Day: 1 May 2021

Journal Retracts Study Showing Masks Don’t Work Claiming Science “Clearly Shows” Masks Work, But Fails to Cite Any Evidence

The peer-reviewed study “Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis” by Dr Baruch Vainshelboim has been retracted by the journal Medical Hypotheses on the instruction of the Editor-in-Chief.

The study argues that neither medical nor non-medical facemasks are effective in blocking transmission of viral and infectious disease such as SARS-CoV-2, and that in the long run they are likely to damage individual health.

The retraction notice reads:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

Medical Hypotheses serves as a forum for innovative and often disruptive ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences. However, our strict editorial policy is that we do not publish misleading or inaccurate citations to advance any hypotheses.

The Editorial Committee concluded that the author’s hypothesis is misleading on the following basis:

1. A broader review of existing scientific evidence clearly shows that approved masks with correct certification, and worn in compliance with guidelines, are an effective prevention of COVID-19 transmission.

2. The manuscript misquotes and selectively cites published papers. References #16, 17, 25 and 26 are all misquoted.

3. Table 1. Physiological and Psychological Effects of Wearing Facemask and Their Potential Health Consequences, generated by the author. All data in the table is unverified, and there are several speculative statements.

4. The author submitted that he is currently affiliated to Stanford University, and VA Palo Alto Health Care System. However, both institutions have confirmed that Dr Vainshelboim ended his connection with them in 2016.

A subsequent internal investigation by the Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have determined that this article was externally peer reviewed but not with our customary standards of rigour prior to publication. The journal has re-designed its editorial and review workflow to ensure that this will not happen again in future.

If there are errors in the paper, the question is why these were not picked up and addressed with the author prior to publication in the usual manner. If some were missed and subsequently came to light, the journal could have asked for revisions to the paper to address the criticisms. That it chose to retract it completely suggests the move is political (though the allegations of dishonesty in affiliations may have played a part). There is no indication in the notice of any correspondence with the author in the matter.

The strangest criticism is the first: “A broader review of existing scientific evidence clearly shows that approved masks with correct certification, and worn in compliance with guidelines, are an effective prevention of COVID-19 transmission.” This is just a restatement, without references, of mask orthodoxy. Given that Dr Vainshelboim had provided a wide range of references in his review of the evidence, a rebuttal should surely have come in the form of a similar rigorous academic exercise, marshalling further evidence, not a bald 28-word sentence about what the evidence “clearly shows”. This is not the way robust academic research happens or science advances. The editors could have published a response, or another study drawing on further evidence that comes to a different conclusion. That they instead retract the article on account of criticisms from unnamed correspondents, drawing on unspecified evidence, is a disgraceful way to treat peer-reviewed scientific research and the scientists who produce it.

What exactly is this uncited evidence that “clearly shows” masks reduce transmission? Certainly not the only randomised controlled trial, Danmask-19, which found no significant protection for the wearers of surgical masks. And certainly not the real-world evidence comparing countries or states with mask mandates to those without.

Covid Deaths Lower Than Typical Fatalities from Influenza and Pneumonia for Past Month

Covid deaths continue to fall in England and Wales – to such an extent that the number of daily deaths from Covid for the past month has been lower than the five-year average of deaths from influenza and pneumonia. The Telegraph has the story.

For the past month daily Covid deaths in England and Wales have been lower than the typical number of people dying from the flu, data shows. 

Since late March there have been fewer Covid deaths each day than the five-year average of deaths from influenza and pneumonia, which normally stood at 86 during the months of March and April, according to preliminary figures published by the ONS. 

As of the week ending April 16th, there have been on average 29 daily deaths where Covid was mentioned on the victim’s death certificate, as opposed to an average of 80 involving influenza and pneumonia at the same point in the years between 2015 and 2019.

While Covid deaths are now lower, the data also shows how they massively surpassed typical flu deaths during the worst days of the second wave, and continued to remain significantly higher over a month into England’s third national lockdown. 

On January 19th there were 1,372 deaths mentioning Covid on the death certificate, a tenfold increase on the average number of flu deaths at that time of year of 133.

Even a month later by February 19th Covid daily deaths stood at 407, four times higher than the five-year average of influenza and pneumonia deaths of 107 at the same time of year.

The ONS data also reveals the extent to which the spread of Covid has now been brought to heel, with the country’s top epidemiologists claiming the coronavirus has moved to manageable “endemic” levels. 

Not only that – even SAGE modellers have admitted that a “third Covid wave” probably won’t happen, as Toby reported here.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

SAGE Modellers Admit ‘Third Wave’ Probably Won’t Happen

New SAGE modelling to be presented to ministers ahead of stage three of reopening on May 17th will show the risk of a ‘third wave’ of Covid infections in the UK has diminished dramatically and may not happen at all. The Telegraph has more.

The last set of projections, published by SAGE on March 31st, presented ministers with a difficult dilemma because they suggested a third wave of infections could be expected to kill another 15,000 to 20,000 people in the late summer if steps three and four of the exit roadmap were implemented as planned.

Ministers are expected to proceed with step three of the roadmap, with the return of indoor household mixing and indoor hospitality, as modelling teams which provided projections for ministers via the SPI-M subgroup of SAGE are said to be more optimistic.

Professor Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who works on modelling provided to SAGE, welcomed the new real world data on vaccine effectiveness.

“There was considerable uncertainty about the impact of vaccines on infection and transmission earlier this year, but recent studies are landing at the more optimistic end of the scale – at least for the dominant B.1.1.7 variant,” he told the Telegraph.

“We could still see some increase in transmission as things reopen, but the resulting impact could be relatively low if the vaccine programme stays on track and we don’t end up with variants that can partially evade immunity.”

New real-world data released last week has allowed SAGE to improve the assumptions which underpin their models on both vaccine effectiveness and rollout. Crucially, a PHE study released last week showed for the first time that vaccines cut “breakthrough transmission” of the virus by about half after a single shot.

“If you look at where they were in early April, compared to where they were in early February, they moved a huge distance,” said James Ward, a mathematician and insurance risk manager, who runs his own Covid model which closely shadows the official ones.

“So actually, it’s not very far for them to move now, from predicting an exit wave of 15,000 to 20,000 deaths to them predicting an exit wave of zero to 5,000, or maybe nothing at all.”

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Records Just Seven Covid Deaths – Down 75% in a Week

Coronavirus deaths in the U.K. have fallen by three-quarters after just seven deaths were revealed today. MailOnline has more.

While last Saturday 15 people in the UK died of coronavirus, today the Government announced seven deaths, demonstrating a steady decline in fatalities.

It comes after Office for National Statistics data suggested the total number of infections is lower than at any point since early September and infections have been falling constantly for five weeks.

Experts said the data “should be celebrated” and were the first proof that, despite the reopening of outdoor hospitality and allowing the rule of six earlier this month, there was still “no evidence of an increased transmission risk”.

Worth reading in full.

“New Normal”: Sports Fans Could Be Banned From Drinking and Encouraged to Stamp, Not Cheer

A member of SAGE has suggested that the Government should learn from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to make mask-wearing and social distancing “an inherent part” of attending sports events, as plans are being drawn up to ban drinking and encourage stamping and clapping rather than cheering at large events. The Times has the story.

Sports fans could be banned from drinking and encouraged to stamp and clap instead of cheering under plans to make mass events safe for the summer.

As British cities prepare to host football’s European Championships, tests are under way to discover whether it is better for social distancing to ban alcohol or to serve fans pints in their seats to prevent crowding at bars.

Ministers have accepted that testing before entry is likely to be required to make concerts, festivals and sporting fixtures safe even after all restrictions are lifted on June 21st. They are debating which elements of social distancing and Covid-secure rules will need to remain in place beyond that date…

Boris Johnson is keen to take a cautious approach to reopening and pilots are taking place to see which mitigation measures will need to be retained at concerts, nightclubs and stadiums.

The use of masks, physical distancing, hugs and handshakes, singing and the sharing of food and drink are all being monitored using CCTV and wearable devices. Different levels of social distancing rules and ventilation are also being trialled, with participants being tested five days later…

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau of the University of Cambridge, a behavioural scientist and member of SAGE, is chairing the scientific group overseeing the test events. In a scientific paper published just before they began, she argued it would be essential to create “new norms” for sports and music fans. “While it is a basic norm of many sports crowds that people express passionate support for their team, and without that the whole activity has little meaning… it may be possible to develop new and distinctive ways of expressing that passion (stamping, clapping, etc) that are of lower risk than shouting or singing,” she wrote.

She suggested learning from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to weave Covid-secure messages into the fabric of sporting events – making social distancing and mask-wearing “an inherent part” of what it means to be a fan of a team. However, she emphasised this would need to be developed in partnership with fans rather than imposed by the Government.

Players and pop stars should be encouraged to “scrupulously observe restrictions such as not hugging each other after a success” to reinforce the message, she suggested.

Worth reading in full.

Government Backs Down on Rule Forcing Care Home Residents to Self-Isolate After Trips in England

The Government has backed down on a rule forcing care home residents who go on outdoor visits to self-isolate for two weeks afterwards. But the new guidance, which has yet to be released in full, may vary for different areas. The Guardian has the story.

A rule forcing care home residents who go on any sort of outside visit to then spend two weeks in their room is being scrapped, the Government announces today. Campaigners have hailed the reversal, with one group saying the regulation had turned “care homes into prisons”.

Under new guidance to begin from Tuesday, people living in care homes in England will not have to self-isolate if they leave the home to be in the garden of a relative or friend, or to visit outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches.

They must be accompanied by either a care worker or a named visitor, and must socially distance when away from the home. They cannot meet in groups, as currently permitted for others outside, and can go indoors only to use toilets.

The full guidance has not yet been set out, and could vary for areas with high or fast-rising levels of coronavirus infection, or the presence of variants of the virus being monitored by the Government.

John’s Campaign, which pushes for better visiting rights, launched a legal challenge arguing that the mandatory self-isolation brought in three weeks ago, regardless of the age or health of the individual, was discriminatory and unlawful.

Nicci Gerrard from John’s Campaign said the change of stance, announced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was “a chink of light for residents of care homes and their families, and a victor for all those people who have been eloquent in their campaign against the 14-day rule”.

She said: “But why did this rule ever exist in the first place – depriving people of their liberty, turning care homes into prison, treating one group of people with such cruelty?”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The latest issue of Private Eye (1546) has discovered why Dr Éamonn O’Moore, who leads the Public Health England (PHE) social care response to Covid, favoured self-isolation rules in the first place.

A look at Dr O’Moore’s LinkedIn profile offers an explanation: he writes that he also leads PHE in “other places of detention”, including prisons. No wonder he’s so keen on solitary confinement…

Government Misses Deadline for Publishing List of “Green” Countries Under “Traffic Light” Travel System

The Government is leaving its announcement of which countries will feature on its “green list” under the “traffic light” system for overseas travel to the very last minute, putting immense pressure on an already struggling travel industry. Sky News has the story.

An initial deadline for grading countries under a new traffic light system for international travel has been missed by the Government.

A report last week by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee said the lists of destinations should be published by May 1st “at the latest”, although this has not happened.

Instead, the Department for Transport said the lists will be made public in “early May”.

The travel industry has been putting pressure on the Government to give more clarity on the situation, and earlier Jet2 suspended flights and holidays until late June over the uncertainty.

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, said the travel industry has been left “in the dark” and warned the uncertainty “could cost people their jobs”…

The Government is reportedly set to announce next week that traveling abroad will be permitted from May 17th, according to several U.K. newspapers.

But the Telegraph reports that only a “tiny handful” of countries are expected to be on the “green list” – which requires the lowest level of restrictions.

The majority of European countries are expected to be on the “amber list”, meaning people will have to quarantine as well as getting tested.

Travel to a “green list” country will also not be free from Government restrictions. Upon returning to the U.K., travellers will still have to fork out for a PCR test, the lowest cost of which is currently £60, adding almost £250 to the bill for a family of four. The Times also recently reported that the Foreign Office could refuse to sanction travel to countries on the Government’s “green” and “amber” lists since its travel advice is published independently of the “traffic light” system:

Most tour operators will refuse to run holidays in countries to which the Foreign Office does not advise travel. Disregarding Foreign Office advice also invalidates most travel insurance policies.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Major Study Finds “Abundance of Patients Admitted to Hospital With Covid Within Seven Days of Vaccination”

A new study of Covid hospital patients has found once again a spike in infections post-vaccination – what the authors call “an abundance of patients admitted to hospital within seven days of vaccination”.

The ISARIC4C consortium’s COVID-19 Clinical Information Network (CO-CIN) enrolled 52,280 Covid patients who were admitted to hospital between December 8th and April 10th. Of these, 3,842 had received at least their first vaccine dose, which is 7.3% or one in 14.

The researchers found that the median time between receiving a first jab and the onset of Covid symptoms was nine days. Since the median time from infection to symptom onset is five days, this suggests the majority contracted the disease in the days after vaccination.

The graph above shows how many of the vaccinated Covid patients experienced symptom onset on each day since vaccination. Note the massive spike on the day of vaccination and the three days afterwards. Although the authors do not say it in so many words, clearly the vaccines here are bringing on the symptoms. Why else would the frequency of symptom onset increase by 400% from the day before vaccination to the day of vaccination and in the following days?

The authors offer a few potential explanations. They suggest elderly and vulnerable people who had been shielding may have become infected through the exposure involved in the vaccination programme. Or perhaps they stopped shielding or being careful as soon as they got vaccinated, wrongly assuming they were immune.

The authors also raise the possibility that recent asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 could be triggered by vaccination into “symptoms likened to COVID-19 symptoms including fever”.

The study’s co-lead Dr Calum Semple, Professor in Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool, was clear where he stood on this, saying that the spike indicated “people are letting their guard down because they’ve been vaccinated. There is evidence here that people are unfortunately assuming that they’re protected very quickly after vaccination and that’s not the case.”

Such behavioural change was likewise blamed by Michael Day writing in the BMJ in March. Dr Clare Craig wrote a thorough riposte in the same journal, pointing to ONS data showing that the vaccinated did not increase their social contact and asking how it would explain similar spikes in care homes. She suggested other explanations were more likely, such as a drop in white blood cells in the days after vaccination as observed in the Pfizer trial, which may temporarily suppress immunity.

The spike in symptomatic Covid from day zero plainly cannot be explained by behaviour change, and as the authors suggest looks very much like the vaccine somehow re-triggering an old or existing Covid infection.

The good news from the study is that the vaccinated did not make up a large proportion of those hospitalised with Covid during December and January, though by late February and March (when all the over-65s were vaccinated) they made up a sizeable chunk of a much reduced total.

The authors note that the first dose of the vaccine doesn’t appear to reduce death among the high-risk hospitalised, saying “mortality appears to remain high for people in high-risk vaccination tiers who are admitted to hospital with symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19) despite vaccination 21 days or more previously”. It is not clear if this is a temporary effect owing to adverse effects of the vaccine or a permanent gap in the protection it offers.

How much longer can governments and scientists ignore the evidence of the post-vaccine spike in infections, found in study after study? When will they stop lazily blaming people for getting themselves infected and commit to investigate it properly?