Vaccines the Cause of Britain’s Drop In Covid Cases, Not Lockdown, Says KCL Epidemiologist

A King’s College London epidemiologist has said that Britain’s “exemplar vaccine programme” – which has seen almost 40 million first and second doses administered – is behind the drop in Covid cases since January. Professor Tim Spector’s view contrasts with that of the Prime Minister who believes lockdown – not the vaccine – has delivered “this improvement in the pandemic“. The Mail has the story.

Vaccines are behind Britain’s sharp drop in coronavirus cases since January, top experts claimed today – despite Boris Johnson insisting lockdown was the reason for the fall.  

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the UK’s largest Covid symptom tracking study, said the epidemic had “mainly” been squashed by the “exemplar vaccine programme”.

With more than 60% of the population jabbed with at least one dose and up to 10% protected due to prior infection, Professor Spector added Britain was “starting to see herd immunity take effect”.

His comments come after data from his symptom-tracking app showed a 17% drop in daily cases last week, with an estimated 1,600 new symptomatic infections a day across the country – down from 60,000 at the peak in January.

Separate Test and Trace figures showed new cases in England had dipped by 34% last week, with 19,196 positive tests recorded in the seven days to April 7th – compared to 29,178 at the end of March. 

Professor Spector said: “As the UK slowly exits lockdown, I’m encouraged to see Covid cases continue to fall with our rates among the lowest in Europe. 

“In fact, the UK closely mirrors cases in Israel with its exemplar vaccine programme. Based on our data and countries like Israel, I believe the fall in cases since January is mainly thanks to the vaccination programme and less about the strict lockdown the UK has been under since late December. 

“With up to 60% of the population vaccinated and around five to 10% with natural immunity due to infection, we’re starting to see herd immunity take effect. This should prevent future large-scale outbreaks.”

Professor Spector warned it was inevitable cases would pick up again as restrictions are eased over the coming months. But he said any outbreaks would be “smaller” and “manageable” and among groups yet to be vaccinated.

The Prime Minister has been underplaying the impact of the vaccine for some weeks. As well as pinning the fall in Covid cases on lockdown rather than on the vaccine rollout, he recently said that vaccinated people must not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100% protection” – this despite the fact that the risk of catching a symptomatic Covid infection for two people who have been vaccinated is about one in 400,000. His confidence in lockdowns has, however, stood firm, despite an increasing number of studies showing they’re ineffective.

The report by the Mail is worth reading in full.

Government Pays Firm £90 Million to Check If Passengers Are In Quarantine After Arriving In UK

The Government has hired a private firm to carry out 10,000 home visits every day to check if overseas arrivals are complying with mandatory quarantine rules. Those arriving in the UK must self-isolate for 10 days. Arrivals from countries on the Government’s “red list” must isolate at a Government-approved hotel – and pay £1,750 for the privilege. Mitie has been awarded a contract by the Home Office allowing it to spend up to £90 million on home visits. The Mail has the story.

Priti Patel has stepped up the Government’s crackdown on mandatory quarantine for overseas arrivals by hiring a firm to do up to 10,000 house checks per day.

Mitie has been tasked by the Home Office to catch flouters failing to undergo their required period of isolation.  

Their extra manpower will dramatically increase the capacity for daily home visits, which at present number about 1,000 and are carried out by police. …

Under tight border rules to insulate from worrying variants and infection spikes in Europe, all overseas arrivals must go into self-isolation for 10 days, which can be shortened by testing negative.

For people arriving from countries on the Department for Transport’s red list, this self-isolation must be done in Government-approved hotels. Fines start at £1,000 and jump to £10,000 for repeated rule-breaking. 

Mitie enforcers will conduct checks on travellers who are required to self-isolate at home, but will not do hotel visits.

A Government source said: “The number of operatives will vary depending on the number of visits needed, and the locations of the visits.

“If appropriate, Mitie staff may visit certain travellers more than once, if they are suspected of breaching their requirement to self-isolate.”

Mitie has been handed a number of other Covid-related contracts over the past year and currently supplies testing sites with testing staff, security and cleaners.

Worth reading in full.

People in England Waiting to Start Hospital Treatment Hits Record High

The number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment continues to rise, with 4.7 million people stuck on a waiting list by the end of February in England. This is the highest number since 2007, highlighting the impact of a year in which the NHS focused on Covid patients at the expense of many others. BBC News has the story.

Around 4.7 million people were waiting for routine operations and procedures in England in February – the most since 2007, NHS England figures show.

Nearly 388,000 people were waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic began.

During January and February, the pressure on hospitals caused by Covid was particularly acute.

NHS England said two million operations took place despite the winter peak.

However surgeons said hospitals were still under huge pressure due to the second wave of Covid, which had led to “a year of uncertainty, pain and isolation” for patients waiting for planned treatment.

Tim Mitchell, Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has asked how much longer those whose treatments have been delayed can be expected to wait.

Although the most urgent operations for cancer and life-threatening conditions went ahead, hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for routine surgery such as hip and knee operations, cochlear implants and vascular operations had their treatment cancelled or postponed.

People have been patient as they’ve seen the battering the pandemic has given the NHS, but how much longer can they be expected to wait?

This news again highlights the importance of Professor Karol Sikora’s oft-repeated, yet consistently ignored proposal for a Government press conference to be held which is entirely dedicated to non-Covid related illnesses.

Worth reading in full.

News Round Up

Seven Peer-Reviewed Studies That Agree: Lockdowns Do Not Suppress the Coronavirus

Many people still struggle to accept the idea that lockdowns don’t have any appreciable impact on Covid cases and deaths. After all, it’s obvious, isn’t it, that keeping people apart will stop the virus spreading?

Tom Harwood, formerly of Guido Fawkes now of GB News, tweeted a typically incredulous response to the idea: “Cannot understand how some can claim ‘lockdowns don’t work’ with a straight face. As if stopping people from mixing wouldn’t hit transmission? Sure argue the cost is too high, imposition on liberty too extreme, just don’t invent a fairytale denying the basics of germ theory.”

Even some die-hard lockdown sceptics will say that lockdowns work, in the sense of suppressing transmission for a time, but they just delay the inevitable so are pointlessly costly.

The models churned out by university academics and relied on by the Government to set policy all assume lockdown restrictions work, and even claim to quantify how much impact each intervention makes.

But what does the data say? What do the studies show that actually look at the evidence rather than just making a priori assumptions about how things “must surely” be?

There have been at least seven peer-reviewed studies which look at the question of lockdowns from a data point of view, and all of them come to the same basic conclusion: lockdowns do not have a statistically significant relationship with Covid cases or deaths. Here is a list of them with a key quote for ease of reference.

Many of these studies attribute a large part of the drop in infections and deaths to the voluntary measures introduced prior to the legally-enforced restrictions. However, this is typically introduced as an assumption with no robust evidence provided in support of it, and with no consideration of the other possible reasons that infections might have fallen, such as seasonality or growing population immunity. On the rare occasion that rigorous analysis is applied to this question as well, as with Savaris et al in their article in Nature looking at whether people staying at home (measured using mobility data) is associated with Covid deaths, the finding is similarly negative. Voluntary measures make little difference either.

This may seem to defy “the basics of germ theory”, as Mr Harwood put it. But it doesn’t, it just means we need to understand better how the virus is getting round.

Physical Inactivity Doubles Risk of Covid Death, Study Suggests

US researchers have linked physical inactivity to an increased likelihood of Covid leading to hospitalisation and, ultimately, death. Their study suggests that the odds for death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were consistently inactive compared with patients who were consistently active. The Telegraph has the story.

Inactive coronavirus patients are more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared to people who exercise for the recommended 150 minutes a week, a new study suggests. 

Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, studied the medical records of nearly 50,000 people who were diagnosed with coronavirus between January and October last year.

They found that being consistently inactive more than doubled the odds of hospitalisation compared with being regularly active.

Patients who were consistently inactive were 73% more likely to be admitted to intensive care than fit patients. 

The odds for death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were consistently inactive compared with patients who were consistently active.

The researchers found that inactivity was the biggest risk factor for the disease after age, and having a history of organ transplant. 

Even patients who were inconsistently active had lower odds for severe Covid when compared to those who were consistently inactive, suggesting any amount of physical activity has benefit.

Dr Robert Sallis, a sports medicine physician at the medical centre that conducted this research, said that the findings should act as a “wake-up call”.

This is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity…

People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating Covid, while people who were inactive did much worse.

Walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate pace and that will give you a tremendous protective effect against Covid.

Around half of those studied had no underlying health conditions.

Worth reading in full.

Hospitality Leaders Tell Boris Johnson They Will Not Force Customers to Show Vaccine Passports

The pushback against vaccine passports continues to gather momentum. Earlier, we published a report on an open letter sent to the Prime Minister – signed by over 1,000 of the UK’s Christian leaders – warning against the introduction of “medical apartheid” under a vaccine passport scheme. Now, a new charter, “Open for All“, has been signed by more than 60 restaurant owners and other hospitality figures, telling Boris that they will not force customers to show Covid Status Certificates as a condition of entry. The Telegraph has the story.

In a letter to the Prime Minister… the signatories make clear their opposition to Covid status certification being used in hospitality settings. 

“We will not be forcing our patrons to show us any documentation referring to health status to gain entry,” one line of the letter reads.

The intervention is a shot across the bows of the Government as ministers consider whether to require restaurants and pubs to check the Covid status of customers.

Among the signatories are the CEOs of Rekom UK, which runs 42 nightclubs, and Tokyo Industries, which runs clubs, festivals and bars. Others backing the letter include senior figures at venues such as The Hippodrome Casino, Electric Star Pubs, Bocca de Lupo, Proud Cabaret, Brindisa and Burger&Lobster.

Alan Miller, the co-founder of Night Time Industries Association, who organised the letter, said: “The British people have been diligent and remarkable over this last year, and we’ve all waited for so long to get back to normal.

“We were told in January that vaccines were our way out, and that we were on a one-way road to freedom. It is a far cry from freedom if we are put in the position where pubs, clubs, festivals, shows and venues of any kind are forced to demand health papers. We won’t be doing it.”

The letter congratulates the Government for its successful vaccine rollout but insists that there are many reasons why some people may choose not to get a Covid vaccine, adding that it would be wrong for venues to ask customers to present health-related documents. It reads:

We have no axe to grind politically and many of us think the vaccine rollout has been tremendous for those who wish to take it.

We also know that for many reasons some will not have a vaccine.

Furthermore, we do not believe it is right that we, as premises and promoters, should demand to see proof of medical records or health status. The majority of people in the UK have chosen to be vaccinated.

There are many practical and logistical issues for us alongside civil liberty and discrimination considerations more broadly for society if venues or events insist on seeing any kind of health-related documents.

The Telegraph‘s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Julia Hartley-Brewer has urged all hospitality business owners to sign up to the declaration to “[ensure] vaccine passports never happen”.

EU Commission to End AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Contracts at Expiry

The EU Commission will not renew Covid vaccine contracts with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) when they expire, according to reports. The vaccines produced by both of these companies are facing scrutiny over their links to blood clotting and have been subject to numerous medical reviews. Reuters has the story.

The EU Commission has decided not to renew Covid vaccine contracts next year with AstraZeneca and J&J, Italian daily La Stampa reported on Wednesday, citing a source from the Italian health ministry.

“The European Commission, in agreement with the leaders of many (EU) countries, has decided that the contracts with the companies that produce (viral vector) vaccines that are valid for the current year will not be renewed at their expiry,” the newspaper reported. …

A spokesman for the EU Commission said it was keeping all options open to be prepared for the next stages of the pandemic, for 2022 and beyond.

“We cannot, however, comment on contractual issues,” the spokesman added.

Later on Wednesday the President of the European Commission said the EU was in talks with Pfizer and BionTech for a new contract for 1.8 billion doses, confirming a Reuters report from last week.

“We need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth. mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point,” she added.

La Stampa reports that Brussels would rather prioritise Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna – both of which use mRNA technology – in the UE’s rollout efforts. Studies from across Europe have shown that many people are refusing the AZ vaccine due to concerns over its link to blood clots (for example, 33% of Danes and up to 80% of Sicilians would reportedly turn the vaccine down). The rollout of J&J Covid vaccines in Europe has also recently been delayed by the company, following reports on its relationship with rare blood clots.

The Reuters report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Danish Health Authority has announced that it will no longer be recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine.

There is a possible link between very rare cases of unusual blood clots, bleeding, low blood platelets counts and the vaccine from AstraZeneca. This, coupled with the fact that the Covid epidemic in Denmark is currently under control and other vaccines are available against Covid, has been instrumental in the Danish Health Authority’s decision to continue its vaccination programme against Covid without the vaccine from AstraZeneca.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Is Wrong: The Lockdown Has Not Been “Overwhelmingly Important”

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the reduction in cases, hospitalisations and deaths “has not been achieved by the vaccination programme”. Rather, he claimed, “it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing”. While the lockdown may have had some impact on the epidemic’s trajectory, we should be very sceptical of the Prime Minister’s claim.

First, as Will Jones pointed out yesterday in Lockdown Sceptics, there are several US states where numbers fell dramatically in the absence of any lockdown: Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi. And to this list, one could add Sweden. As shown below, the trajectory of deaths per million in Sweden is strikingly similar to that in the UK, even though the country has never gone into lockdown. (It should be noted, of course, that measures not based on age-adjusted excess mortality can be misleading.)

These examples do not show that lockdowns have no impact on the epidemic’s trajectory. But they do show that lockdowns are not necessary for case and death numbers to decline. Hence it is wrong to assume that, if numbers decline after a lockdown is introduced, it must have been the lockdown that caused the decline. (It might have been, but this cannot simply be assumed.)

Second, the most convincing study of the UK’s lockdowns of which I am aware (now published in Biometrics) concludes that each one was introduced only after the corresponding peak of fatal infections.

In particular, the statistician Simon Wood sought to reconstruct the actual time course of infections in England, based on available data. He notes that reported case numbers are subject to various forms of bias (e.g. non-representative samples, changes in the amount and type of testing) and that “under normal circumstances” statisticians would not “recommend attempting to estimate the effective reproduction number of the pathogen from such data”.

As an alternative, Wood used hospital death numbers (which, though imperfect, are less comprised than case numbers). In order to reconstruct the time course of infections, he combined these with the distribution of fatal disease durations (i.e., the number of days between infection and death), which he derived from the published literature.

His results are shown in the chart below. The grey dots are hospital deaths; the black line is inferred fatal infections; and the red lines are the lockdowns. As you can see, the peak of fatal infections occurs before the corresponding lockdown in each of the three cases. This finding casts serious doubt on the Prime Minister’s claim that the third lockdown has been “overwhelmingly important”.

Wood’s findings are consistent with those of economist David Paton, who notes that seven separate indicators all appear to show infections declining before the start of January’s lockdown. (Though it should be noted that parts of England were already under quite heavy restrictions when the lockdown began, and these may have contributed to the epidemic’s retreat.)

There is a large amount of evidence that lockdowns are neither necessary nor, in every case, sufficient to bring case and death numbers under control. This does not mean they have no impact on the epidemic’s trajectory, but it does mean that claims of “overwhelming” efficacy should be met with skepticism. And the best available evidence for England suggests that the infections were already declining when the third national lockdown was imposed.

Stop Press: Simon Wood, the author of the Biometrics study mentioned above, has written a piece for the Spectator responding to the Prime Minister’s comments, as well as the claim made by Imperial College that infections were surging right up until the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020.

Christian Leaders Warn Against the Introduction of “Medical Apartheid” under a Vaccine Passport Scheme

Over 1,000 of the UK’s Christian leaders have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson warning against the introduction of vaccine passports, which would “risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life”. Its signatories also state that there are “no circumstances” in which they would close their church doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport. The letter has been sent to the Prime Minister, along with all MPs and devolved assembly members, and has been published in today’s Scottish Daily Express. It reads as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

As Christian leaders across a range of denominations, we continue to pray at this time for your Government “and all in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

However, we write to you concerning an area of the most serious concern, namely the potential introduction into our society of so-called “vaccine passports” which have also been referred to as “Covid-status certificates” and “freedom passes”. We are wholly opposed to this suggestion and wish to make three points about the potential consideration of any scheme of this type.

Firstly, to make vaccination the basis of whether someone is allowed entry to a venue, or participation in an activity, makes no logical sense in terms of protecting others. If the vaccines are highly effective in preventing significant disease, as seems to be the evidence from trial results to date, then those who have been vaccinated have already received protection; there is no benefit to them of other people being vaccinated. Further, since vaccines do not prevent infection per se even a vaccinated person could in theory carry and potentially pass on the virus, so to decide someone’s “safe non-spreader” status on the basis of proof of their immunity to disease is spurious.

Secondly, the introduction of vaccine passports would constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent. People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing. We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life. There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which Covid vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that. This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives. As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.

Finally, as Christian leaders we wish to state that we envisage no circumstances in which we could close our doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other “proof of health”. For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel. The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him. To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel. Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously.

We draw your attention to the recent Judicial Review overturning the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship, which demonstrates that such disproportionate prevention of the right to worship is a clear infringement under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights. We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people from gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach. We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society. We call on the Government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever.

Find the full list of signatories – which continues to grow – here.

Stop Press: This open letter has now been signed by over 1,200 of the UK’s Christian leaders.