News Round Up

If Lockdowns are Needed, Why Did More People Die in U.S. States Which Locked Down Than Those Which Did Not?

One of the great things about America is that it has 50 states that can set their own policy across a broad range of areas, including on public health and lockdowns. This has allowed some to resist the stampede to impose swingeing restrictions on normal life in the hope of limiting transmission of SARS-CoV-2, and this provides us with a valuable control group in the great lockdown experiment that can give us an idea what might have happened if we hadn’t made some intervention or other.

During the autumn and winter a new surge in Covid infections prompted most US states, like most Western countries, to reimpose restrictions. But a few resisted. Eleven states did not impose a stay-at-home order and left people at liberty to leave their homes whenever they wished. Of these, four – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota – did not impose any restrictions at all and treated it pretty much like any other winter.

Although there are various differences between states that might have affected Covid outcomes, because they all form part of one country there are enough similarities to make comparisons useful. In particular, if lockdowns are effective and necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of extra deaths (or the equivalent for the size of the population), then those states which didn’t lock down should have a far worse death toll. If the death tolls are not much worse, but about the same (or better), then lockdowns cannot be having a large impact on preventing Covid deaths.

In the chart above I have used data from Worldometer to plot the current total Covid deaths per million for each state. I have coloured the 11 states which did not lock down (i.e., impose a stay-at-home order) this winter in red. I have also calculated the average for the two groups of states, those which did not lock down over the winter and those which did, and coloured them in yellow.

As you can see, states which did not lock down over the winter, far from having many times more Covid deaths, have actually had fewer – 1,671 vs 1,736 deaths per million. There may be demographic or other reasons that some states have a higher or lower number of deaths than others so we shouldn’t read too much into the precise differences. But even so, if lockdowns are supposed to suppress the virus to low levels and thus prevent ‘hundreds of thousands’ of deaths (or the population equivalent), then how is this possible? The only conclusion is that lockdowns do not work as intended and do not suppress the virus.

This conclusion is reinforced by looking at the death tolls in the four states which imposed no restrictions at all over the winter, the average of which is 1,716 deaths per million, which is still below that of those which imposed lockdowns (1,736). Florida reopened in the autumn, Georgia and South Carolina in the spring of 2020, and South Dakota never closed. Yet overall they have suffered fewer Covid deaths per million than the states which imposed stay-at-home lockdowns this winter.

Those academic teams which produce models predicting doom for places which don’t impose the measures they recommend should be challenged to apply their models to these states and hindcast the last winter. Any model which cannot accurately reproduce the known outcomes for these states should be calibrated until it can. Otherwise, if it can’t get the answer right for the past, why should we trust it for the future?

The modelling teams at Warwick, Imperial and LSHTM can be found on Twitter (as can LSHTM’s Adam Kucharski) if anyone feels like putting these questions to them.

U.S. States Say They Are Running Out of People Willing to Take a Covid Vaccine

Reports of low Covid vaccine uptake have mainly come from the Continent in recent months – largely due to fears about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s links to blood clots. But vaccine hesitancy now seems to be spreading in America, where a number of states say they are running out of people willing to take a Covid vaccine.

On Tuesday, Federal health agencies called for the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine (which has already been given to nearly seven million Americans) to be paused immediately due to some recipients developing rare blood clotting disorders within two weeks of being vaccinated. The vaccine is also under investigation by Europe’s medicines regulator. Cases of blood clotting among those who have received the J&J vaccine are likely to have contributed to vaccination refusal rates in the US, in the same way that similar fears regarding the AZ vaccine have added complications to Europe’s rollout. The Mail has the story.

The U.S. supply of Covid vaccines is beginning to rapidly outpace demand, as appointments remain unfilled across the country and states say they are running out of people willing to get the shots.

As of Friday, 49% of U.S. adults had received at least one vaccine dose…

Health officials have suggested that the country needs to achieve a vaccination rate of 70% to 90% to achieve coronavirus herd immunity, the point at which a virus no longer circulates freely because it cannot find susceptible hosts…

On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a desperate plea for residents to get vaccinated, as clinics in the state reported hundreds, if not thousands, of available appointments that were not being filled each day…

She said the fact that nearly half of Pennsylvania’s nursing home workers have declined the vaccine is further evidence of “how far we have to go and how much of a challenge overcoming this vaccine hesitancy will be in the near future”.

Vaccination rates are so low in some states that their leaders are considering various “creative” ways of increasing uptake.

Louisiana has gotten creative in its vaccine push, with brass bands playing at a 24-hour drive-thru coronavirus vaccine event, and doses delivered to commercial fishermen minutes from the docks…

Young People Should Not be Strong-Armed Into Getting Vaccinated

We’re publishing an original piece today by Bella Wallersteiner, a Senior Parliamentary Assistant, setting out the case against trying to induce young people to get the jab by making entry to pubs/clubs/festivals conditional on showing a ‘Covid Status Certificate’. Here is an extract:

After a year in which many young people have lost their jobs, missed out great chunks of the curriculum in schools and universities and were forbidden from seeing their friends, coercing them into taking the jab is a perverse strategy. Altruistic young people worked in food banks, collected medicine and went shopping for elderly neighbours who were shielding or, inspired by the example of Captain Tom Moore, raised funds for the NHS. Instead of receiving praise for demonstrating resilience and kindness, young people are now being maligned for showing ambivalence in coming forward to take a vaccine which may do them harm. More needs to be done to convince them that the vaccine is safe and effective and that the eradication of COVID-19 requires all citizens to join together in an act of solidarity.

Once vaccines for under-30s get the green light, the Government needs to come up with a new social contract for young people. What is the duty of a young person to society? Does a young adult have a moral obligation to protect an older one? The message should be that society is the glue which binds us together in a moral compact which transcends self-interest. By getting the vaccine you are helping the community at large. Young people should want to take the vaccine because they have decided that it is the right thing to do for their own health and for the safety of others. They should not be bullied into taking the vaccine out of fear of becoming second-class citizens or because they will be denied the pleasures of techno, house and trance dance music in clubs. The Government must treat young people like grown-ups and be prepared to have an adult conversation with them. The Prime Minister, who is such an effective communicator, particularly when addressing young people, should deliver a special broadcast specifically targeting UK citizens under 30 who have given up so much over the last year. He should thank them for their solidarity and support and exhort them to make one final collective effort to beat COVID-19 by having the vaccine. If this doesn’t happen, the whole project to eradicate the scourge of coronavirus could stumble at the last fence.

Worth reading in full.

Almost 15% Of English Health Service Workers Remain Unvaccinated

Reports are emerging that many health service workers in England are refusing the vaccine, as the numbers coming forward to receive a Covid jab have fallen significantly over the past couple of weeks. But despite (or, perhaps, because of) an ongoing Government consultation into making Covid vaccinations mandatory for care staff (which would likely extend into other health-related fields), opposition to coercing staff in this manner appears to be growing. The Guardian has the story.

Nearly 15% of health service workers in England remain unvaccinated, and the numbers coming forward for a jab have decreased sharply in the last two weeks, NHS figures have revealed, prompting concerns that many frontline staff are refusing the vaccine.

But health leaders, patients’ groups and unions have been quick to dismiss any suggestion of mandatory vaccinations after it emerged that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, had embarked on a plan before the pandemic to make flu vaccinations compulsory for NHS staff.

The latest figures show that only 6,259 NHS staff in England had their first dose in the seven days before April 11th, down from 11,483 the previous week and substantially lower than the average of 22,985 per week during March. Now 190,697 workers out of 1,378,502 directly employed by the NHS remain unprotected against the coronavirus, four months after they became eligible for vaccination. The figures do not include agency workers, and will include some under-45s who are not frontline staff and are still waiting their turn.

Some NHS trusts would like to introduce mandatory vaccination because they believe efforts to persuade remaining staff are a distraction from other important tasks such as tackling the enormous waiting lists that have grown during the lockdowns.

Lesley Watts, the Chief Executive of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust, wrote to other NHS trusts with a draft letter to staff saying Covid vaccination would be mandatory. After the letter was leaked, Watts said there was “no intention to mandate vaccination of our staff”, but did not explain why the letter was written or distributed.

Hancock was a strident critic of anti-vaxxer movements before the pandemic, and told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in 2019 that he favoured making vaccinations compulsory for all childhood diseases. He then asked civil servants at the Department of Health and Social Care to work out how to make flu vaccines mandatory for NHS staff. The DHSC did not say if the proposal was still being considered.

In perhaps the biggest intervention on the question of mandatory vaccination for health service workers yet, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – which has a membership of 450,000 registered nurses – said in a statement released on Friday that health and social care staff should not be “coerced” into having a Covid vaccine.

Like the wider population, health and care staff are a diverse group and there are both physical and societal barriers for some on the take up for the vaccine. 

The RCN do not support staff being made or coerced into having the vaccine. Staff vaccination should not be used as part of staff contracts, it should not be a condition of employment or part of employment contracts, linked to terms and conditions of employment or to pay.

The RCN do not believe that this approach is effective in improving uptake of vaccination in staff. The RCN recommend that all organisations have a proactive approach and make sure their staff have easy access to the vaccine within the working day. Staff should also have access to support with the right information, encouragement and clear explanation of the benefit and value of the vaccine. These measures will help to achieve a high vaccine uptake.

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

Vaccine Immunity “Won’t Just Disappear” in Face Of Covid Variants, Says JCVI Member

A member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says claims that the Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown could be “scuppered” by Covid variants are “pessimistic”, saying that the immunity gained from vaccines “won’t just disappear”. The Evening Standard has the story.

Imported coronavirus variants are unlikely to set lockdown easing back to “square one” because immunity from vaccines “won’t just disappear”, according to a key figure on the UK’s immunisation committee.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, said he expected a “gradual erosion” of vaccine protection as the virus evolves but not enough to “scupper” the Prime Minister’s road map, as one leading scientist had predicted.

Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said on Friday that “we should be terribly concerned” about the discovery of 77 cases of the Indian Covid variant in Britain. He is quoted in a Sky News report:

[Covid variants] are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry.

But Professor Finn of the JCVI said he thought the immunology expert’s assessment was “a bit pessimistic”.

We’ve all expected evolution of this virus to occur from the start.

I also think that we know from other viruses and previous experience that the immunity that vaccines give won’t just disappear.

It will be a gradual erosion. It won’t be back to square one. I would be really surprised if that happened.

So, I think, possibly, that interpretation is a bit pessimistic.

He added, however, that “we’re going to need to continue to be really quite careful” and that many aspects of life, including overseas travel, “won’t go back to normal yet” as we need to “avoid moving the virus around”.

The Evening Standard’s report is worth reading in full.

Would Cameron Have Handled the Covid Crisis Better Than Boris?

David Cameron is in the doghouse at the moment, thanks to his lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill, a company in which he had a commercial interest and which collapsed earlier this year. Many of the commentators writing about Cameron’s current difficulties have presented it as the latest episode in the ongoing psychodrama between him and Boris, seeing in Boris’s reluctance to come to the former Prime Minister’s aid yet more evidence of the long-standing rivalry between the two. I co-produced a docudrama about that subject for Channel 4 in 2009 called When Boris Met Dave that you can watch here. The dramatised bits are rubbish, but the interviews are very good.

Consequently, I was interested to read a blog post by Russell David about how different the past 13 months might have been had Cameron been Prime Minister instead of Boris. His hypothesis – not too far fetched in my view – is that Cameron would have made a better fist of things. In particular, he would have stuck to the UK Government’s Pandemic Preparedness Strategy and not succumbed to the domestic and international pressure to impose a lockdown. He would have kept his head, when all about him were losing theirs. Well, “all” apart from Stefan Löfven, the Swedish Prime Minister.

Russell’s post, published on his Mad World blog, takes the form of a month-by-month diary, chronicling how events might have unfolded had Cameron been in charge. Here are the entries for August, September and October:

August 2020
Covid rates are now very low in the UK but Cameron, advised by medical experts like Sunetra Gupta, John Lee and Carl Heneghan, puts plans in place for the NHS to cope in the coming months for a possible resurgence of what seems, according to worldwide data, to be a virus strongly linked with seasonality. Thousands of nurses are put on training courses for working in ICU wards so the health service will be prepared when winter arrives. Cameron has rejected plans for widespread testing of healthy people as he is aware of a ‘casedemic’ of false positives that will frighten people, and he has not spent £22 billion on a ‘Track and Trace’ system because he has been advised that it would be pointless in a non-totalitarian state and when a virus is endemic. Looking at the government’s own data he sees that international travel and hospitality are responsible for just a tiny fraction of Covid infections, so has no plans to shut either down; he realises in a grim year people still need some pleasures.

September 2020
Just as Cameron raged at “green crap”, he now rages at the “Covid death within 28 days of a positive test crap”, and the time period is reduced to one week. Under his Government, it has remained the case that two doctors have to sign the death certificate, not one, as happened in a loopy alternate reality from March 2020. The government heavily promotes its ‘Myth Buster’ website, which focuses on things like the lack of evidence for Covid being spread by fomite transmission (germs left on objects), to calm the populace.

October 2020
Officials seek to reassure young people worried about the virus. “You are literally at more danger of carking it by putting your trousers on!” goes one light-hearted public health advert with a cartoon of a purple pair of flares. It is criticised for frivolity, but statisticians point out that it is technically correct – more teenagers die every year putting their trousers on (and, presumably, falling over and hitting their head) than would die in the same period from Covid-related illness. When Piers Morgan rages that Covid is like Spanish Flu, new health secretary Iain Duncan Smith calmly comes out with the following: “The median age of victim of the Spanish Flu was 28; with Covid it is 82. Spanish Flu claimed 3% of the world’s population; Covid has claimed around 0.04%, and 94% of those had an average of 2.6 co-morbidities. Covid has an average survival rate of 99.75%, much higher for those under 65.” Such measured words help to reassure the nation and dampen mental health troubles that many had been risk of succumbing to.

Clearly, Russell’s counter-factual history is an idealised version of what might have been – no doubt Cameron wouldn’t have been quite this sensible. But it’s an entertaining read nonetheless.

Worth reading in full.

Pregnant Women Should Be Offered Covid Vaccine, New Government Advice Says

Pregnant women should be offered a Covid vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy, according to new Government advice. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises that it is “preferable” for pregnant women to be “offered” the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines “where available” due to there being more “real-world data” from the US on these vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccine (the primary Covid vaccine in the Government’s rollout) will, however, still be administered where an alternative is not available, despite the JCVI saying that “more research is needed” on this vaccine because pregnant women were not included in trials. It will “continue to closely monitor” the impact of the AZ vaccine on pregnant women as it is administered. BBC News has the story.

Pregnant women should be offered a Covid jab when other people their age get one, the UK’s vaccine advisers say.

They say the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are preferable because data from the US in 90,000 pregnant women has not raised any safety concerns.

Up until now, only women with underlying health conditions or those whose risk of exposure to the virus was high were eligible…

The JCVI now advises that pregnant women should all be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines where available, at the same time as the rest of the population. 

They are encouraged to discuss the risks and benefits of the vaccines with their doctor before making the appointment, but it is not a requirement.

“There is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed,” it added.

Currently, there is a lack of data on the AstraZeneca vaccine in pregnancy because pregnant women were not included in trials, but the JCVI says more evidence may be forthcoming in the near future…

Women who are planning pregnancy or are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, depending on their age and clinical risk group, the JCVI said.

It said it would closely monitor the evidence on Covid vaccination in pregnancy and update its advice as required.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

https://twitter.com/talkRADIO/status/1382966397408542722

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: Lockdowns Were a Huge Mistake

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who reopened his state last autumn and kept it open throughout the winter, has given a new interview to the Epoch Times where he talks of his regret in locking down last spring and the challenges he faced reopening in the face of widespread and fierce opposition.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1st last year, locking down the Sunshine State for 30 days amid global panic about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak. Sitting in his office exactly one year later, he told the Epoch Times that the lockdowns were a “huge mistake,” including in his own state.

“We wanted to mitigate the damage. Now, in hindsight, the 15 days to slow the spread and the 30 – it didn’t work,” DeSantis said. “We shouldn’t have gone down that road.”

Florida’s lockdown order was notably less strict than some of the stay-at-home measures imposed in other states. Recreational activities like walking, biking, playing golf, and beachgoing were allowed, while what constituted an “essential business” was broadly defined.

“Our economy kept going,” DeSantis said. “It was much different than what you saw in some of those lockdown states.”

However, the Governor now regrets issuing the order at all and is convinced that states that have carried on with lockdowns are perpetuating a destructive blunder.

After the initial 30-day lockdown in Florida lapsed, DeSantis commenced a phased reopening. He faced fierce criticism at each stage from establishment media, as well as segments of his own constituency beholden to the lockdown narrative.

The Governor fully reopened Florida on Sept. 25th, 2020. When cases began to rise as part of the winter surge, he didn’t reimpose any restrictions. While lockdown proponents forecasted doom and gloom, DeSantis stood his ground.

The Governor’s persistence wasn’t a leap of faith. Less than two weeks after Florida’s full reopening in late September, scientists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford universities went public with the Great Barrington Declaration, which disavowed lockdowns as a destructive and futile mitigation measure. The declaration, which has since been signed by 13,985 medical and public health scientists, calls on public officials to adopt the focused protection approach – the exact strategy employed by DeSantis.

Despite dire predictions about the pandemic in Florida, DeSantis has been vindicated. On April 1st, Florida ranked 27th among all states in deaths per capita from the CCP virus, commonly known as COVID-19.

The ranking’s significance is amplified because the Sunshine State’s population is the sixth oldest in the United States by median age.

Politicians should have been prepared and blew it, DeSantis says, though they’re not the only ones to blame.

“You have a situation where if you’re in this field, the pandemic, that’s something that you kind of prepare for and you’re ready for,” said DeSantis. “And a lot of these people muffed it.

“When push came to shove, they advocated policies that have not worked against the virus but have been very, very destructive. They are never going to admit they were wrong about anything, unfortunately.”

Elected leaders aren’t the only ones to blame, according to the Governor. The media and big tech companies played a major role in perpetuating fears about the virus while selectively censoring one side of the mitigation debate. DeSantis said the media and tech giants stood to benefit from the lockdown as people stayed home and consumed their products.

“It was all just to generate the most clicks that they could. And so that was always trying to do the stuff that would inspire the most fear,” DeSantis said.

Well worth reading in full.