Saturday, March 06, 2021

AstraZeneca vaccine DOES work against Brazil's 'super-covid,' report claims: Unpublished data will show Oxford's shot works against worrisome variant that may weaken others

AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine does protect against the feared Brazilian coronavirus variant, sources close to the matter said of unpublished data from an Oxford University trial.

Preliminary data from a study conducted at the university indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca is effective against the P1, or Brazilian, variant, a source with knowledge of the study told Reuters on Friday.

The data indicates that the vaccine will not need to be modified in order to protect against the variant, which is believed to have originated in the Amazonian city of Manaus, said the source, who requested anonymity as the results have not yet been made public.

So far, there are at least 13 cases of the Brazilian variant in seven US states, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has dragged its feet on the authorization of the AstraZeneca shot, and is not expected to do so until at least next month.

US trials for the AstraZeneca shot are ongoing, and the FDA typically does not accept results from other countries.

But results are in from other nations, including the UK, South Africa and Brazil - all of which have seen variants emerge, and spread across the globe, including to the the US.

In the aggregate of those countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine's efficacy rose to 82 percent after a second dose, given three months after the first.

Earlier data found that the vaccine reduced the risk of coronavirus infection by 78 percent.

That was markedly superior to the performance of the Chinese-made CoronaVac, which was only about 50 percent effective.

Importantly, the AstraZeneca vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19, according to its data published February 3.

It's difficult to know how prevalent Brazil's P1 variant was in the country during earlier stages of the trial. Now, the variant is dominant there.

The Reuters report suggests that AstraZeneca may soon release data specific to how the vaccine performed in Brazil during the most recent round of trials.

The source did not provide the exact efficacy of the vaccine against the variant. They said the full results of the study should be released soon, possibly in March.

Early results indicated the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective against the South African variant, which is similar to P1. South Africa subsequently paused the use of the vaccine in the country.

The information comes as a small-sample study suggested the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac may not work effectively against the Brazilian variant.

Responding to a request for comment, Fiocruz, which sent the samples that formed the basis of the study, told Reuters it did not have any information on the study, as it was being led by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Representatives for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brazil is currently confronting a brutal and long-lasting second wave of the coronavirus, hitting a daily record of 1,910 deaths on Wednesday.

The P1 variant is among the factors that epidemiologists believe is contributing to a rise in cases and deaths, and there has been concern in the scientific community about the variant's resistance to vaccines.


UK: Facebook is silencing debate on lockdown

Two of the scientists behind the Great Barrington Declaration on their brush with Big Tech censorship.


On 2 February, we put up a post in favour of the Covid vaccine on the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) Facebook page. We, as two of the primary authors of the GBD, are firmly in favour of voluntary vaccination, using vaccines that regulatory authorities have carefully evaluated and approved for use. Our post argued for prioritising the elderly for vaccination against Covid-19 as a tool for the focused protection of this vulnerable group. It generated a vigorous debate in the comment section among people against the Covid vaccines and people who agreed with us.

On 4 February, without warning, Facebook deleted the entire Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) page. The only explanation it provided was that the page violated its ‘community standards’, but it did not specify what standards the page violated. A week later, again without any explanation, Facebook restored the page.

The Great Barrington Declaration, now signed by tens of thousands of scientists and physicians, proposes a radically different approach to the Covid epidemic that eschews lockdown in favour of focused protection of the vulnerable. Many governments worldwide have adopted elements of our approach by prioritising the elderly living in nursing homes for vaccination and expanding the set of permitted activities (such as schooling) despite rising cases.

Other governments have adopted draconian lockdowns – including forced quarantines for the healthy and extended closures of schools and businesses – to address the epidemic. In many places, this lockdown strategy has successfully protected the zoom class, who can work from home without losing their jobs, while exposing the working class and the vulnerable to Covid infection.

Given the stakes, the scientific debate between lockdown and focused protection is of intense interest to nearly everyone on the planet. As co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, we are admittedly partisans in this debate. However, we recognise that these are complicated topics that require the open engagement of many minds, even those who disagree with us, to arrive at the truth. For good reasons, the Enlightenment enshrined free scientific inquiry as a primary good. A tolerance for contrary argument is essential if we are ever to exit the intellectual cul-de-sacs we inhabit.

Well, okay, fine, the reader may be thinking. Maybe Facebook made a mistake in suppressing the Covid-lockdown debate, but it recognised its error and corrected the problem within a week. Plus, there are other venues for the scientific debate to take place. What is the harm?

First, for many people, Facebook is a primary source for their news; Facebook banning content has at least a temporary effect on the information they see and the thoughts they have. Second, as should be evident from the debate over vaccination policy that preceded the Facebook ban, the Great Barrington Declaration site itself is followed by people with a diverse set of opinions on key aspects of Covid policy. Shutting down the site led many people to leave the page and closed one of the few venues where civil and open discussion between people with differing views happens on these topics. Most Covid-related policy discussions occur in closed environments, where people and scientists speak with those who already agree with them. The GBD Facebook site is an exception worth preserving.

Third, and most importantly, even a temporary ban imposes reputational harm to the shuttered site and the people behind it. For good or ill, Facebook has taken upon itself the role of hall monitor, and those who violate its editorial standards lose credibility in the eyes of many. The question is whether Facebook deserves its role as arbiter of questions of science and science policy. What are the scientific credentials of the people who censored the site, or (perhaps more relevantly) of the engineers who wrote the algorithms that censored it? Do they really have the omniscience to know that imprinting a scarlet letter on the GBD is good for our society?

Economists have a handy rule of thumb that it is more accurate to infer what people value by their actions and choices rather than from their words. It is useful to apply this rule here, especially since Facebook has not explained its actions beyond its invocation of ‘community standards’. First, Facebook is undecided on whether to permit open scientific debate on its site, at least concerning Covid policy. Second, since it was a pro-vaccine post that preceded the ban, perhaps Facebook community standards oppose the Covid vaccines or at least prioritising vulnerable seniors to receive them?

Facebook, like nearly every company whose success depends on the extensive use of its online services, stands to benefit financially from extended lockdowns. Though this pecuniary motive may not have played a direct, conscious role in its censorship of the GBD site, it certainly must have played some role in its editorial policies and ‘community standards’. Facebook clearly does not know how to use the power it wields to shape public understanding of science responsibly.

The impulse by those who wield the power to suppress their adversaries’ words and ideas stretches back to at least Cain and Abel. This power is usually exercised by repressive regimes, like Mao’s, who sent his Red Guards house to house during the 1966 Cultural Revolution to find and burn books that espoused the old, dangerous ideas opposed by the Communists. Religious and political considerations typically motivate the censors, which often include non-state actors. What is new in the world today is ostensibly progressive technocrats enthusiastically censoring scientific discussion and debate.


Dems Push End to Election Integrity

The Democrats' massive HR 1 election bill is a recipe for tyranny.

It might as well be called the “Ensure Democrat Electoral Victory Act” given what’s in the massive 800-page election overhaul bill put forward by House Democrats. HR 1, which Democrats have ironically dubbed the “For the People Act,” is anything but for the people. Rather than seeking to reestablish and shore up the badly abused state election laws Americans witnessed in the 2020 election, HR 1 would seek to codify the abuses. As Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) observed, “This is a bill that is about preserving the present Democratic majority. It is a bill by the majority, for the majority, and is intended to entrench the majority in power for years to come.”

HR 1 would essentially federalize national elections by mandating that states adopt voting rules such as a right to no-excuse mail-in ballots, elimination of voter ID laws, same-day registration and voting, 10-day post-election day acceptance of mail-in ballots, no laws against ballot harvesting or limits on the number of ballots a person can return, a 15-day early-voting mandate, and giving out-of-prison felons the right to vote — all while also making it harder for states to clean up their voter rolls. These are just a few of the terrible rules entrenched in HR 1, and it encapsulates the Left’s election strategy going forward.

Furthermore, the bill would create a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices, which is an obvious effort to dictate to the High Court how it would be allowed to rule on cases.

In short, HR 1 is a recipe for tyranny.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a perfect opportunity to tackle last year’s election integrity issues — and thus lay a roadblock in the way of HR 1 — when the justices inexplicably declined to hear the case against a Pennsylvania courts’ unilateral judicial rewrite of the state’s election laws, making an end run around the state legislature. Justice Clarence Thomas blasted his colleagues’ decision to pass on the case: “The decision to leave election law hidden beneath a shroud of doubt is baffling.” And why wouldn’t SCOTUS weigh in now, when we’re free and clear of any pending election? Now is the time to address this, not the 11th hour before an election. Moreover, as Thomas noted, “Changing the rules in the middle of the game is bad enough. Such rule changes by officials who may lack authority to do so is even worse.”

SCOTUS has, however, decided to hear another election case, Brnovich v. DNC. At issue are Arizona’s requirements that voters who cast their ballot on election day must do so in their assigned precinct and the state’s prohibition against ballot harvesting. (Both are common state laws.) Democrats have dubiously argued that Arizona’s laws violate the Voting Rights Act by creating a standard that infringes on minorities’ right to vote. A federal judge has ruled there is no evidence to support the Democrats’ claims, a decision that a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed with but was then overruled by the full court.

It appears likely that SCOTUS will find in Arizona’s favor by ruling that the Ninth Circuit was in error in overturning the decision, though as narrow rulings are the wont of Chief Justice John Roberts, it’s probable that the Court will avoid ruling on the merits of Arizona’s election laws, or to truly clarify the Voting Rights Act. If they take the narrow path, the justices will only be kicking the proverbial can down the road. Repairing the gaping holes caused by Democrats and lower courts in the nation’s election integrity will remain left undone. A fair election system should matter to all parties, but clearly for Democrats, the only concern is working to establish a system that ensures their victory.




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