderly are so eager to protect themselves against the virus that 56% would have the jab as soon as possible.

A total of 62% of all ages say they will encourage grandparents and elderly relatives to have the jab; 16% say they would not encourage them in this way.

Among 35- to 44-year-olds, who are much less at risk of Covid, a total of 63% say they would agree to be vaccinated.

Women, who customarily pay more attention to personal health than men, are more wary of the safety of the potentially revolutionary injection produced by Pfizer and BioNtech.

They say it has not been tested properly by a margin of 42% to 33. By contrast men say it has been vetted properly by a margin of 39% to 38.

Worth reading in full.

Shot in the Arm

So, the headline writers haven’t exactly been straining every sinew to come up with an original metaphor to describe the effect of the Pfizer/BioNTech announcement on the financial markets.

Nikkei Asian Review
Pfizer vaccine hopes give Asia markets a shot in the arm

al.com
Covid vaccine news gives stock market a shot in the arm

Nikkei Asian Review
Pfizer vaccine hopes give Dow 800-point shot in the arm

The Guardian
BioNTech’s Covid vaccine: a shot in the arm for Germany’s Turkish community

Barron’s
Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Might Work.
And that should give a shot in the arm to a health care niche that had…

World First Foreign Currency Exchange
Pfizer gives sterling a shot in the arm

TechCrunch
Five VCs discuss the future of SaaS and software after Pfizer’s vaccine… news that one was coming was more than a shot in the arm — it was…

NewsCenterMaine.com WCSH-WLBZ
The news, announced Monday morning, is a shot in the arm for public health …

cbs.com
Watch CBS This Morning: Markets soar on Pfizer vaccine…
Stock markets got a shot in the arm after promising news of a vaccine and election results were announced.

The Australian Financial Review
Vaccine news a shot in the arm for malls, offices

The Telegraph
UK growth to get shot in the arm from ‘game-changing’ vaccine

Not exactly “Headless Body in Topless Bar” is it?

Come on, you lazy subs. Raise your game.

Stop Press: Not to be outdone by the world’s headline writers, Matt Hancock used the same tired metaphor in the House of Commons yesterday: When “the science comes good”, he said, NHS staff would rise to the challenge – and “inject hope into millions of arms”. Michael Deacon, the Telegraph‘s Parliamentary sketch writer, is suitably scathing.

Jeremy Warner Sounds Note of Caution After Stock Markets Soar

Blower’s cartoon in yesterday’s Telegraph

Let’s not get carried away, says Jeremy Warner. The Telegraph columnist cautioned readers not to set too much store by the stock-market bounce the vaccine news produced yesterday. (The FTSE had its best day since March.) He says the economic harm caused by our Government’s panicky over-reaction to Covid will take decades to recover from.

There is still a slightly worrying lack of detail around the company’s findings, which have yet to be peer reviewed, and in particular, we can obviously have no idea at this stage whether there are any unwanted long-term side effects.

One of the treatments developed for countering Sars was later suspected of making recipients more prone to narcolepsy, though this may be just anti-vaxx scaremongering.

In any case, fear of side effects is why new drugs normally take so long to bring to market. After thalidomide, it is every pharmaceutical company’s nightmare; there has never been such pressure for a workable vaccine, but the last thing you want is to find that years later, recipients develop some horrific after-effect.

Already there are questions being asked of one of the Chinese frontrunners in the global race to develop Covid vaccines after final trials in Brazil were halted due to a serious adverse event.

The great bulk of developmental drugs fall foul of such upsets, and as a result never make it to market. It’s as poisonous to a pharmaceutical company to be selling something whose long-term impact on health is worse than the disease it is trying to combat as it is the unlucky recipient.

Big logistical challenges remain in rolling out the several Covid vaccines nearing the end of trials, and particularly the one being developed by Pfizer, which needs to be kept in deep freeze until used and requires multiple doses. Nor can we be sure how durable the protection is.

Nonetheless, to develop something with such an apparently high success rate in such a short space of time is an astonishing achievement.

Worth reading in full.

Hancock Grilled by Julia Hartley Brewer

The Health Secretary was so emboldened by the vaccine news, he decided to risk another appearance on Julia Hartley Brewer’s talkRADIO show, even though the last one – almost two months ago – was a bit of a car crash. This time round, even Julia’s pointed questioning couldn’t puncture the puppy-like ebullience of Hancock, so fired up was he by the news.

You can watch the whole exchange here.

When is a Placebo Not a Placebo?

A reader has emailed me to correct a sentence in my piece yesterday about the Pfizer vaccine.

On Tuesday it was mentioned in L.S. that half of those in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trials received a placebo. Unless a Pfizer employee comes forward and notifies us, we shouldn’t be too sure of this. A placebo is an inactive substance. In vaccine trials this would be a saline solution jab. However, we know that the young Brazilian volunteer who recently died who was in the Astra Zeneca control group had been given the meningitis vaccine. Yet this was glibly referred to by many in the media as a placebo. Another vaccine is not a placebo. In a paper written in 2017 by members of the Trial Unit at Copenhagen University it is made clear that the not giving a true placebo in vaccine trials is to mask potentially harmful effects of the trial vaccine. And it is common practice.

Is the New Vaccine Snake Oil?

As I said yesterday, I give a cautious welcome to the new vaccine. If you share my view that governments around the world have got themselves stuck up a tree by wildly over-estimating the danger posed by this virus, then this vaccine may be just the ladder they need to climb down. But Dr Malcolm Kendrick is less sanguine. He wrote rather a brilliant piece on his blog today that I’m reprinting in full below.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, roll-up, roll-up, roll-up. My new product, just brought to the market this very day, prevents ninety per-cent, yes ninety per-cent of all known things happening to you. Yes, a remarkable ninety per cent. Not sixty per cent, not seventy per cent, no…not even eighty per cent. But ninety of your finest American per cent – of things’.

‘What is a thing, madam? What a very good question, and by the way your child is a most beautiful young girl, is she not. And your hair, someone did a most fantastic job on that. You must have paid a fortune for such magnificent styling… you sir.’

‘You are asking how much it costs. Cost sir, now cost doesn’t come into it. I can promise that I will never make a penny from selling this product, this year…. Not a penny, as I promise on my mother’s grave sir, my mother’s grave.’

‘Lady at the back there what was that …you say that my mother is still alive, you met her for coffee last week. Gracious, she does get about doesn’t she.’

‘Back to you sir. Cost, this product .. it does have to be kept at a very low temperature, so valuable is it sir. The cost of the refrigeration unit. Now, that is pricey sir very pricey. Pricey indeed.

‘How pricey sir. I can tell you are a very clever man, there is no way I could fool you, is there. But pricey sir…made by top scientists, and they do not come cheap, no they do not. I wish with all my heart it were otherwise, but you cannot buy the product without the refrigeration. It would not make sense otherwise, would it sir. But you know, my good fellow, how can anyone quibble about the costs of keeping this remarkable product cold, when it will prevent ninety per cent….of things.’

‘But do not simply take my word for it. No. Here is a young lady who was injected with this product just the other day. Yes, just the other day. And do you know what… Well, don’t listen to me. Here she is…. big round of applause for this very brave young lady. Now Miss Fauci, for that is your name is it not… yes it is. You were injected with this very product seven days ago and what has happened to you?’

Miss Fauci: ‘Nothing.’

‘Yes, absolutely nothing happened to young Miss Fauci. Nothing at all. When you think of all the things that could have happened, and yet none of them did, did they. Well, this is remarkable, truly remarkable. No fevers, no loss of smell, no cough….?’

Miss Fauci: ‘Yes, nothing at all.’

‘Ladies and gentlemen, can you believe it. Nothing happened to this young lady at all after seven whole days.’

‘What was that madam, nothing happened to you either. Goodness me, you have been lucky haven’t you. You must be one of the lucky ten per cent. Here, have a free PCR swab to celebrate. Yes, keep it madam, its yours. Your day just got even better. Yes, have two, one could be positive, the other negative, we never really know do we. Ha, ha… my little joke.’

‘You sir, you still want to know what a thing is. Goodness me, you’re not one of those anti-product protestors are you. Our products undergo the most rigorous testing for safety, the most rigorous. How many, why, at least thirty people sir. We are not one of those fly-by-night organisations.’

‘You still want more information on things? Have I not just told you everything you could possibly need to know sir? Our product can prevent ninety per cent of things. If that is not enough to convince you sir, then I have not idea what else I can say.

‘Roll up, roll up. Only twenty billion for you, Mr Johnson – you know a bargain when you see one, don’t you. You’re certainly no mug, are you.’

Royal Society Calls For Anti-Vaxxers to be Jailed

Dr Kendrick could be in trouble if some top scientists have their way. The Royal Society – whose motto is Nullius in verba (take nobody’s word for it) – has called for people who disseminate anti-vaxxing “misinformation” on social media to be sent to prison. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph, has more.

It should be made a criminal offence to spread anti-vaxx myths and the public should report offenders, the Royal Society and British Academy have said amid concerns that baseless fears over a coronavirus vaccine will damage uptake.

A rapid review on COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment has called for people to be “inoculated” against misinformation, which can spread rapidly on social media.

Several countries already have laws against disseminating information that is harmful to public health, and Singapore has recently carried out four prosecutions for coronavirus offences under its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

Under the same legislation, companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are also legally required to correct or remove misinformation.

Professor Melinda Mills, the Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and the lead author of the review, said it was critical to address genuine concerns about the vaccine while preventing misleading facts from spreading on the internet.

“This information can be really damaging, and it’s clever how they spread it through memes and memorable things,” she said. “These groups are very skilled. They feed on fear, that little grain of truth, and they amplify it.

“It’s not very interesting when the Government produces passive web pages that say vaccinations are safe. The anti-vaxxers turn everything into a show – they put out things that are engaging, that are visual to their members.

“Social media channels try to capture this misinformation, but they can’t get everything and so it’s important that the public can spot it so that they don’t share it. Most people aren’t bad, they just don’t realise they are sharing a whole load of misinformation.”

Experts are concerned that uptake for a Covid vaccine will fall short unless more is done to address misconceptions on social media. Recent research has shown that around 36% of people in Britain say they are either uncertain or very unlikely to be vaccinated against the virus.

I couldn’t quite believe this. Does Professor Melinda Mills really think vaccine heretics should be sent to jail? I decided to do a bit of digging.

The press release about the Prof Mills’s report, written by Daisy Mallabor, begins:

A coordinated programme to combat anti-vaxx misinformation and encourage confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine is essential if a take-up target of eight in ten people in the UK is to be achieved, according to Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science Director Professor Melinda Mills, author of a report published today by the British Academy and the Royal Society for the SET-C (Science in Emergencies Tasking: COVID-19) group.

If you then click on the link, it takes you to the report – and the first thing you notice is that it wasn’t published yesterday. It’s dated October 21st. Turns out, it was submitted to SAGE for peer review 20 days ago, so not only does this “review” carry the imprimatur of the Royal Society and the British Academy, it’s also been signed off on by SAGE.

Sure enough, Sarah Knapton is absolutely right. On the final page of the report, we find the following paragraph:

Bring in legislation and enforce criminal prosecutions for spreading misinformation. Several countries have clearly defined information that is harmful and a threat to public health. A study of the three Asian countries (China, Singapore and South Korea), evaluating 5,000 news articles and policy responses revealed several main strategies to counter COVID-19 misinformation. A prominent strategy was clear legislation and punishment of those who produced and disseminated false information. The actual prosecutions were then shared regularly and prominently with the public in addition to persistent reminders of laws that could be used to prosecute those guilty of spreading misinformation.

Er, hang on a minute. Does Prof Mills actually cite the approach of the Chinese authorities to dealing with “misinformation” as an example of best practice? Yes she does. And in case you thought the inclusion of China alongside Singapore and South Korea might be a rare lapse of judgment, think again. Earlier in the report, Prof Mills again praises the response of the Chinese Communist Party to dissidents who spread “rumours” (yes, she actually uses the favoured word of the CCP):

An important practice is to promote media literacy and empower citizens to spot and report misinformation. Governments such as Singapore and China not only engaged in legal and authoritative measures to stop misinformation, but called for social support from the community to stop rumours and battle misinformation.

This is nothing short of astonishing. Is Prof Mills not aware of what happened to the Chinese doctors that raised the alarm in Wuhan when coronavirus was first discovered at the end of last year? For her benefit, here is an extract from the piece I wrote about it in Spectator USA:

On December 30th, Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, got the lab results back about one of her patients who had a flulike illness. The words she read on the report made her blood run cold: “Sars coronavirus”. She circled the word “Sars”, took a photo and emailed it to a doctor at a neighbouring hospital. Within hours, the photo had been sent to dozens of people in the Wuhan medical community. One of them sent a series of messages to a private group on WeChat, advising his colleagues to take precautions, and someone took screenshots of those messages and shared them more widely.

Had those doctors been working in another Southeast Asian country (Taiwan, say), the media would have quickly picked up on the chatter about a mysterious new virus and, within days, the authorities would have had no choice but to investigate. On learning of a viral outbreak, they would have then done their best to contain it.

But because this was China, the doctors with whom Ai Fen shared the photograph were arrested two days later, forced to sign confessions saying they were guilty of spreading false information and only released when they’d given an undertaking not to talk about the new virus again. The story made it onto CCTV, the state-owned television network, but it wasn’t about the emergence of a new disease. Rather, it was about a group of irresponsible doctors in Wuhan who had been punished for “rumour-mongering”.

Now, we don’t know for sure that the viral outbreak would have been nipped in the bud if China were a free country rather than a communist dictatorship – and those trafficking in “rumours”, i.e. telling the truth, weren’t immediately arrested and imprisoned. But we do know that by the time the state decided to act it was too late. After a Herculean effort to deny that SARS-CoV-2 posed any danger to the public, including persuading the World Health Organization (WHO) to announce there was no evidence of “human-to-human transmission” on January 14th, the Chinese authorities finally admitted there was a problem on January 23rd, imposing a cordon sanitaire around Wuhan and surrounding cities in Hubei Province. That was two days before the Chinese New Year holiday on January 25th; by that time an estimated five million people had already left the area and traveled to other cities in China to be with their families for the holidays.

So Professor Melinda Mills, in support of her argument that anti-vaxxers should be jailed, cites the treatment of “rumour-mongers” by the totalitarian Chinese Communist authorities – when precisely this approach resulted in the suppression of information which, had it been more widely known, could well have stopped SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks.

Had it just been Mills who came up with this hare-brained argument, that would be one thing. But her paper has been “peer reviewed” by SAGE and given the stamp of approval by the Royal Society and the British Academy.

Has our entire scientific establishment gone completely barking mad?

Has the Royal Society’s motto now changed to: Take nobody’s word for it, unless you disagree with us about the benefits of public vaccination programmes, in which case we’ll have you thrown in jail, just like those responsible custodians of scientific truth the Chinese Communist Party?

And if these authoritarians in lab coats can’t actually imprison those who don’t toe the line, they can certainly do their best to have them thrown out of polite society. In another section of the report, Prof Mills first affirms her belief in “freedom of expression” – eh? – and then, without pausing for breath, uses every low trick in the book to try and discredit the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration:

When those arguing on the basis of misinformation are brought in to media debates as supposed ‘balanced representation’ alongside mainstream scientists for sensation, this can undermine accurate information and result in confusion. This happened more recently in debates around herd immunity where a fringe group of scientists lacking evidence, a publication track record or concrete policy advice, were given a substantial voice.

I emailed someone at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and asked them to put the following question to to the author of this report:

Prof Mills seems to have a tin ear when it comes to understanding the psychology of anti-vaxxers and those likely to be most receptive to their message. If anti-vaxxers disseminating misinformation are prosecuted, as Prof Mills recommends, surely this will just convince this susceptible group that the pro-vaccination authorities have something to hide and are frightened to meet their opponents in open debate. If Prof Mills believes in freedom of expression, as she claims, why doesn’t she believe in the principle set out by the Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who said in 1927: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

More recently, this was paraphrased by President Obama: “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech.”

I got the following response from an intermediary:

The report argues for “Openly addressing uncertainties about efficacy and safety”. It is important that people can express their concerns and the discussion should be based on evidence. However, those who deliberately seek to mislead the public with unfounded claims, such as the recent ‘monkey’ campaign reported on in the Times, should be tackled.

The particular piece of misinformation she’s referring to, though, which claims people injected with the AstraZeneca vaccine will turn into monkeys, is a perfect illustration of Louise Brandeis’s argument. If anyone sharing the ‘monkey vaccine’ meme is arrested and thrown in jail, that will have a Streisand Effect, increasing people’s exposure to it and endowing it with an underground credibility it doesn’t deserve. Much better, surely, for the advocates of the ‘monkey vaccine’ hypothesis to be allowed to set out their case in the public square where it can be comprehensively rebutted.

Behind this call for anti-vaxxers to be jailed is a fundamental lack of confidence in the intelligence of the British public. Professor Mills and her chums at SAGE think we’re a bunch of knuckle-dragging troglodytes who are incapable of being persuaded to take our medicine by reason and evidence. Indeed, there’s a tell-tale passage in the report in which Mills says it’s no good trying to use science to persuade the public to embrace a Covid vaccine – we’re just too stupid. Instead, the public health boffins should take a leaf out of the anti-vaxxers and appeal to our emotions:

There are several key strategies used by the anti-vaccination movement that are in stark contrast from neutral, rational and often complex scientific messaging. A stronger approach is likely to adopt the methods used by the anti-vaccination and conspiracy movement. This is centring stories on anecdotes which are personal and often highly-emotional narratives. This could be in the form of an ‘uneventful’ vaccination where nothing happened to provide security. A powerful and often used narrative is the ‘conversion’ of an anti-vaxx to pro-vaccination ideology. Examples of cases include previously anti-vaxx parents whose child was saved from a tetanus shot after almost dying.

It reads like a parody – Mr Spock telling the Vulcans how to get the Earthlings to mend their ways. Forget about logic; tell them scary stories instead.

The disturbing thing is that, until this year, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings, et al, would have told these elitist snobs to get in the sea. Now, they seem to be completely under their spell.

Expect the Anti-Vaxxers Bill to be brought before Parliament by the end of the year.

Stop Press: A reader, Michael Staples, has emailed me a letter he’s sent to the Telegraph about this sinister development. As he says: “I write as someone thoroughly in favour of vaccination, but who is to say what is a ‘myth’ and what is a contrary scientific opinion. This is a very dangerous and slippery slope and would be a clear attack on free speech in a liberal society.”

Mass Testing by the Army Turns Out to be a Good Thing

When the facts change, I change my mind.

I was initially sceptical about the roll out of the lateral flow test by the British Army in the City of Liverpool. Wasn’t this just another huge waste of taxpayers’ money (£43 billion and counting), with sinister, authoritarian overtones? But no. Turns out, the new tests are far more reliable than the shonky PCR test and the Army are much less likely to ignore the protocols stipulated by the manufacturers. And that’s good news – brilliant news – because it reveals just how few cases there actually are in Liverpool. Practically none, in fact.

I was alerted to this by Dr Clare Craig FRCPath and asked her to do a write-up of what she’d learnt for Lockdown Sceptics. I reprint it below in full.

The army has begun mass testing of the whole of Liverpool city in a desperate attempt to find cases. Despite being set to work diligently and efficiently, they appear to be failing to find the second wave of the pandemic that is currently supposed to be hitting Liverpool the hardest.

Astonishingly, this new test has only found 162 positives after testing 23,170 people, which is only 0.7%. These are almost certainly all false positives. Tests rarely ever manage a false positive rate lower than this. The army has demonstrated, accidentally, that there is no remaining Covid in Liverpool.

Could some of the positives have been real? No-one knows the real world false positive rate for the army test (or the PCR test). The manufacturers will always use clear cut examples for both negative and positive groups so their false positive rates tend to be underestimates. When tests are used in the real world they encounter ambiguous situations that result in higher false positive rates.

Serious questions have been raised about the false positive rate of the PCR tests resulting from laboratories under immense pressure. The evidence that the PCR tests are resulting in misdiagnosis due to false positive results has been published before.

Positive test results in Liverpool have been sharply declining since the beginning of October, while other parts of the North West have seen positive test results plateau. Because of false positive misdiagnoses there is still a persistent rate of allegedly Covid-positive patients admitted to hospital, in intensive care and even Covid being wrongly attributed as the cause of death. If Covid was really driving the admissions to hospital rather than false positive misdiagnoses, then there must be cases in the community for people to catch the virus. The Government therefore has a problem. Where have the missing cases gone? Have the people of Liverpool had enough and stopped co-operating with the testing programme?

The army has been called to mass test the entire city. They were so determined to find these cases that they decided to mass test schools without first seeking parental consent.

Instead of using swab tests with PCR, a much faster test was used. Previous tests have looked for RNA (the viral equivalent of DNA that viruses use to reproduce). The new test (lateral flow test) finds Covid proteins from which the viral particles themselves are made. The manufacturers claimed that these tests are very accurate although there were questions about whether they could find every case. On this measure the most obvious explanation for their apparent poor performance in finding cases was because most of the ‘cases’ found before with PCR testing were in fact false positives.

Even better, these results are going to be cross checked with “gold standard” PCR testing. The worst performing laboratories have a positive rate of 20% for PCR. So even in a worst case scenario only 20% of them will test positive in these laboratories which will drop the number they can claim are real Covid ‘cases’ even further.

The ONS carry out random population screening to determine how many Covid ‘cases’ there are currently in the population. They do this using PCR tests in the same laboratories as community tests which are therefore subject to the same serious false positive problems. For this reason, the regions with laboratories with the highest false positive rate have the highest ONS predicted case rate and the most ‘cases’ in community testing. The ONS predicted 2.2% of the population of the North West had Covid in the last week of October. Their prediction for the week of November 1st to 7th will be published on Friday 13th. Assuming the later prediction is not dramatically different to before, this means that the Army tests have shown only one third of the ONS predicted cases. The Government will be left with a choice when faced with the gap between the 2.2% figure from PCR testing and the 0.7% figure found by the Army using the new test:

  1. They could argue that cases fell by two thirds, from 2.2% to 0.7% in a week, and risk being proved wrong with the next round of ONS testing.
  2. They may claim that these new tests are missing two thirds of cases, and then be forced to abandon the new test as defective. They will then be left with the contradiction of there being no cases being diagnosed in the Liverpool community, but apparently continuing problems in hospitals where everyone is tested.
  3. They will have to admit that the 0.7% test is actually more accurate and that therefore there are serious problems with false positives from the PCR test results and finally start addressing those problems.

Every medical student has it drummed into them that they must treat the patient not the test results. The Government needs to take a look at the nation as a patient and stop treating the tests. Symptom trackers show symptoms back at baseline; accident and emergency attendances for acute respiratory infections are below normal, hospital admissions, intensive care bed use and hospital mortality figures are all normal for the time of year. The patient is better, but the treatment is toxic and it has to be stopped.

Wales Scraps GCSEs and A-levels

Bad news for Welsh kids: no exams next summer (more on why it’s bad news below). The Telegraph has more.

End of year exams in Wales will be scrapped in 2021, Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams has announced.

GCSE, AS-level and A-level exams will be replaced by coursework and assessments amid ongoing disruption to schools caused by the coronavirus.

Ms Williams said the ongoing pandemic made it “impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place” and the decision “removes pressures from learners”.

She said: “The well-being of learners and ensuring fairness across the system is central in our decision-making process.

“In line with the recommendations of both Qualifications Wales and the Independent Review, there will be no exams for GCSE or AS level learners next year. A-level students will also not be required to sit exams.

“We remain optimistic that the public heath situation will improve, but the primary reason for my decision is down to fairness; the time learners will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely and, in this situation, it is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.”

Why is this bad news? I’ll let David Mackie, the Head of Philosophy at d’Overbroeck’s, Oxford, explain. He wrote a magisterial piece for Lockdown Sceptics last week ago about why cancelling exams this year was a catastrophe. Here’s one of his arguments:

My heart sank when I heard the announcement, which I knew would be an instant disincentive to my Upper Sixth students: it would make it far harder for them to make further progress in the normal way. The final few months of A-level courses can in many cases be the most valuable, for it is in this period that students, having covered the individual elements of the syllabus, can make important intellectual strides forwards. This is certainly true in my own main subject, Philosophy, for in consolidating their learning through revision, students often identify and properly appreciate, sometimes for the first time, the way in which ideas and arguments studied in one area of the syllabus complement their understanding, and suggest new lines of approach, in other areas. It is in these final weeks of the course that students most often achieve a deeper understanding of the subject as a whole, form well-reasoned opinions of their own, and start to make the step from being students of Philosophy to becoming philosophers.

For students expecting to sit A-level exams in 2020, the unnecessarily early timing of the announcement wiped out, at a stroke, most of the educational value that might have been gained from the remaining weeks of the Spring term and all of the Summer Term – amounting to almost one-sixth of a Year 13 student’s A-level experience.

David’s piece is very much worth reading in full.

The problem with the Welsh executive taking this decision is that it puts pressure on the other three nations to do the same. Why? Because Welsh students’ grades will inevitably be inflated as a result of this decision – in England, the percentage of A-level students gaining A* or A rose from 25.2% in 2019 to 38.1% in 2020 – which will mean they’ll be at a competitive advantage when it comes to getting into British universities if the other nations don’t follow suit.

Another Letter From a Disillusioned Labour Voter

A lifelong Labour voter, has forwarded a letter he sent to his MP Lucy Powell. The list of lockdown harms he’s appended to the end was originally posted in the comments on Lockdown Sceptics. Glad to see it’s been put to such good use…

Dear Lucy,

I was dismayed to see that along with the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, you supported the Government’s second lockdown motion last week.

The catastrophic effects of the first lockdown on national health, wealth and happiness have been viscerally experienced by millions of people and thoroughly documented. Nothing short of a return of the Black Death should have required the country to be shut down for a second time.

The Government used flawed assumptions based on out-of-date data to underpin its argument for a second lockdown, something that was widely known before the first vote was cast and which was subsequently confirmed by the Government itself.

Whitty and Vallance’s exaggerated scenarios and the disastrous consequences of the first lockdown ought to have been enough to have persuaded you to vote against the Government, not to mention the unreliability of PCR tests, the misuse of the term ‘case’, NHS data showing that hospital intensive care is no busier than usual for the time of year, the low IFR of the virus, and its downgrading from HCID status in March.

Yet despite all this, we were treated to the grotesque spectacle of a Labour Opposition – a Labour Opposition – shuffling in line to vote for a Tory bill that will throw thousands of people out of work, destroy thousands of businesses, deepen the personal misery of millions and drag the country further into the abyss.

I live in a predominantly Labour-voting community in north Manchester. I have always voted Labour. My parents voted Labour, my grandparents voted Labour. Most of my family and friends vote Labour. Energised by Labour’s return to the politics of democratic socialism, I re-joined the Party prior to the 2019 General Election. I have been a political activist and trade unionist for all of my adult life.

But I will never vote Labour again. Moreover, I will devote the greater part of my activist energy, which is prodigious, to persuading everyone in my extensive circle of family, friends and comrades never to vote Labour again. I know many people who feel exactly the same way and they in turn will carry this message into their own networks. From now on I will vote for any candidate or party that opposes lockdowns and seeks to restore this country immediately to pre-March conditions.

The tide is starting to turn. People who were out clapping for the NHS in April and May are now saying that they feel that they have been lied to about the severity of the virus. They understand that the measures being taken by the Government and cheered on by the Labour Party are totally out of whack with the reality of SARS-CoV-2. They believe that deeper political and economic forces are at work.

Anger is growing. New political formations will emerge. The current political class has discredited itself beyond repair. The Labour Party, which could have performed such a service to the nation by taking even a modestly critical position on lockdowns, is seen as being as much a part of the problem as Johnson and the Tories.

I have appended a list of some of the myriad consequences (all dire) of the decision to shut down the country earlier this year. I am sure that you are aware of many of them and weighed them in the balance before voting last week but I thought that it might be useful for you to have a record to hand should you be asked to approve yet another lockdown in a few weeks’ time.

Many of the numbers in the list will soon have to be revised upwards, of course, thanks to your decision to condemn the country to a second round of immiseration.

Yours sincerely,

XXXXXX XXXXXXX

  • 25 million GP appointments lost (source: Care Quality Commission)
  • 3 million people backlog for cancer screening (source: Cancer Research UK)
  • 350,000 patients with suspected cancer haven’t been referred (source: Cancer Research UK)
  • 986,000 women not screened for breast cancer (source: Breast Cancer Now)
  • Nearly 2 million waiting >18 weeks for planned surgery, such as knee and hip operations (source: NHS England)
  • 111,026 patients waiting >1 year for treatment (source: NHS England)
  • AMD and cataracts have gone untreated leaving patients at risk of sight loss
  • 1 in 10 mental health patients has been waiting 6 months for help (source: Royal College of Psychiatrists)
  • The number of people drinking at ‘high risk levels’ has doubled since February – now 8.5 million (source: Royal College of Psychiatrists)
  • Off-licence alcohol sales are up 24.2% with beer sales up 66% (source: Kantar)
  • 48% of UK respondents increased alcohol consumption and 54% increased drinking frequency (source: Institute of Alcohol Studies/Global Drug Survey Special Edition)
  • Just over 1 in 10 of over 70,000 surveyed had suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm during the first week of lockdown (source: Samaritans)
  • Calls to domestic abuse helplines have surged (source: Refuge – For Women & Children Against Violence)
  • 750,000 jobs lost March-August (source: ONS)
  • 11,120 chain store outlets closed January-June (source: Local Data Company and PwC)
  • 45% of businesses have less than six months’ cash reserves or none (source: ONS)
  • 673,000 fewer workers were on payroll in August compared with March 2020 (source: ONS)
  • Record fall in GDP (21.8%) during first half of 2020, greater than France, Italy, Canada, Germany, US and Japan (source: ONS)
  • Public borrowing of £173.7 billion in the first five months of the financial year – more than triple all borrowing for entire previous year (£56.6 billion) (source: ONS)
  • UK national debt at record high >£2 trillion for first time ever (source: ONS)
  • 33% of adults reported high levels of anxiety (source: ONS)
  • Charities face £12.4 billion loss of income (source: Chartered Institute of Fundraising [IoF] and the Charity Finance Group [CFG])
  • Graduates less likely to find work/internships: 49% of small and medium sized businesses have cancelled internships or work experience, whilst 29% of larger firms have (source: The Sutton Trust)

New, 50-Strong Group of Sceptical Tory MPs is Formed

Steve Baker and Mark Harper

This is more like it. Last night, a group of 50 Conservative MPs had joined something Called the Covid Recovery Group – CRG, inevitably, because it sounds like ERG – led by former Chief Whip Mark Harper and Brexit firebrand Steve Baker. The Telegraph has more.

By last night, 50 Tory MPs had formally joined the anti-lockdown group, with another 45 MPs considering membership after joining a special WhatsApp group to coordinate the work of the group.

The group will be seen in Westminster as an echo of the European Research Group, a grouping of Tory MPs who were successfully whipped by Mr Baker to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the last Parliament.

It will also be considered a response from backbench Conservative MPs to the decision by Nigel Farage to apply to the Electoral Commission to rebrand his Brexit Party as a new anti-lockdown party called Reform UK.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said that England will return to a series of regional lockdowns after the national restrictions end on Dec 2nd. But the group will be a headache for Mr Johnson if he tries to pursue a third national lockdown, and needs Labour votes to pass it through the Commons.

Backbench Tory MPs were infuriated last week to be asked to vote for the national lockdown based on inflated death forecasts, which then were quietly revised down after the lockdown came into force.

Mark Harper, the Chairman of the group, has written an op ed piece for today’s Telegraph in which he sets out the three main aims of the group.

First, the Government must undertake and publish a full cost-benefit analysis of restrictions on a regional basis. Lockdowns and restrictions cause immense economic, social and non-Covid health damage.

Covid is a deadly disease but we must give equal regard to the most lethal killers we face today – cancer, dementia, heart disease, and, for under 40s, suicide, to people’s mental health, and to the health implications and consequent mortality of falling GDP. Restrictions should be removed immediately if it cannot be shown that they are saving more lives than they cost.

Second, it’s time to end the monopoly on advice of government scientists. Everyone is working under tremendous pressure and we are learning more about Covid every day. But prevailing expert scientific opinion must be challenged by competitive, multi-disciplinary expert groups. Government should publish the models that inform policies so they can be reviewed by the public.

Fundamental methodological issues with epidemiological modelling could be avoided if a range of competing expert groups are given a seat at the table and if the Government ensures that all critical Covid-related policies are underpinned by at least three independent expert opinions, all of which are published ahead of the next vote on restrictions in Parliament.

Finally, we must improve the measures we already have to tackle the virus, including significantly boosting the performance of NHS Test and Trace by shifting resources to local public health teams to lead contact tracing, and by expanding the NHS’ surge capacity.

The current system has been reaching only 48 per cent of the contacts of those who have tested positive, yet SAGE says that for the system to be effective, it needs to reach 80 per cent. We must transform the effectiveness of NHS Test and Trace so that we have another tool to help prevent repeated cycles of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.

This is an extremely promising development which will make it much more difficult for Boris to renege on his promise to take us out of Lockdown 2.0 on December 2nd, particularly if a further 45 MPs join up.

Stop Press: The Covid Recovery Group should all read the latest piece by Prof Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson in the Spectator about the nine worst COVID-19 biases. It’s an absolute corker.

Round-Up

Theme Tunes Suggested by Readers

Just one today: “A Shot in the Arm” by Wilco.

Love in the Time of Covid

We have created some Lockdown Sceptics Forums, including a dating forum called “Love in a Covid Climate” that has attracted a bit of attention. We have a team of moderators in place to remove spam and deal with the trolls, but sometimes it takes a little while so please bear with us. You have to register to use the Forums, but that should just be a one-time thing. Any problems, email the Lockdown Sceptics webmaster Ian Rons here.

Sharing stories: Some of you have asked how to link to particular stories on Lockdown Sceptics. The answer used to be to first click on “Latest News”, then click on the links that came up beside the headline of each story. But we’ve changed that so the link now comes up beside the headline whether you’ve clicked on “Latest News” or you’re just on the Lockdown Sceptics home page. Please do share the stories with your friends and on social media.

Woke Gobbledegook

We’ve decided to create a permanent slot down here for woke gobbledegook. Today, I’m flagging up Charles Moore’s excellent column in the Telegraph in which he asks why the National Trust continues to be in thrall to Black Lives Matter.

I do feel for the National Trust. Its membership is falling fast, and its earnings faster. The shortfall is £227 million this year. This is not the trust’s fault, but Covid’s. Most staff – including its director-general, Hilary McGrady – do genuinely care for the buildings and places for which they are responsible.

I also agree with the trust that it is wrong to argue it should simply not inquire into the history of its properties lest discreditable stories emerge. The fact that some were built with money from slavery should not be – and, by the way, never has been – a secret. The same applies to other past wrongs. Who could sensibly tell the story of Fountains Abbey without recording that it was forcibly seized from the Catholic monks who owned it?

The problem with the trust is naivety. It has been rolled over by extremists who care nothing for the membership or the collection. At the angry virtual AGM on Saturday, many NT members protested indignantly at the disrespect shown to former occupants of trust houses, such as Winston Churchill. They attacked the trust for seeming to accept the agenda of Black Lives Matter (BLM), following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In reply, Tim Parker, the trust’s chairman, defended BLM as “a human-rights movement with no party-political affiliations”.

Mr Parker is beside the point. No one has ever accused BLM of party affiliations; and I fear that almost all pressure groups invoke human rights. The general point about BLM is that it is a hard-Left campaigning organisation, committed to defeating capitalism, “defunding” the police, destroying the “nuclear” family and rejecting white people’s capacity to understand racism – a view which is itself racist. BLM is an extremist movement which flirts with violence.

The more particular point about BLM is that it bears no relation to the National Trust. It is an activist player in the American race war, not a heritage body. I bet very few of its supporters are National Trust members. Even on issues such as slavery or colonial history, BLM has no reliable body of knowledge, since it is not a scholarly organisation. It therefore has nothing to contribute to a charity whose statutory purpose is to look after “places of historic interest or natural beauty”. It has no standing on gardens, landscape, agriculture, architecture, furniture, textiles or paintings, any more than does the National Trust on policing American cities.

In a recent blog, the trust’s director of culture and engagement, John Orna-Ornstein, writes: “Cumulatively they [the trust’s properties] are quite simply the nation’s most significant cultural collection. And the trust’s primary purpose will always be to care for and cherish them on behalf of the whole nation.” Yet at the AGM, he also said that the current anti-“colonialism” makeover of trust properties was “a normal part of our continually changing interpretation of our houses”. There is an unsustainable contradiction here. How can the trust “cherish” the “nation’s most significant cultural collection” and yet give in to BLM-style attacks on it?

Tomorrow, MPs will debate the future of the National Trust. I hope they do not waste time chuntering against “woke nonsense”. This is not just about verbiage. It is about whether the National Trust can be nationally trusted.

“Mask Exempt” Lanyards

We’ve created a one-stop shop down here for people who want to buy (or make) a “Mask Exempt” lanyard/card. You can print out and laminate a fairly standard one for free here and it has the advantage of not explicitly claiming you have a disability. But if you have no qualms about that (or you are disabled), you can buy a lanyard from Amazon saying you do have a disability/medical exemption here (takes a while to arrive). The Government has instructions on how to download an official “Mask Exempt” notice to put on your phone here. You can get a “Hidden Disability” tag from ebay here and an “exempt” card with lanyard for just £1.99 from Etsy here. And, finally, if you feel obliged to wear a mask but want to signal your disapproval of having to do so, you can get a “sexy world” mask with the Swedish flag on it here.

Don’t forget to sign the petition on the UK Government’s petitions website calling for an end to mandatory face masks in shops here.

A reader has started a website that contains some useful guidance about how you can claim legal exemption.

And here’s an excellent piece about the ineffectiveness of masks by a Roger W. Koops, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry.

Mask Censorship: The Swiss Doctor has translated the article in a Danish newspaper about the suppressed Danish mask study. Largest RCT on the effectiveness of masks ever carried out. Rejected by three top scientific journals so far.

The Great Barrington Declaration

Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor Martin Kulldorff and Professor Jay Bhattacharya

The Great Barrington Declaration, a petition started by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Jay Bhattacharya calling for a strategy of “Focused Protection” (protect the elderly and the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with life), was launched last month and the lockdown zealots have been doing their best to discredit it ever since. If you Googled it a week after launch, the top hits were three smear pieces from the Guardian, including: “Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’.” (Freddie Sayers at UnHerd warned us about this the day before it appeared.) On the bright side, Google UK has stopped shadow banning it, so the actual Declaration now tops the search results – and my Spectator piece about the attempt to suppress it is among the top hits – although discussion of it has been censored by Reddit. The reason the zealots hate it, of course, is that it gives the lie to their claim that “the science” only supports their strategy. These three scientists are every bit as eminent – more eminent – than the pro-lockdown fanatics so expect no let up in the attacks. (Wikipedia has also done a smear job.)

You can find it here. Please sign it. Now over 650,000 signatures.

Update: The authors of the GDB have expanded the FAQs to deal with some of the arguments and smears that have been made against their proposal. Worth reading in full.

Update 2: Many of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration are involved with new UK anti-lockdown campaign Recovery. Find out more and join here.

Update 3: You can watch Sunetra Gupta set out the case for “Focused Protection” here and Jay Bhattacharya make it here.

Judicial Reviews Against the Government

There are now so many JRs being brought against the Government and its ministers, we thought we’d include them all in one place down here.

First, there’s the Simon Dolan case. You can see all the latest updates and contribute to that cause here.

Then there’s the Robin Tilbrook case. You can read about that and contribute here.

Then there’s John’s Campaign which is focused specifically on care homes. Find out more about that here.

There’s the GoodLawProject’s Judicial Review of the Government’s award of lucrative PPE contracts to various private companies. You can find out more about that here and contribute to the crowdfunder here.

The Night Time Industries Association has instructed lawyers to JR any further restrictions on restaurants, pubs and bars.

Christian Concern is JR-ing the Government over its insistence on closing churches during the lockdowns. Read about it here.

And last but not least there’s the Free Speech Union‘s challenge to Ofcom over its ‘coronavirus guidance’. You can read about that and make a donation here.

Samaritans

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

Quotation Corner

It’s Easier to Fool People Than to Convince Them That They Have Been Fooled.

Mark Twain

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles Mackay

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions…

Ideology – that is what gives the evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

We’re Hiring

Lockdown Sceptics is looking to hire someone to help us write the daily update. This will involve producing a daily update yourself two or three times a week – so a page exactly like this one – under your one byline. The idea candidate will have some journalistic background, be able to work quickly under pressure and know their way around WordPress. We can pay you £75 for each update. If you’re interested, email us here and put “Job Application” in the subject line.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the past 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. Doing these daily updates is hard work (although we have help from lots of people, mainly in the form of readers sending us stories and links). If you feel like donating, please click here. And if you want to flag up any stories or links we should include in future updates, email us here. (Don’t assume we’ll pick them up in the comments.)

And Finally…

Demonstrators from various economic sectors gather to protest against the closing of “non-essential” business during the second lockdown in France. Credit: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP