Day: 16 March 2021

The AstraZeneca Scare May Be Overdone, But Rare Side Effects May Still Occur

Eighteen countries have now suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine pending a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) into concerns about it causing serious blood clots. They are: Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Ireland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovenia, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Latvia, Indonesia and Venezuela.

Many scientists and commentators have criticised the regulators and governments taking these decisions as misapplying the precautionary principle – in a number of cases, as Toby notes, speaking without a hint of self-awareness as those same commentators have been cheerleaders of the lockdowns for the last 12 months, typically justified through an abuse of the precautionary principle on scant data.

The head of Italy’s medicines regulator, Nicola Magrini, today claimed the bans across Europe were part of a politically driven snowball effect with countries within the EU coming under pressure to follow suit. Given the hard time European countries have given the Oxford jab in recent weeks (definitely not because it’s British, of course) – swinging, as Ross Clark remarks, “from accusing the company – and Britain – of hoarding the vaccine and failing to supply it to EU countries, to claiming that it is ineffective, back to accusing us of hoarding it again” – it is easy to buy this argument and suspect the actions are not simply all about safety. If that is so, you have to wonder what these governments think they’re doing, playing politics with vaccines, and whether their electorates will thank them for depriving them of long-awaited inoculations for the sake of scoring a few points against renegade Blighty and awkward AstraZeneca.

Is there anything to the concerns? Commentators today have been quick to point out that COVID-19 is “100,000 times more dangerous, compared to the tiny possibility of an issue with clotting”. There is also the inconsistency (raising questions of politics again) of targeting the AstraZeneca vaccine when, according to data from the MHRA, more people have reported blood clots after having the Pfizer vaccine than the Oxford one – up to February 28th there were 38 reports from 11.5 million doses of Pfizer, compared to 30 from 9.7m of AstraZeneca.

On the other hand, blood disorders as a whole have been reported at more than twice the rate in relation to the AstraZeneca shot compared with Pfizer, while a letter in the BMJ yesterday argued that if you look at reports of deep vein thrombosis and vascular (blood vessel) disorders then the Oxford vaccine comes out much worse.

Italy and France to “Quickly Resume” AstraZeneca Rollout When EU Medicines Agency Gives Green Light

The leaders of Italy and France have made it clear that they will “quickly resume” their countries’ rollouts of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine when the European Medicines Agency gives the green light, as it’s expected to on Thursday. MailOnline has the story.

The leaders of Italy and France today committed to “quickly” resume inoculations of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine once the European regulator gives the all-clear. 

Italian PM Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to roll the pitch for an imminent climbdown.

On a call the two leaders agreed they were ready to resume using the jab “quickly” if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives the green light on Thursday.

Mario Draghi’s office said “the preliminary statement today from EMA was positive”. The EMA has found “no indication” that AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is the cause of reported blood clots.

A top European Commission official today urged EU governments to stop sitting on their vaccine stockpiles.

Stella Kyriakides, the Health Commissioner, said the bloc was in a “race against time” to roll out the vaccine or face several more spikes in infections.

The EU has already seen a disastrous rollout of the vaccine across the continent, with just 8% of adults receiving a jab compared to a third in the UK.

There have been supply problems with both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs, but it was revealed earlier that several countries including Germany are sitting on stockpiles.

“Even with the immense and regrettable challenges around production capacity and deliveries, there are reports of unused reservoirs of vaccines across the EU,” said Kyriakides following talks with European health ministers. …

While Italy has used all of its Pfizer jabs, the country still has 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that it banned from going to Australia in storage.

According to the Times, there are some 14.2 million jabs (60%) delivered to EU governments that are yet to be used. 

It seems as though this saga is coming to an end. But might another now commence over Pfizer’s Covid vaccine, which has been linked to more blood clots than AstraZeneca’s in reports from the UK? That’s unlikely given that the Chief of Italy’s medicines regulator has claimed that bans across Europe of the AstraZeneca vaccine were the results of “political” choices.

Worth reading in full.

40% of Theatre and Arts Workers Have Lost Job in Past 12 Months

Nearly 40% of theatre and arts workers in London have been made redundant since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to ITV News.

Many of the workers, including backstage and bar staff working at the capital’s biggest venues, have also struggled to access vital Government support schemes such as furlough.

Of those who did receive support, more than half say the payments were so small they were unable to pay their household bills.

The findings come from an ITV News survey, conducted alongside the union Bectu, of more than 1,000 people living or working in London’s theatre, TV production, and live events industries.

It comes exactly one year since theatres closed in the UK, a day known in the industry as ‘Dark Monday’ due to the devastating impact of the pandemic on London’s West End.

Responding to the survey, famous West End actor Michael Ball described the findings as “heartbreaking”.

The survey found:

* 39% of workers had been made redundant at some point during the last year

* 20% have been unable to receive any financial support payment from the Government (including Furlough and the Self-Employment Income Scheme (SEISS)

* 49% say the payments were not big enough to cover their household bills

* More than 54% workers have lost more than half their income during the last year

* Nearly 60% have considering quitting the industry altogether because of the impact of pandemic

Will the West End ever recover?

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Enthusiasts Belatedly Recognise Limitations of ‘Precautionary Principle’

“The EU, and often its member states, doggedly follows the ‘precautionary principle’,” writes Matthew Lesh in CapX, blaming this principle for the suspension of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in various EU countries. But hang on a minute. Is this the same Matthew Lesh who has been an enthusiastic cheer leader for the British lockdowns? He goes on to say about this rationale for erring on the side of caution: “To pass the precautionary principle challenge requires doing the impossible: proving something is completely safe. Based on this logic, if stairs or pools were invented today they would be forbidden because of the risks of falling and drowning.”

Well quite. In case it’s escaped your attention, Matthew, this is precisely the argument that lockdown sceptics have been making for the past year. It was the rigid application of the precautionary principle that led governments across the world to lock their citizens in their homes last year because the dangers posed by SARS-CoV-2 were still largely unknown. Or, more precisely, it was the combination of the precautionary principle and short-termism that led to the embrace of the lockdown policy, with the priority of political leaders being to prevent immediate harm befalling their populations even if the excessive precautions they took ended up causing far greater harm in the long-term. And this, surely, is exactly the combination that’s behind the AstraZeneca ban in continental Europe. Better to avoid the immediate political fallout caused by a handful of adverse events apparently caused by the vaccine than provide their populations with lasting protection from infection.

If people like Matthew Lesh can see how disastrous the application of this principle is to the vaccine rollout, how can they not see how disastrous it was when applied to managing the pandemic last year? And, of course, it isn’t just Matthew, but vast numbers of pro-vaxxers who were gripped by the same panic European leaders are now gripped by this time last year.

The senior financial journalist who’s been a longtime contributor to Lockdown Sceptics had this to say about the double-standards of the lockdown zealots.

It’s half amusing to see commentators decrying the Europeans for the the misuse of the ‘precautionary principle’ when suspending the Astra-Zeneca vaccination (e.g. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the Telegraph that the “French Precautionary Principle is literally killing Europe”. Also the Economist’s Health Correspondent said on BBC radio today that it is folly to apply the precautionary principle during a pandemic. But it is the same precautionary principle that was invoked 12 months ago to justify lockdowns in the first place – on the grounds that we didn’t know the covid infection fatality rate, its reproduction number and because hospitals might possibly be overwhelmed. The same precautionary principle was later invoked to justify two-metre social distancing, face masks, school closures, further lockdowns, etc. It seems that almost every day for 12 months we have had to endure some member of SAGE, notably Chris Whitty, appealing to the precautionary principle to justify some repressive measure unsupported by reliable data. Not only does the extreme risk aversion of the precautionary principle ignore costs (as LS has noted many times over the last year), but it returns to bite its advocates. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

European Medicines Agency Says “No Indication” AstraZeneca Jab Is Cause of Blood Clots

The EU’s medicines agency has responded to concerns over the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, saying there is “no indication” that the vaccine is the cause of reported blood clots. Sky News has the story.

The European Union’s medicines agency has said there is “no indication” that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is the cause of reported blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has been carrying out a case-by-case evaluation of incidents and was expected to complete a review on Thursday, said Executive Director Emer Cooke.

The regulator said it was “firmly convinced” the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risk of side effects.

The WHO has urged countries to continue using the jab as global medical experts meet to discuss reports of blood clots.

UK leaders and medical professionals have joined in their defence of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after some European countries – including Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Sweden – paused its use due to concerns over possible adverse side effects. …

Now, France has said it expects inoculations there to resume after the agency meets and issues its recommendations. …

The EMA has said “many thousands of people” develop blood clots every year in the EU and “the number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population”. …

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s Chief Scientist, [also] told a media briefing “we do not want people to panic”, as she said no association has been found so far between blood clots and Covid vaccines.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Vaccine Supply Surge Means Half of UK Adults Will Soon Be Jabbed

All remaining over-50s in the UK are expected to become eligible for a Covid vaccine in the coming days with a surge in supply meaning half of all adults will have had their first jab by the end of the week. iNews has the story.

The number of doses being administered across the UK has begun to accelerate rapidly with as many as five million jabs likely to be given out this week – more than twice the rate seen in March so far.

On Saturday and Sunday more than 800,000 people received a vaccine against coronavirus, up 33% on the previous weekend. In recent days the amount of vaccine supply available has significantly increased, which allows the NHS in England and devolved health services to boost the number of first doses they give out while ensuring that those who got a jab in December and early January can now access their second dose.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are expecting that, taking first and second doses together, there will be around 400,000 vaccinations done over the course of this week.” 

If the other nations of the UK accelerate their own programmes in line with Scotland’s, nearly five million jabs will be given out this week – taking the country past the symbolic milestone of giving a dose to half all those aged 18 or older. The previous record for a single week was around 3.1 million.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Tom Chivers has written an article for UnHerd on the “stupid, harmful decision” by various European countries to suspend their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Cancer Deaths Likely to Rise for First Time in Decades Due to Covid Backlog, Charities Warn

A coalition of 47 cancer charities has warned the Government that cancer deaths will rise for the first time in decades unless the Covid backlog is addressed. MailOnline has the story.

Cancer deaths will rise for the first time in decades unless urgent action is taken to tackle the Covid backlog, the Government was warned today.  

One Cancer Voice, a coalition of 47 cancer charities, argued more money and staff are desperately needed to address problems stemming from the pandemic.

The charities – speaking collectively for the first time – also asked for the NHS to be given greater access to private facilities.

They said almost 45,000 UK patients “living with cancer without knowing it” should have started treatment in 2020 but did not due to delays caused by coronavirus.

Cancer experts today praised the charities for raising awareness of “the biggest crisis in oncology” seen in more than 50 years.

Official data released last week showed cancer waiting times have spiked during the pandemic because hospital staff and surgeries have been preoccupied with coronavirus patients.

The proportion of suspected patients seen by a specialist within the two-week target hit a record-low of 83% in January, NHS England said. 

It means nearly 30,000 people with suspected cancer waited more than a fortnight to find out whether or not they had the disease in January. Early treatment and diagnosis is crucial in preventing the disease spreading and becoming deadly. 

And the pandemic has led to an increase in the proportion of patients waiting more than a month to start crucial cancer treatment after their diagnosis.

Figures from NHS England last week revealed that cancer is not the only disease to have been neglected because of the focus on Covid. Altogether, some 4.59 million people were waiting to begin treatment at the end of January – the highest since records began in August 2007.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Is Covid the Most Deadly Infectious Disease in a Century?

A new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was all over the papers on Monday afternoon making the striking claim that COVID-19 caused more deaths last year in England and Wales than other infectious diseases have caused in any year for more than a century.

Here is the story in the Mail.

The ONS report, entitled “Coronavirus: A Year Like No Other”, was released to mark the one year anniversary of people in the UK first being told to limit their non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. 

The report confirmed that COVID-19 caused more deaths last year than other infectious diseases caused in any year for more than 100 years. 

More than 140,000 people have died in the UK with coronavirus either described as the underlying cause or as a contributory cause on their death certificates.

Some 73,500 people in England and Wales who died in 2020 had COVID-19 registered as the underlying cause of death. 

The ONS said coronavirus is “likely to be classed as an infectious and parasitic disease”, allowing a comparison with previous deadly outbreaks. 

The statistics body said: “This means COVID-19 was the underlying cause of more deaths in 2020 than any other infectious and parasitic diseases had caused in any year since 1918; that year there were just over 89,900 deaths from various infectious and parasitic diseases registered in England and Wales.”