By Professor Ramesh Thakur: The Spectator.
A major study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in June, based on all-causes mortality data from 44 countries and all US states, concluded that earlier and longer lockdowns do not reduce deaths and if anything, lockdowns may increase deaths. Denmark lifted all restrictions from 10 September, including the requirement for domestic vaccine passports, declaring that Covid-19 is ‘no longer a critical threat to society’. At the time 73% of the population was fully vaccinated and Denmark’s daily new cases were still over 500. Meanwhile Sweden remains an excellent example of a lockdown-light to lockdown-free country with excess deaths lower for every year since 1990/91 bar one (2018/19) (Figure 1).
Consistent with the NBER and several other studies confirming that lockdown restrictions are ineffectual for virus control, on Friday, weeks into the state’s 7th – or is it 8th? – lockdown, Victoria announced 510 new cases. Meanwhile on the same day, five weeks into a lockdown imposed after one case and with 55% full vaccination, the ACT recorded 30 new cases, bringing the total of active cases to 245 and another 341 recovered.
We know the virus doesn’t keep climbing and growing exponentially. That hasn’t happened anywhere in the world. Sooner or later, the curve will bend and head down. The strategy seems to be to wait for that peak, claim proof of success for restrictions and begin lifting them. Otherwise the doubling down on lockdowns despite daily evidence of how completely ineffectual they are makes no sense whatsoever.
Even more depressingly, most journalists and people seem to accept that transparent but flawed logic and credit their government with successful Covid management, despite clear evidence both locally and globally that policy interventions enforce coercive control on human behaviour without materially altering virus behaviour.
Unused to sceptical and aggressive questioning – remember the good old days when this was the norm for journalists worth the name in interactions with politicians and officials? – ACT Chief Minister turned testy when grilled by Sky News reporter Tom Connell last Wednesday. On Friday Barr warned of ‘thousands of cases and an overwhelmed health system’ if the ACT opens up at 70% full vaccination. He apparently wants to wait until all Australia has reached the 70 per cent full vaccination target, not just Canberra.
In that case, why not the whole world at 70 per cent before reopening? Australians are being punished because successive federal and state governments have failed to build a fit-for-purpose health infrastructure.
The closest approximation to a petri dish for studying the infectiousness and lethality of SARS-CoV-2 was the cruise ship Diamond Princess, site of the largest early outbreak outside China in February 2020. Outbreaks seed easily on cruise ships because of the high numbers of susceptible elderly passengers living and socialising in confined quarters. Yet even under the worst possible conditions, only a small proportion of the entire captive population was infected, a small number of the infected died and 98.2 per cent recovered. Consistent with this, of the world’s current 18.7mn active cases, only 0.5 per cent are ‘serious or critical’.
This is useful background for debating vaccines. In September 2020 vaccines had not yet been developed. On 13 September 2021, 63% and 65% of the Israeli and British populations were fully vaccinated. As can be seen in Figures 2–4 and Table 1, Israel’s infections, hospitalisation and mortality rates are higher than a year ago by 193, 40 and 90 per cent, respectively. For the UK, they are 984, 607 and 900 per cent higher, respectively. We can but wonder: What would these statistics be if the vaccines were not so highly efficacious in reducing Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths? Of course, the mischievous question aside, the obvious riposte is that the last wave was caused by the much more transmissible Delta variant.
In the UK, based on the risks of Covid and the benefits of vaccines, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended against vaccinating 12-15 year olds. A group of 26 Tory MPs warned on 10 September that overruling expert advice from the JCVI risks ‘dissolving the bond of trust’ between the public and the government. But because the government had already decided to do so, it tasked the chief medical officers to formulate a recommendation based on broader considerations than just the science. Surprise, surprise – they recommended vaccination, including overruling parental decisions because a child is deemed to be fit and able to offer informed consent on its own, to offset the mental health stress of students caused by – wait for it – lockdowns! Even more surprise – the government promptly acted on their advice.
Thus a 12-year old without the legal capacity to vote or drive is mature enough to inject itself with a vaccine using a revolutionary new technology after a fast-tracked approval process for emergency use before all short and long-term safety trials have been completed. Taking children’s welfare decisions away from parents and vesting it in the state as the arbiter of the family was something we’ve previously associated only with communist regimes. A nominally Conservative government has undermined parental authority, and that too against the best judgment of its own scientific experts.
The coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest and most successful power grab by self-aggrandising medicine men – sorry, health experts and officials – in Western history. Careerist politicians simply rolled over and then discovered that actually, spreading mass fear and hysteria through pandemic porn is a pretty effective way to dismantle all checks on the exercise of power and to win re-elections with massive mandates. The media has failed to do its job and hold the government’s feet to the fire.
It’s beyond belief and very dispiriting that we can all be locked up on the whim of a state or federal chief medico with no health advice published, against the mounting data from around the world that the pre-Covid consensus on the futility-cum-long term harms from lockdowns was correct.
The silence of the courts has been another surprise and disappointment. We’ve all learned at great cost that all a government has to do to escape parliamentary scrutiny and public accountability is to assert there is a health crisis and promulgate a package of measures whose justification, efficacy and collateral harms are not open to question. Even individual components of the package may not be independently scrutinised, no matter how unscientific, inconsistent and nonsensical.
Fortunately, one major collateral benefit of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate will be that states are challenging the constitutionality of the edict. For the first time, a major Western country will subject the health fascists to aggressive interrogation by skilled lawyers in courts of law and compel them to justify why the policy interventions are not tailored to the extremely age-segregated risks of Covid; the justification for government coercion when herd immunity has been reached through a combination of vaccines and infection; the disaggregated vaccine efficacy and risks for different age cohorts; and, most critically, cost-benefit analyses to justify every major component of public policy. It’s an opportunity for Australian courts as well to restore public faith by accepting challenges to vaccine mandates and pursuing answers to the same questions here.
Mandating vaccines would do more harm than good
Mandatory vaccine passports would be justified if:
- The disease was exceptionally severe, highly transmissible and lethal;
- There was clear and compelling evidence of efficacy;
- There was extremely low risk of serious side effects; and
- Alternative treatment options were lacking.
Every one of these is questionable on good scientific and observational data grounds. As I have argued in previous articles and can be seen in Figure 2, the efficacy of vaccines is more limited than initial claims for infections, hospitalisations, and transmission. But because those aged over 50 are three times more likely to die if unvaccinated, they should strongly consider getting jabbed (Table 2).
The known, immediate harms are greater than for existing approved mass vaccines. In some cases, as in Israel, there is also a curious positive correlation between vaccine doses and infection curves (Figure 4). Moreover, the risk, efficacy and harms equation changes dramatically by age groups because Covid is so exceptionally age-segregated (Table 2). Thus a senior pharmaceutical executive, using JCVI data, notes that with 12-15-year-olds, one vaccination dose is expected to prevent seven children and two doses will prevent just eight kids from ending up in the paediatric ICU. On the harms side of the equation, between 9-54 children will likely suffer vaccine-induced myocarditis following one dose and 38-108 after two doses.
Alternatives have not been explored rigorously with any sense of urgency. Instead, they’ve been summarily dismissed. The most contested of these today is ivermectin. The signals from three parallel tracks – observational data, meta-analyses and randomised controlled trials – are suggestive but not conclusive in pointing to its potential efficacy both for preventing and for treating Covid.
Consider, for example, the case of India (Figure 5). After all, that is where the Delta variant originated and we all remember – or should remember – the conscience-shocking footage of corpses washing ashore on the banks of the Ganges and people dying on the streets like fish out of water gasping for air.
Both the infections and mortality curves are more or less bell-shaped, with a slight hiccup in the mortality curve. But the steep descent in both cases began when just 2.45-3.0 per cent of Indians had been fully vaccinated, and were completed with the full vaccination coverage still under 7 per cent. Vaccines therefore could, at best, have played only a minor part in ending the surge.
A more plausible explanation is that Delta, while ferociously transmissible, is not in fact so deadly. And, in contrast to the reigning scepticism among Australia’s all-powerful health bureaucrats, another likely candidate is the widespread adoption of ivermectin to treat the disease by several states, including Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (population 200 million!) (Figure 6).
Unaware that he was being broadcast live to the nation on a TV station with a microphone still switched on, Israeli health minister Nitzan Horowitz admitted on 12 September that vaccine passports were primarily about putting pressure on a hesitant public to get vaccinated and not for medical reasons. Meanwhile, who would have expected Sweden, which never imposed a hard lockdown but is 61% fully vaccinated, to ban travellers from Israel? There’s a turn for the books.
There is no medical or ethical justification for vaccine compulsion and coercion. Because both groups can be infected and transmit the virus but those with higher immunity face lower risks of severe illness and death , the non-immune should fear the vaccinated, not the other way round. Mandates would also require resolving the very knotty problem of separating natural and vaccinated immunity.
To survive Covid-19, infected people must have mounted an effective immune response. The goal of vaccination is to generate memory cells that can recognise the virus and rapidly mount an effective immune response. As a group of doctors from Arkansas note in the British Medical Journal, ‘There is now a growing body of literature supporting the conclusion that natural immunity not only confers robust, durable, and high-level protection against Covid-19, but also better than vaccine induced immunity’. Ignoring this reality instead of developing policy around it has seriously damaging real-world consequences, especially for poor countries.
With many infectious diseases, naturally-acquired immunity through infection is more powerful than vaccine-induced immunity and also lasts a lifetime. Several studies show stronger and more durable natural than vaccine-induced immunity against Covid-19. In late August, Israeli researchers published the largest real-world observational study to date comparing natural and vaccine-induced immunity using the 2.5 million strong database of Maccabi Healthcare Services.
The team conducted two analyses to show that uninfected but vaccinated Israelis were 6-13 times more likely to get infected than the naturally immune through prior infection; their risk of symptomatic infection was 27 times higher; and their risk of hospitalisation was eight times more. Far from rejecting the benefits of vaccines, the study concludes that ‘the immune systems of people who develop natural immunity … and then get vaccinated produce exceptionally broad and potent antibodies against the coronavirus’.
We seem to be in the gloaming phase of the dystopian night of a technology-enabled takeover of our lives by big business and government. It’s time to ‘ditch-‘n-switch’ as a pathway out of the nightmare. I feel fortunate at never having fallen prey to the seductive allure of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as fashionable tools of toxic addiction, abuse and emotional manipulation.
The phone is an instrument for my convenience, not a tool of control and coercion for the convenience of governments. The use of facial recognition AI technology by China to control the Uyghurs – Curtin University has just asked for a retraction of an article by a former researcher that facilitates this – is one frightening example of the potential. Given how quickly Western governments seem to be moving towards China’s social credit system in ‘keeping us safe’ from Covid, there can be little confidence that China doesn’t also offer a foretaste of what to expect as the surveillance state tightens its grip on our lives.
In fact the first step has already been taken with South Australia’s Covid app, as Alex Antic wrote here last week. When my current phone becomes too obsolete to be useable, I intend to ‘downgrade’ to the basic functionality of phone calls and text messages and opt out of the idiotsmartphone society. Unless enough of us do so, however, it may be time to say sayonara to individual freedoms and liberty.
The UK’s £37 billion ‘Test and Trace system’, The Daily Mail reported on 14 September, ‘has had barely any impact on thwarting the spread of Covid, according to official estimates’. On Friday, just hours after Barr’s angst-filled presser worrying about caseloads after 70% vaccination, the 65% vaccinated UK announced that vaccinated travellers coming in from safe-listed countries will not require pre-departure testing, post-arrival PCR testing or hotel quarantine.
Almost all Australian governments, captured by ‘worrywart epidemiologists’ (thank you, Judith Sloan), seem obsessed with test and trace as the silver bullet to virus eradication. It’s expensive, intrusive and of limited utility in managing the disease, but it does keep alive the fear and paranoia and elevates stress and anxiety in society.
It’s long past time to acknowledge that SARS-CoV-2 is already endemic in the world and will keep circulating, mutating and escaping variant-specific vaccines; abandon mass testing and contact tracing of the asymptomatic; return to treating symptomatic cases only; encourage vaccine take-up through persuasion of its beneficial protective effects for individuals without vilifying the unvaccinated who pose no greater risk to others than the vaccinated; and lift all remaining restrictions on people’s lives and business activities.
This story was originally published in The Spectator Australia and is reproduced here with their kind permission. It was first published in A Sense of Place Magazine on 29 October, 2021.
To see other stories by the distinguished Ramesh Thakur published in The Spectator follow the links in this story: