Saturday, February 06, 2021

AstraZeneca expects latest results to show that shot DOES work against UK 'super-covid' AND reduces transmission

AstraZeneca expects results from the US clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine in the next four to six weeks, the firm's research chief Mene Pangalos said on Friday.

The US has a contract for 300 million doses of the Oxford University-designed shot, expected to be delivered this year.

Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine is already approved in the UK, but was delayed in the US amid regulators' criticisms that the trial data contained errors, such as an accidental dosing regimen.

But encouraging findings about the 70 percent effective shot continue to roll in. Oxford also announced Friday that preliminary tests suggest that its vaccine is about as effective against the UK's B117 variant as it is against earlier circulating forms.

And UK officials said Friday that additional data from AstraZeneca's trials suggest the shot is effective in people over 65, after the first data review suggested the shot's potency dropped off in the elderly.

But the US has been insistent upon basing its vaccine authorizations on trials conducted domestically, and thoroughly reviewed by its Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With final data at least a month away, it could be March or April by the time AstraZeneca's vaccine is added to the American arsenal.

Asked about when the U.S. trial results would be ready, given high transmission rates during the trial, Pangalos said that they had been high during 'the latter period of the trial.'

'I think we're getting very close to getting data. I would say in the next four to six weeks we should have the results for that study reading out,' he told reporters.

Some experts had expected the data sooner than that, given the high infection rates in the United States during the period of testing.

AstraZeneca's shot has already been rolled out in the UK, where the 70 percent more infectious B117 variant is now dominant and triggered a massive surge of infections and the strictest lockdowns the country has seen.

That lockdown came as Britain started rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Over 10 million people have received a first dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer's shot. Moderna's is approved in the UK, but has not yet been rolled out because the country did not turn in its dose order soon enough.

Britain had said that it believed the vaccines were effective against variants that are circulating in the UK.

'Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but also protects against the novel variant, B117, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK,' said Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.

Oxford and AstaZeneca have continued to test trial participants for COVID-19 in ongoing UK trials.

Between October 2020 and January 14, the investigators sequenced the genomes found in samples taken from 323 covid-positive people who had received either Oxford's shot or a placebo, according to a pre-print study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Those who got the real vaccine had lower viral loads and remained positive for a shorter period of time - despite the fact that the level of neutralizing antibodies was about nine-fold lower.

However, the vaccine was about equally good at preventing people from developing symptomatic COVID-19 from B117 as it has been against older types of the virus.

Other recent data also suggests that Oxford's vaccine reduces transmission - an important function no other vaccine has proven to play (although they likely do have some effect on the ability of the virus to spread).

Still, Sarah Gilbert, co-developer of the vaccine, said that, although the vaccine had efficacy against the UK variant, it might need to be adapted for a future variant.

'We are working with AstraZeneca to optimize the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary,' Gilbert said.

The mounting positive findings about Oxford's jab has raised questions about the FDA's reluctance to at least begin reviewing international data from its trials, even if it is a little messy.

AstraZeneca CEO Pangalos said in a Wednesday press briefing that he doesn't think that completing the US trial will be necessary 'in terms of getting an approval.'

But there hasn't been any evident activity from the FDA so far, despite the agency's decision to expedite review of data from US-based Novavax's ongoing trials.

Waiting for 'cleaner data' from the completion of AstraZeneca's US trials would be 'a reasonable decision under normal circumstance,' Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told The Hill.

But, 'there's a reasonable question to ask: are these normal circumstances?' he added.


Oxford/AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine IS effective for over 65s, say experts privy to new data

More evidence is emerging that the Oxford Covid vaccine works in older people, according to vaccine experts in the UK.

Sir Munir Pirmohamed, boss of the Commission on Human Medicines, today said regulators had received extra information from Oxford University and AstraZeneca scientists to prove their jab was safe and effective for over-65s.

The data, which is not yet publicly available, is coming now from same clinical trials in the UK and around the world that got it approved in the first place. They enrolled thousands more older people after the jab was green-lighted.

European leaders have ruffled the vaccine-maker's feathers in recent weeks by claiming the vaccine doesn't work on older people and refusing to use it.

In the same week that politicians were slinging mud at AstraZeneca for scaling back its deliveries, many European countries openly criticised the vaccine, with France's President Macron calling it 'quasi-ineffective'.

Oxford scientists hit back against the claims, with Professor Andrew Pollard saying he didn't understand what Mr Macron's comment meant. And the team behind the ground-breaking vaccine said the idea that it didn't work had 'no basis'.

Numerous countries including Spain, Germany, France, Hungary, Sweden and Norway have suggested they won't give the jab to anyone over 65.

Scientists admit there is a lack of data definitively proving the vaccine works for elderly people but the data they do have suggests it doesn't affect them any less than it does younger people, in whom it is proven to prevent Covid-19.

Oxford and AstraZeneca chiefs said this week that they expect data on effectiveness in over-65s - who were in the same study as other age groups but a couple of months behind - in the next few weeks.

It comes as another study published today by Oxford found that the vaccine works just as well against the fast-spreading Kent variant B.1.1.7 which is now dominant in the UK.

Sir Munir said in a briefing today: 'There was no evidence that those people over 65 were not getting evidence of efficacy.

'Since then we've seen more data coming through from AstraZeneca as more people are completing the trial, which highlights again that efficacy in the elderly is seen, and there's no evidence of lack of efficacy.'

The data Sir Munir refers to is not yet publicly available and has been sent directly to the MHRA, the UK's vaccines regulator.

He added that elderly people were generating strong immune responses and said the most important thing was that both AstraZeneca's vaccine and a jab developed by Pfizer and BioNTech were preventing serious disease and deaths.

Asked about the suggestion that Britain had compromised on safety and efficacy standards, MHRA chief executive, Dr June Raine, defended the regulator's standards.

'I think our position is very clear in terms of the rigorous science that MHRA pursues in the interests of public confidence, public safety, and the effectiveness of these important vaccines,' she said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, the Oxford professor who is running the clinical trials of the jab, added: 'It's really for each country to take their own scientific advice... but it is authorised everywhere [in the European Union].'

He said: 'The point about efficacy depends very much on how you cut the data. 'You can cut it in different ways and get different data. That would be true of all vaccines in development.

'But [these results] show it has a high efficacy in disease and we are not seeing a high accumulation of hospitalised cases in those who have been vaccinated.'

Boris Johnson previously said he was not concerned by the European countries' move, adding the UK's world-leading regulator had 'made it clear' the shot was 'very good and efficacious'.

The issue that European countries have taken with the study is that the vaccine was only trialled on 660 people over the age of 65 in results that have been published so far.

The data is the same that was used by the UK Government to approve the jab, and regulators in Britain admitted there was not enough data to give a percentage estimate of its efficacy – while the Germans attempted to do it anyway.

But they were satisfied by the fact that the vaccine was well-tolerated and safe in the older people who did receive it, and the fact that their immune response appeared in lab tests to be the same as those in younger people, who featured more heavily in the trial.

In short, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said they would not expect the vaccine to work any differently in older people than in other age groups.

They said: 'Efficacy and safety data are currently limited in individuals ≥65 years of age. No dosage adjustment is required.'

The study has enrolled more older people since it first reported results and continues to gather data on how the vaccine functions in that group.

The jab appears to be between 62 and 90 per cent effective in the adult population in general, according to Oxford University researchers.

A breakdown of the report showed that one out of 341 people who got the jab later tested positive for coronavirus. Meanwhile one in 319 people who got a fake jab, called a placebo, tested positive.

The whole point of a clinical trial is to compare the number of positive cases in the vaccine group to the number of positives in the non-vaccine group, to work out how well the jab works.

With the exact same number of cases in both groups and an almost identical number of participants, this is impossible to do.

A German analysis of the clinical trial of the vaccine, published on Twitter by a Berlin correspondent for The Times, showed that officials there estimated the efficacy of the vaccine to be just 6.3 per cent in over-65s.

To illustrate how unreliable the 6.3 per cent estimate is, experts in one German analysis of the study - which was shared on Twitter - included their confidence interval, which is a range of numbers they are almost certain the true number falls within.

The confidence interval suggests that scientists thought the true effectiveness of the vaccine in over-65s was somewhere between -1,405 per cent and 94.5 per cent. This means the estimate is wildly unreliable and a true figure cannot be calculated.

The jab appears to be between 62 and 90 per cent effective in the adult population in general, according to Oxford University researchers.

There are still concerns over the South African strain - with some studies showing jabs are less effective against it - and the Brazilian strain.

The Oxford group say they are currently testing their jab in South Africa on the variant, and are reviewing data to see whether they have any cases of the Brazilian variant from trials carried out in the country.




Friday, February 05, 2021

Vaccines alone not enough

Comment from Prof. Robert Clancy in Australia

Let me state clearly from the outset: vaccines are critical; they will save lives; we should all get behind them.

Vaccines, however, do have limitations. They need to be paired with effective, safe drug treatment. I believe two candidates are safe, cheap, available and effective. They are ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Australian health authorities, however, say there is not enough evidence to support their use in the treatment of COVID-19. I disagree with them.

Since my name was aired in this matter, I’ve received calls from people offering truly crackpot opinions, some telling me I am right – without knowing what I think – while others have suggested I should leave it to the “experts”.

Concerned by the controversy, the University of Newcastle, where I am an emeritus professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, has issued a statement stressing that I am not speaking on its behalf and saying it does not consider me a COVID-19 expert.

These opinions are indeed my own. I am not speaking for the university (although over the years it has often wanted me to). As an immunologist, I am, however, an expert and I believe my opinions need some clear air.

COVID-19, like influenza, infects the airways mucosal compartment. There are useful lessons from influenza, for which vaccines give partial immunity, of short duration, and with a poor response in the elderly. Early evidence suggests similar outcomes are probable with COVID-19 vaccines.

Herd immunity is unlikely. If it occurs it will likely be of short duration, requiring annual vaccination for continued immunity. Vaccines will be at the core of community management, but they are not enough on their own.

Ivermectin (IVM) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been used as antimicrobials for half a century with impeccable safety records. They prevent virus assemblage within infected cells and inhibit the inflammatory response. COVID-19 is a two phase disease, with the initial “viral phase” followed by severe life-threatening inflammatory disease requiring hospitalisation. Antivirals only work on the early viral phase (as with shingles, influenza and herpes infections).

Poorly constructed studies of the anti-viral HCQ on hospitalised COVID-19 patients mistakenly led to the drug being categorised as a “failed” therapy. That misunderstanding continues to dominate many official sites, despite there being at least 27 clinical studies in early disease – 10 of which were randomised clinical trials – showing a composite level of 63 per cent protection against admission to hospital and/or death. Similar data supported use in prevention of infection (as it did for malaria).

IVM came later, and avoided much of the political noise, but again was missed by many authorities. More than 30 studies have led to impressive meta-analyses, most recently by Therese Lawrie, an epidemiologist. Data from 17 studies showing a reduction of death by 83 per cent was so dramatic that she concluded it was now unethical to include untreated patients as controls.

Both drugs are used extensively in many countries, with dramatic reductions in COVID-19 deaths.

All studies have faults, but we are faced with an horrific pandemic, with few options for early treatment.


Will a Hard-Left Turn Lead to Pushback?


The corruption of the Renaissance Church prompted the Reformation, which in turn sparked a Counter-Reformation of reformist, and more zealous, Catholics.

The cultural excesses and economic recklessness of the Roaring ’20s were followed by the bleak, dour and impoverished years of the Great Depression.

The 1960s counterculture led to Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, as “carefree hippies” turned into careerist “yuppies.”

So social, cultural, economic and political extremism prompts reactions — and sometimes counterreactions.

The Bush-Clinton-Obama continuum of 24 years cemented the bipartisan fusion administrative state. Trump and his “Make America Great Again” agenda were its pushback.

The counterreaction to the populism of the Trump reset — or Trump himself — is as of yet unsure.

Joe Biden’s tenure may mark a return to business as usual of the Bush-Clinton years. Or, more likely, it will accelerate the current hard-left trajectory.

Either way, it seems that Biden is intent on provoking just such a pushback by his record number of early and often radical executive orders — a tactic candidate Biden condemned.

On almost every issue — open borders, blanket amnesties, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, promoting the Green New Deal, and hard-left appointees — Biden is touting positions that likely do not earn 50 percent public support.

When Biden made a Faustian bargain with his party’s hard-left wing of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to win the election, he took on the commitment to absorb some of their agenda and to appoint their ideologues.

But he also soon became either unwilling or unable to stand up to them.

Now they — and the country — are in a revolutionary frenzy. The San Francisco Board of Education has voted to rename more than 40 schools honoring the nation’s best — Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln — largely on racist grounds that they are dead, mostly white males.

Statues continue to fall. Names change.

The iconic dates, origins and nature of America itself continue to be attacked to meet leftist demands. And still, it is not enough for the new McCarthyites.

Social media are banning tens of thousands. Silicon Valley and Wall Street monopolies go after smaller upstart opponents.

A wrong word destroys a lifelong career. Formerly sane pundits now call for curtailing the First Amendment. Thousands of federal troops blanket a now-militarized Washington, D.C.

If Trump’s pushback tried to return to traditions ignored during the Obama years, Biden’s reset promises to become far more radical than Obama’s entire eight years.

Trump likely lost his second pushback term for two reasons — neither of which had anything to do with his reset agenda.

First, the sudden 2020 pandemic, quarantine, recession, summer-long demonstrations and riots, and radical changes in voting laws all ensured that 100 million ballots were not cast on Election Day, derailed a booming economy, and finally wore the people out.

Second, Trump underestimated the multitrillion-dollar power and furor of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the media, Hollywood and the progressive rich. Those forces all coalesced against him and swamped his outspent and outmanned campaign.

With 24/7 blanket ads, news coverage, endorsements and social media messaging, Trump sometimes was easily caricatured as a twittering disrupter. The inert and mute Biden in his basement was reinvented as the sober and judicious Washington “wise man” antidote to Trump’s unpredictability.

Had Biden continued his moderate campaign veneer, the current left-wing radicalism might not have prompted a counterreaction.

Instead, Biden is now unapologetically leading the most radical left-wing movement in the nation’s history.

Pundits thought Biden’s prior hints of a single four-year term would make him a weak lame duck. Instead, the idea of just one term has liberated the 78-year-old Biden. We forget that septuagenarians can be as reckless as 20-year-olds. Some old guys can feel their careers only have a few remaining years and might as well go out with a bang — and a legacy.

For now, Biden enjoys a congressional majority for the next 24 months. He has no plans to run for reelection. He sees both realities as a liberating blank check to accomplish what the much more heralded rock star Barack Obama never could.

Experts assured voters that Biden would work on a bipartisan consensus and bring back “normality.” He would “unite” the country.

That will not happen. How ironic that Biden will not just be pushed and pressured by the radicals whom he brought to power, but he may be leading them forward to cement an even harder-left legacy.

Will there be a reaction to this extremism?

The left is assured that radical changes in voting laws and demography, the fears of COVID-19, the antifa-Black Lives Matter uprising and anger at Trump over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have all permanently changed the electorate — and pushed it further leftward.

If they are wrong, they have instead alienated and insulted the American people, and will reap the whirlwind in 2022 of the wind they are now sowing.



Unity! Democrats pass budget resolutions needed to bypass GOP on big COVID spending package (Examiner)

Healing! Biden's Social Justice Department sends message that some racism is okay with dropped Yale lawsuit (PJ Media)

Obama center in Chicago, estimated at half a billion dollars ($174 million of which will be footed by taxpayers), to break ground this year despite complaints (Fox News)

"I've met constant resistance to my product vision": Parler board terminates CEO John Matze (Fox News)

Major gun-rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League banned from Facebook without explanation (Disrn)

New COVID infections have fallen 45% in the U.S., but vaccines are not the main driver (Daily Mail)

McKinsey reaches $573 million settlement with states for its role in marketing opioids (Forbes)

Russian cheating notwithstanding, U.S. signs five-year New START nuclear arms treaty renewal (UPI)

Europe troop withdrawal plans "on hold," top general says (Politico)

Biden administration to reopen immigrant "overflow facilities" once politically dubbed "kids in cages" (Disrn)

Defense secretary arbitrarily calls for 60-day assessment of extremism within military (Examiner)

Another 779,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week (Forbes)

Tragic shooting in Oklahoma kills one adult, five young children (Disrn)

Texas temporarily blocked from kicking abortion mill Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid (UPI)

Texas Department of Public Safety mistakenly sends Amber Alert featuring "Chucky" doll (Fox News)

Policy: A private fix for public health (City Journal)

Impeachment case absurdly argues Trump was "singularly responsible" for Capitol riot (NY Times)

"He holds no public office from which he can be removed": Lawyers offer Trump's constitutional answer to impeachment article (Daily Wire)

Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell strike deal on Senate power-sharing agreement (Fox News)

Unity! House starts work on coronavirus relief after press secretary warns Biden won't "slow down" for Republicans (Fox News)

Senate confirms Pete "Pothole Problem" Buttigieg as transportation secretary (The Hill)

Critical roadblock: Joe Manchin says he doesn't support raising minimum wage to $15 per hour (The Hill)

Can't live without Trump: CNN prime-time ratings crash 44% in first week of Biden era (Hot Air)

People with COVID antibodies may only need one vaccine dose (Daily Mail)

White House confirms Space Force will continue under Biden administration (Examiner)

Texas lawmakers introduce bills to protect the dignity of women's sports (Examiner)

Local Kroger stores close as Long Beach, California, "hero pay" ordinance backfires (FEE)

Double Standards: John Kerry took private jet to Iceland for environmental award, called it "only choice for somebody like me" (Fox News)

Leftists aim to restore net neutrality rules — and go much further (Examiner)

Policy: How to strike back against Big Tech censorship (Power Line)

Friendly fire: Some of Biden's top economic advisers are pushing back on his stimulus package (Daily Caller)

Totally trustworthy: Pennsylvania secretary of state at the center of Trump election concerns resigns for failing to comply with an unrelated state election law (NY Post)

Bail fund praised by Kamala Harris has twice freed the same rioter. He was just charged again. (Daily Wire)

Stacey Abrams (in addition to BLM) nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (The Hill)

Governor Andrew Cuomo loses nine top health officials after downplaying experts (Fox News)

Who'd a thunk it? Top epidemiologist says double-masking increases infection risk (Disrn)

CBO sees rapid growth recovery, labor force returning to pre-pandemic level by 2022 (CNBC)

Landlords are struggling to make ends meet as CDC extends eviction ban (FEE)

"They are playing with our lives": Locals lash out at Biden canceling Keystone XL (Daily Wire)

Dodge warns that regulations are killing the V8 engine (Auto Blog)

This woman disembowels the pervasive brainwashing of Critical Race Theory in under 60 seconds (Not the Bee)

Biden threatens sanctions against Burma following military coup (Daily Caller)

Seventy-four percent of American teens and young adults embrace moral relativism (Disrn)

SpaceX announces first space flight manned solely by civilians (Examiner)

Anti-vaxxers won't stop harassing a Chattanooga nurse they're convinced is dead (Daily Beast)




Thursday, February 04, 2021

‘New studies are needed’: Switzerland refuses to authorise AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Swiss regulators have said that data submitted by AstraZeneca was not sufficient for it to authorise use of the Anglo-Swedish firm’s COVID-19 vaccine and “new studies” were needed.

The Swissmedic regulatory authority said it had been examining information from AstraZeneca but that was “not yet sufficient to permit authorisation”. “To obtain more information about safety, efficacy and quality, additional data from new studies are needed,” it said in a statement.

Switzerland has so far given the green light to COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It had been expected to authorise the AstraZeneca jab soon, after the neighbouring European Union last week gave the vaccine the go ahead.

But while the EU granted approval for use in all people over the age of 18, several European countries have advised against giving the jabs to people over 65, citing lack of evidence that it was effective among the elderly.

Swissmedic said a meeting of its external advisory body on Tuesday had confirmed its interim assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine data. “The data currently available do not point to a positive decision regarding benefits and risks,” it said.

“To obtain a conclusive assessment, the applicant will among other things have to submit additional efficacy data from a Phase 3 trial under way in North and South America, and these will have to be analysed. “As soon as the results have been received, a temporary authorisation according to the rolling procedure could be issued at very short notice,” it added.

Although the European Medicines Agency recommended the AstraZeneca jab for adults of all ages last week, several countries have advised against administering it to older people.

Germany has said it will not advise over 65s to get it, Italy also recommended alternatives for people aged over 55 and Poland has authorised its use for under-60s only.

In France, where President Emmanuel Macron said last week that the AstraZeneca jab was “quasi-ineffective,” a lab will start producing a rival vaccine by US firm Moderna.

And another French lab will begin making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in April, said Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher.

French pride has also taken a hit after its pharma giant Sanofi said its COVID vaccine would not be ready until later this year.

Further adding to global supply, China said it plans to provide 10 million doses of COVID-19 jabs to the WHO-backed international vaccine distribution program Covax.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine works better if there is a three month time lag between the first and second doses the latest trial results show. The original human clinical trials found the vaccine was 62 per cent effective when the second dose was given 28 days after the first. The new research shows efficacy climbs to 91.7 per cent when there is a three month time lag between doses.

And, it found just a single dose of the vaccine offered considerable protection.


A cheap, blood-thinning drug could kill off COVID-19

Australian researchers have turned a cheap 100 year blood thinning drug into a nasal spray that could block COVID-19, stop it spreading and treat the illness.

The team of Melbourne scientists, which includes Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton, is seeking funding to test the product, containing the blood thinning medication heparin, on people in hotel quarantine — to see if it works.

It comes as human trials begin to gauge whether AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 injection also works as a nasal spray.

Australia’s leading science research body, the CSIRO, had tested the vaccine as a nasal spray in ferrets — ahead of the human trials — and was waiting for the publication of promising results showing its impact on stopping infection spread.

“We’re confident. We have preclinical studies which are impressive at the moment,” CSIRO’s Rob Grenfell told News Corp.

“We also understand that our colleagues in the UK are conducting various ways of administering, in particular the AstraZeneca vaccine to demonstrate … whether or not it can actually cause what we call nasal neutralisation,” he said.

Another COVID-19 busting nasal spray being developed by Australian company ENA was also in preclinical trials.

And, Melbourne-based pharmaceutical company Starpharma hoped to roll out a nasal spray in Europe next month that is 99.99 per cent effective against COVID-19 when applied before or after exposure.

Nasal spray formulations would work as an accompaniment to COVID-19 vaccinations.

In the case of heparin, Australians would still receive COVID-19 vaccines but the nasal spray would be used three times a day during virus outbreaks, long haul travel and by frontline health and quarantine workers to provide immediate protection by blocking the virus entering the body through the nose.

And, unlike vaccines, heparin would work to block even mutated forms of the COVID-19 virus.

The medication is off patent, so would cost just $10 per bottle to produce and likely retail for $20 a bottle.

“The concept is that the intra-nasal heparin will, in fact, prevent the virus from locking onto the ACE2 receptor (in the nasal passage), and prevent it from being internalised and replicating and be associated shedding and spreading,” Monash University pharmacy expert Professor Michelle McIntosh said.

“We’ve been able to show in a petri dish that this concept works. And we have commenced some animal studies,” she said.

The team working on the heparin spray includes researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne, St Vincent’s Hospital, Northern Health, Monash University and the CSIRO.

They needs $4 million for clinical studies, which would see the nasal spray tested on 100 people in hotel quarantine in Melbourne and at the Howard Springs centre near Darwin.

The trials would focus on whether the spray blocks the virus and stops infected people shedding the virus.


A Different Type of Secession Is Already Happening in the USA

Lately, there has been so much frustration with the last election and the direction of our country that some Trump supporters have been talking about “secession.” Many conservatives and libertarians are asking if it makes sense for certain states to leave the union the way South Carolina left in 1860, after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States.

Whether it makes “sense” or not, we can be assured that it will not happen. Although the South Carolina state legislature voted in November of 1860 to initiate the process of secession, no state legislature would do that today. This is because most modern state legislatures, even conservative ones, do not have many members who are angry enough at the federal government to support seceding from it.

Never forget that many individual state legislators are professional politicians. They may disagree with some of the policies that flow from Washington D.C., but they are not angry enough to vote for secession, and that is what is required to secede, anger. While an official secession will not happen, there will be a different type. In fact, it has already started in our country.

Instead of state legislatures, dominated by urban dwellers, voting for secession, Americans who live in rural and some suburban areas are executing a secession of their own. They are disassociating themselves from the lifestyles, cultural mores, laws, and self-inflicted wounds exhibited in our large cities.

Of course, rural Americans are already living in areas removed from large cities, but geography is only one of the many differences. An even more striking distinction involves political ideology and attitudes on an array of issues like criminal justice.

Citizens living outside of ultra-progressive urban areas do not accept what is going on in large cities. Surely, the thinking is, “I am not one of them. They are different from me. We do not agree on basic things, like what laws should govern human conduct.”

This mental disassociation did not exist in previous times of crisis in our country. There was much more national unity in December of 1941 or even September of 2001. At that time, rural Americans and city dwellers still had many shared values and followed the same laws. Clearly, the similarity in culture and politics between rural and urban Americans is dying, and the pace of its death march is quickening.

This same type of disassociation is also felt by many Americans living in suburban areas. They recognize their way of life is incompatible with that exhibited in large cities. This results in suburban dwellers venturing into cities less often. Once there, they feel unsafe and unwelcome. According to the FBI, crime rates in our urban areas are significantly higher than in suburban and rural areas.

More crime is not the only difference Americans notice in large cities. There are also different laws regarding decency, civility, and cleanliness. Unfortunately, manners and traditional customs are rarely, if ever, practiced.

Many horrific things can happen to you in a large city without warning. You can be struck from behind in a “Knockout Attack” or wounded by a stray bullet. You can be surrounded by violent demonstrators who scream at you and call you evil because of your wealth, race, religious views, or political beliefs. This is not a place that feels comfortable or feels like home.

Over the past few decades, millions of Americans who support traditional American values, and even some who value safety, have already left our large cities. They are disgusted with the political corruption, high taxes, racial politics, homelessness and, over the past year, the excessive Covid-19 lockdown orders.

People leaving are also those who value their second amendment rights. They do not want to be charged with a crime if they have to defend their home. Who can forget what happened to Mark and Patricia McCloskey in St. Louis?

On June 28, 2020, their neighborhood was overrun by protesters and a mob was descending on the McCloskey’s home. The couple waved firearms in front of their home to encourage the protesters to leave. No gun was ever fired at any of the trespassers. Incredibly, Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey were charged with the unlawful use of a weapon even though they feared for their lives. If convicted, they could face up to four years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

As this trend continues and cities like St. Louis, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., and New York City decline even more, these areas will simultaneously become more similar. They already have much in common politically. Future cooperation will likely continue on issues such as drug legalization, the treatment of homelessness, gun control, permissive law enforcement, and providing a sanctuary and support for illegal aliens. With so much commonality, these cities will forge even closer bonds in the days ahead.

With unworkable policies and massive bureaucracies, these cities will need greater and greater subsidies from productive, tax-paying citizens living in rural and suburban America. Urban areas have been failing financially for many years, but as the policies become more progressive, the costs are escalating even higher.

In large cities, politicians spend vast sums of money on enormous municipal government systems which include inefficient departments featuring payrolls that are too large and too expensive. Other characteristics include broken infrastructure, rampant homelessness, and an overly generous municipal pension system.

How much longer will productive taxpayers living in rural and suburban communities agree to subsidize large cities? Sooner or later, these citizens will say “Enough is enough, we want out!” They will want the urban centers to form their own “United Cities of America” with their own laws and lifestyles.

Simultaneously, Americans living in non-urban areas will want to forge closer bonds of their own as similarities are recognized even more.

The secession of 1860 will not happen again, but a different kind is already taking place.


Parler fires CEO John Matze with social media platform largely offline following US Capitol riots

Parler, a social media platform favoured by US conservatives, has dismissed chief executive John Matze. Mr Matze confirmed the move to Reuters, after it was originally reported by Fox News, and said that he had not been given a settlement.

"On January 29, 2021, the Parler board controlled by Rebekah Mercer decided to immediately terminate my position as CEO of Parler. I did not participate in this decision," Mr Matze said in a memo sent to Parler staff, originally reported by Fox News.

He told Reuters that Parler now has an "executive committee" consisting of Matthew Richardson and Mark Meckler.

Ms Mercer, Mr Richardson, Mr Meckler and Parler did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Parler remains largely offline after being dropped by Seattle-based Amazon's cloud-hosting division and the app stores of Apple and Alphabet's Google following the January 6 siege of the US Capitol.

The companies cited Parler's record of policing violent content, after far-right groups spread violent rhetoric on the platform ahead of the unrest in Washington.

Founded in 2018, Parler — which claims it has over 12 million users — has styled itself as a "free speech-driven" space.

The app has largely attracted US conservatives who disagree with rules around content on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Mr Matze told Reuters on January 13 that Parler may be offline for good, but later pledged it would return stronger.




Wednesday, February 03, 2021

AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will not be recommended for over-65s in France or Sweden as countries follow Germany’s lead

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will not be recommended for over-65s in France or Sweden, the countries' health ministries announced today.

It comes after Germany advised against administering the jab to those over 65 and Emmanuel Macron claimed it was 'almost ineffective' for the age bracket.

Continental objections to the jab last week came amid a furious row between the Bloc and AstraZeneca over lagging supply, which has seen newly-unshackled Brexit Britain storm ahead in its immunisation roll-out.

Stockholm and Paris today agreed with Berlin that there was not enough data to show how the vaccine affects elderly patients.

Boris Johnson and UK health chiefs have insisted that the jab, made by Swedish-British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, is effective for all age groups.

But pouring fuel on the row again today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Britain of compromising on safety by giving swift approval to the jab.

Brussels last week descended into bitter attacks on Britain and AstraZeneca, which it accused of reneging on it contractual obligations to deliver the jab, with suspicions raised that the company had supplied the UK with the EU's doses.

The Commission is also in exploratory talks with Novavax (US, recombinant spike protein, efficacy unknown) for up to 200 million doses and with Valneva (French, inactivated virus vaccine, efficacy unknown) for up to 60 million doses.

Mr Johnson said on Friday that the vaccine 'is very good and efficacious' after health officials in Berlin warned that there was 'insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older.'

AstraZeneca has been open about their initial tests in which only 10 per cent of the participants were 65 or older. However, there are trials ongoing throughout the world to prove its efficacy further in the older age groups.

Amid EU rancour last Friday, the European Medicines Agency, the Bloc's regulator, granted approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups. The British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the jab in December, well before its European counterparts.

As a result of the fast approval and Britain's investment in its vaccine programme, the UK - which finally quit the EU on January 1 - has taken the lead in the roll-out stakes. As of Sunday, Britain had dished out 14.42 jabs per 100 people, while Germany has only managed 2.95 and France 2.35.

The UK committed £1.67 billion to ordering doses, while the EU spent only £1.57 billion for its 27 member states. That works out to £25.00 per capita for Britain, compared to £3.51 for Europe.

Germany's medicines regulator, STIKO, did not reveal the specific data used to come to their conclusion about not recommending the jab for over-65s.

But last week as the jab war raged between London and Brussels, two prominent German media outlets claimed the efficacy for over-65s was below 10 per cent. The reports were firmly rejected by AstraZeneca as well as by the German health ministry. 'A false claim does not become true just because it is repeated,' a German health ministry spokesman said of the reports.

He noted that it is a known fact that the AstraZeneca trials involved fewer older people than other manufacturers'. But 'that the efficacy is only eight percent is incomprehensible and in our view, wrong,' he added.

STIKO said that apart from the 'limitation' in data on older people, the vaccine was 'considered appropriate' for 18 to 64-year-olds.

British regulators had said that 660 older people took part in the Oxford AstraZeneca trials, acknowledging that there were too few to derive an efficacy figure for that specific group.

The trials showed one out of 341 older vaccine recipients testing positive for Covid-19, compared to one out of 319 who received a dummy jab - making a senior-specific comparison almost pointless.

But the vaccine did generate antibodies in all the over-65s who received two doses of the jab, which AstraZeneca cited as evidence that they had 'strong immune responses to the vaccine'.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said that older people had not been vaccinated until later in the trial because 'very ethical' Oxford scientists wanted to confirm there would be no negative side-effects. 'They're very ethical, and very academic. So they didn't want to vaccinate older people until they had accumulated a lot of safety data in the 18 to 55 group,' he said. 'They said it was not ethical to vaccinate old people until they had enough safety data in younger people.

'Other companies took this risk, went ahead and vaccinated older people faster or earlier. If you start earlier, you have more data. Essentially, because Oxford started vaccinating older people later, we don't have a huge number of older people who have been vaccinated.'

The physical roll-out of the vaccine is headquartered from an NHS office in London, with doses sent to more than 1,400 vaccine sites across the country.

It is easily the biggest vaccination drive in the history of the health service and many believe it will become an annual programme.

Britain used emergency procedures to grant market approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, and signed a contract three months earlier than the EU, which used a slower approval process.

The EU and many of its 27 members have faced criticism over their sluggish rollout, with fewer than 10million people getting a dose so far across the entire bloc.

Three vaccines are so far authorised for use across the EU's 27 member countries: one by German outfit BioNTech with US giant Pfizer; one by US company Moderna; and most recently one by Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca.

And chemicals giant Bayer announced that from 2022 it would produce a coronavirus vaccine that fellow German pharmaceuticals company CureVac is developing.

CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said his company would also produce several hundred million doses of its own vaccine by the end of 2021.

CureVac's mRNA vaccine has yet to receive the green light from regulators, but German health minister Jens Spahn said it was 'on its way to approval in the coming weeks'.

French pharma group Sanofi agreed last week to help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

And the EU was again shown to be lagging when the Novavax trial results were published last week showing 89.3 per cent efficacy.

While Britain has 60million doses ordered, the EU has only conducted 'exploratory talks' with the manufacturer, which were completed in December.

Even then, the 200million doses envisaged in an 'exploratory contract' are a smaller stockpile when adjusted for population size than Britain has ordered.

Each EU member state is responsible for its own rollout. Most are giving priority to the elderly and frontline health workers.

Almost all the vaccines require two jabs for a full vaccination. (Johnson & Johnson is aiming for a single-shot regimen, subject to trials and EMA approval.)

While the price of each vaccine has been kept secret in the European Commission's contracts, a Belgian minister's tweet in December - deleted afterwards - gave a breakdown.

The Moderna vaccine was listed as most expensive, with Brussels paying 14.70 euros a dose. The BioNTech/Pfizer one 12 euros. The AstraZeneca vaccine came in at 1.78 euros a dose.


British legislator calls for widespread vitamin D rollout following 82% reduction in COVID-19 deaths in Spain

British Member of Parliament David Davis is urging the British government to strengthen its vitamin D supplementation program for people at-risk of COVID-19 following an impressive precedent set by Andalusia in Spain.

Speaking before the House of Commons on Thursday, Davis said that Britain should follow the lead of Andalusia, which distributed calcifediol, a vitamin D supplement, to care home residents last November. Since then, the Spanish region’s COVID-19 deaths dropped by 82 percent.

Because of this, Davis is imploring the British government to increase its dosage recommendations and implement a widespread vitamin D rollout.

The state already provides free vitamin D supplies to care home residents under the Public Health England‘s advice that they get 10 micrograms (mcg) daily for protection. However, Davis said this amount is too small to have a significant effect and the program should be for all at-risk populations.

But health officials said that there’s not enough evidence just yet for them to authorize or recommend taking vitamin D for treatment. This was despite a mountain of studies showing vitamin D deficiency can predispose people to severe COVID-19.


Fauci Concedes 'There’s No Data That Indicates' Double-Masking Is Effective

Last week, Dr. Anthony claimed on NBC’s “Today” that wearing two masks “just makes common sense.”

“I mean, this is a physical covering to prevent droplets and virus to get in. So if you have a physical covering with one layer, and you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci said.

A week earlier, the New York Times had called the practice of double-masking a new “fashion trend” and a “sensible” and “easy way” to reduce your risk of catching COVID-19, but Fauci’s remarks really set off an intense public debate over whether Americans should start double-masking, after being told for nearly year that wearing a single mask and social distancing was adequate, which also came after Fauci told the American people in March 2020, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.”

If you’re getting confused, you’re not alone, because a mere five days after saying that double-masking was “common sense,” Fauci seemed to walk back that statement.

“There are many people who feel, you know if you really wanna have an extra little bit of protection ‘maybe I should put two masks on.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s no data that indicates that that is going to make a difference. and that’s the reason why the CDC has not changed their recommendations.”

How does he go from saying double-masking is “common sense” to “there’s no data that indicates that that is going to make a difference” in five days? Shouldn’t we expect more from the highest-paid employee of the federal government? If Fauci admits there’s no data to support that double-masking will actually make a difference, why make the public believe they should be doing it in the first place? It was bad enough when the New York Times was quite literally fawning over the practice, but how many people bought into the practice because Dr. Fauci said it was common sense, despite the lack of data proving it?

Of course, Fauci is the same guy who praised Governor Cuomo and his COVID-19 response, so, as far as I’m concerned, Fauci lost all credibility last summer.


NIH Revises Treatment Guidelines for Ivermectin for the Treatment of COVID-19 Ivermectin is Now a Therapeutic Option for Doctors & Prescribers

One week after Dr. Paul Marik and Dr. Pierre Kory—founding members of the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC)— along with Dr. Andrew Hill, researcher and consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), presented their data before the NIH Treatment Guidelines Panel, the NIH has upgraded their recommendation on ivermectin, making it an option for use in COVID-19.

This new designation upgraded the status of ivermectin from “against” to “neither for nor against”, which is the same recommendation given to monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma, both widely used across the nation. By no longer recommending against ivermectin use, doctors should feel more open in prescribing ivermectin as another therapeutic option for the treatment of COVID-19. This may clear its path towards FDA emergency use approval.

"Ivermectin is one of the world’s safest, cheapest and most widely available drugs,” noted Dr. Kory, President of the FLCCC Alliance. “The studies we presented to the NIH revealed high levels of statistical significance showing large magnitude benefit in transmission rates, need for hospitalization, and death. What’s more, the totality of trials data supporting ivermectin is without precedent.”

In its ivermectin recommendations update, the NIH also indicated they will continue to review additional trials as they are released.

“We are encouraged that the NIH has moved off of its August 27 recommendation against the use of ivermectin for COVID-19,” continued Kory. “That recommendation was made just as the numerous compelling studies for ivermectin were starting to roll in. New studies are still coming in, and as they are received and reviewed, it is our hope that the NIH’s recommendation for the use of ivermectin will be the strongest recommendation for its use as possible.”




Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Why is the South African Covid variant causing panic? And do vaccines work against it?

Health officials today began a mass coronavirus testing programme in eight areas of England to try to contain the South African variant of the virus. Eleven unrelated cases of the fast-spreading virus have already been spotted across the country, raising fears that it is out of control.

Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed 105 cases of the variant through random screening of positive test swabs, suggesting it is already widespread.

Mutations found in the virus mean it is faster to spread than older versions and it may also be able to slip past the immune systems of people who have already recovered from Covid.

Here's what we know about the South African variant so far:

Scientists first noticed in December 2020 that the variant, named B.1.351, was genetically different in a way that could change how it acts.

It was picked up through random genetic sampling of swabs submitted by people testing positive for the virus, and was first found in Nelson Mandela Bay, around Port Elizabeth.

Using a computer to analyse the genetic code of the virus – which is viewed as a sequence of letters that correspond to thousands of molecules called nucleotides – can help experts to see where the code has changed and how this affects the virus.

There are two key mutations on the South African variant that appear to give it an advantage over older versions of the virus – these are called N501Y and E484K.

Both are on the spike protein of the virus, which is a part of its outer shell that it uses to stick to cells inside the body, and which the immune system uses as a target.

They appear to make the virus spread faster and may give it the ability to slip past immune cells that have been made in response to a previous infection or a vaccine.

The South African coronavirus variant may slip past parts of the immune system in as many as half of people infected with different versions in the past, scientists fear.

Researchers say that a mutation on a specific part of the virus's outer spike protein appears to make it able to 'escape' antibodies. Antibodies are substances made by the immune system that are key to destroying viruses or marking them for destruction by white blood cells.

South African academics found that 48 per cent of blood samples from people who had been infected in the past did not show an immune response to the new variant. One researcher said it was 'clear that we have a problem'.

Professor Penny Moore, the researcher behind the project, claimed people who were sicker with coronavirus the first time and had a stronger immune response appeared less likely to get reinfected.

Antibodies are a major part of the immunity that is created by vaccines – although not the only part – so if the virus continues evolving to escape from them it could mean that vaccines have to be redesigned and given out again.

But experts so far say they have no reason to believe vaccines won't work, which may be because they produce a stronger immune response than a very mild infection, and because they produce various different types of immune cells.

Professor Moore told a scientific panel meeting in January: 'When you test the blood of people infected in the first wave and you ask "Do those antibodies in that blood recognise the new virus?" you find that in 50 per cent of cases – nearly half of cases – there's no longer any recognition of the new variant.

'In the other half of those individuals, however, there is some recognition that remains. I should add those are normally people who were incredibly ill, hospitalised and mounted a very robust response to the virus.'

The E484K mutation found on the South African variant is more concerning because it tampers with the way immune cells latch onto the virus and destroy it.

Antibodies – substances made by the immune system – appear to be less able to recognise and attack viruses with the E484K mutation if they were made in response to a version of the virus that didn't have the mutation.

Antibodies are extremely specific and can be outwitted by a virus that changes radically, even if it is essentially the same virus.

Vaccine makers, however, have tried to reassure the public that their vaccines will still work well and will only be made slightly less effective by the variant.

According to the PANGO Lineages website, the variant has been officially recorded in 31 other countries worldwide.

The UK has had the second highest number of cases after South Africa itself.

So far, Pfizer and Moderna's jabs appear only slightly less effective against the South African variant.

Researchers took blood samples from vaccinated patients and exposed them to an engineered virus with the worrying E484K mutation found on the South African variant.

They found there was a noticeable reduction in the production of antibodies, which are virus-fighting proteins made in the blood after vaccination or natural infection.

But it still made enough to hit the threshold required to kill the virus and to prevent serious illness, they believe.

There are still concerns about how effective a single dose of vaccine will be against the strain. So far Pfizer and Moderna's studies have only looked at how people given two doses react to the South African variant.

Studies into how well Oxford University/AstraZeneca's jab will work against the South African strain are still ongoing.

Johnson & Johnson actually trialled its jab in South Africa while the variant was circulating and confirmed that it blocked 57 per cent of coronavirus infections in South Africa, which meets the World Health Organization's 50 per cent efficacy threshold.


Lockdowns cause 10 times more harm than good, says peer-reviewed study

A Canadian infectious-disease specialist who initially supported the lockdowns in response to the coronavirus has changed his mind, concluding in his peer-reviewed study that the harm is 10 times worse than the benefits.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Dr. Ari Joffe explained that he supported the lockdowns after "initial false data" suggested the infection fatality rate was up to 2% or 3% and that more than 80% of the population would be infected.

"But emerging data showed that the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%, that the median infection fatality rate in people under 70 years old is 0.05%, and that the high-risk group is older people especially those with severe co-morbidities," he said in the interview, published Jan. 9.

Joffe's paper is titled "COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink." He's a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, and a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Alberta.

Explaining further to the Toronto paper why he initially supported the lockdowns, Joffe noted he's not trained to make public policy decisions.

"I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects," he said. "I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing."

He listed the "staggering" amount of "collateral damage" due to the lockdowns.

Food insecurity [82-132 million more people]

Severe poverty [70 million more people]

Maternal and under age-5 mortality from interrupted healthcare [1.7 million more people]

Infectious diseases deaths from interrupted services [millions of people with tuberculosis, malaria and HIV]

School closures for children [affecting children's future earning potential and lifespan]

Interrupted vaccination campaigns for millions of children, and "intimate partner violence" for millions of women.

"In high-income countries, adverse effects also occur from delayed and interrupted healthcare, unemployment, loneliness, deteriorating mental health, increased opioid crisis deaths, and more," he told the Toronto newspaper.

False dichotomy

He pointed out that government and public health experts did not conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis of various responses to the pandemic.

A full cost-benefit analysis was the aim of his study, and early in his research he realized that "framing decisions as between saving lives versus saving the economy is a false dichotomy."

"There is a strong long-run relationship between economic recession and public health," he explained. "This makes sense, as government spending on things like health care, education, roads, sanitation, housing, nutrition, vaccines, safety, social security nets, clean energy and other services determines the population well-being and life-expectancy."

He said he also had underestimated the effects of loneliness and unemployment on public health.

"It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan and chronic diseases," he told the Toronto paper.

He also took into consideration that "in making policy decisions there are trade-offs to consider, costs and benefits, and we have to choose between options that each have tragic outcomes in order to advocate for the least people to die as possible."

"It turned out that the costs of lockdowns are at least 10 times higher than the benefits. That is, lockdowns cause far more harm to population wellbeing than COVID-19 can," he told the Sun.

In contrast to Joffe, a top coronavirus adviser for Joe Biden was against lockdowns before he was for them. Michael T. Osterholm, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, formerly advocated the "focused protection" strategy now promoted by epidemiologists at Stanford and Oxford advising Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: With a 99% survival rate for most, according to the Centers for Disease Control, let the healthy go about their business while protecting the vulnerable, the people over 70 with multiple life-threatening diseases.

Osterholm warned in a March 21 op-ed for the Washington Post of the high economic and social costs of "the near-draconian lockdowns" in effect at the time in China and Italy, which ultimately don't reduce the number of cases. In November, however, he advocated a national lockdown of four to six weeks.

The CDC estimates a 99.997% survival rate for those from birth to age 19 who contract COVID-19. It's 99.98% for ages 20-49, 99.5% for 50-69 and 94.6% for those over 70. Significantly, those who died of coronavirus, according to the CDC, had an average of 2.6 comorbidities, meaning more than two chronic diseases along with COVID-19. Overall, the CDC says, just 6% of the people counted as COVID-19 deaths died of COVID-19 alone.

Focused protection

Joffe said he now supports the "focused protection" approach in which "we aim to protect those truly at high-risk of COVID-19 mortality, including older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities and those in nursing homes and hospitals."

In the interview with the Toronto Sun, he discussed the "contagion of fear" that guided policymakers, based on the initial false modelling and forecasting.

"Popular media focused on absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths independent of context," he said. "There has been a sheer one-sided focus on preventing infection numbers."

Joffe cited economist Paul Frijters writing that it was "all about seeming to reduce risks of infection and deaths from this one particular disease, to the exclusion of all other health risks or other life concerns."

"Fear and anxiety spread," Joffe said, "and we elevated COVID-19 above everything else that could possibly matter."

"Our cognitive biases prevented us from making optimal policy: we ignored hidden `statistical deaths' reported at the population level; we preferred immediate benefits to even larger benefits in the future, we disregarded evidence that disproved our favorite theory, and escalated our commitment in the set course of action," he said.

Joffe pointed out that in Canada in 2018, there were more than 23,000 deaths per month and more than 775 deaths per day.

On Nov. 21, for example, COVID-19 accounted for 5.23% of deaths in Canada and 3.06% of global deaths.

"Each day in non-pandemic years, over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from tuberculosis," he noted. "We need to consider the tragic COVID-19 numbers in context."

He called for taking an "effortful pause" to "reconsider the information available to us."

"We need to calibrate our response to the true risk, make rational cost-benefit analyses of the trade-offs, and end the lockdown groupthink," Joffe said.



Monday, February 01, 2021

‘Immunological unicorn’discovered in Australia

In a high security laboratory in Sydney, where a select group of researchers go to extreme lengths to work with samples of blood and swabs containing Covid-19, virologist Stuart Turville found a unicorn.

“A beautiful, immunological unicorn,” Turville, an associate professor with the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, said.

“We found him when we were analysing samples from the Red Cross blood bank from people who have had Covid. And he had the most amazing Covid response I’ve ever seen.”

The unicorn is a 50-year-old father of three named Damian living on the NSW Central Coast who developed symptoms of Covid-19 in March. His symptoms were severe enough to take him to the hospital emergency department, but after being given oxygen he was sent home the same day. Bizarrely, when he was tested for the virus with the gold-standard PCR nasal swab, the lab kept returning a negative result for Covid-19.

“When they initially diagnosed him they couldn’t find virus in his nasopharyngeal area [the upper part of the throat behind the nose],” Turville told Guardian Australia.

“So they kept on swabbing him and swabbing him, but they couldn’t find it. He kept on saying to them, ‘Look, I’m sick, my son’s got it, I have to have it’. And it was only when they looked at his blood, his serum, they said; ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve had it. And you’ve got the most amazing immune response’.”

Most people who have Covid-19 develop a decent immune response.

“But this guy’s response is 100 to 1,000-fold that,” Turville said.

“His response is that good. To put it in context, we are eight or nine months out since he was infected. And he still ranks in the top 1% of responders, so what that means is if we could ever bottle a vaccine that could mimic his response, you’d want to do it. I would say that we’re going to see him responding just as well probably a year out, and maybe after about two years we might start to see some response decay.”

Usually, patients who show a particularly robust immune response to Covid-19 end up in an intensive care ward. In many of these severely unwell patients, the immune system overreacts in what is called a “cytokine storm”. Cytokines are proteins that can trigger an inflammatory response so aggressive that not only are virus cells attacked but cells in the blood vessels, urinary tract, organs and blood vessels are also destroyed, leading to organ failure and sometimes death. For some reason Damian’s response, though strong, did not bring on such an aggressive storm.

“That’s something we’re trying to get our head around,” Turville said.

Not only is Damian’s immune response lasting but it has not weakened much over time, offering strong ongoing protection against the virus, which is what makes him so unique. A Public Health England study found that while most people who have the virus are protected from reinfection for at least five months, some are reinfected, and even asymptomatic people can harbour high levels of the virus in their noses and mouths, and therefore risk passing it on to others.

After being told about his unicorn status, Damian offered himself up for medical research. Turville estimates that Damian has donated blood and plasma upwards of 15 times.

Hundreds of recovered Australians like Damian have now donated blood so their plasma, teeming with antibodies, can be separated out and used to make batches of serum through a collaboration between the Kirby Institute and manufacturer CSL. This serum is then given to severely unwell patients around the world to treat their disease.

“It also means that if the virus emerges again in Australia and takes off, we’re battle ready,” Turville said.

“Damian’s serum has contributed to many batches of these CSL products. Whenever we get a batch of serum that is particularly amazing, we say ‘OK, he’s in this batch’. That’s how impressive his response is.”

Some of the findings about Damian have been published in a pre-print paper about “high and elite responders,” which describes how “patients with high and robust Covid-19 responses were more likely male, hospitalised, and of older age”.

It is work like this that has researchers from the Kirby Institute’s containment lab – more scientifically referred to as a Physical Containment Level 3 (PC3) Laboratory – occupied at times until 3am in the morning. They also examine samples taken from returned travellers in hotel quarantine, growing the different variants in the lab to see how they behave. It is one of a handful of high-security labs around Australia where the virus is being studied.


A Plan to Make Trump and America Great Again

Wayne Allyn Root

I am the author of the bestselling book "TRUMP RULES." My book identifies the top 10 rules that made former President Donald Trump one of the greatest winners in world history in business, branding, real estate, celebrity, television, publishing and politics. Trump is the only person in world history to reach the pinnacle of all of those fields. And the only person to become both a billionaire and president of the United States. It's not a bad resume.

Many critics think Trump's winning streak ended with a presidential loss. I disagree. I know the man. I understand the man. I know what comes next. It may be Trump's greatest chapter yet.

Simply because Trump is relentless. He may be the most relentless human in world history. The secret to Trump's success is "the art of the comeback." Every time he is given up for dead, he makes the biggest comeback yet. He never gives up or gives in. He finds a way to turn lemons into lemonade. You can't beat someone like that. You can't bet against someone like that. As I always say, NBAT: Never Bet Against Trump.

Before I get to the details of the comeback, let's define "winning." Trump's critics think he just lost and, therefore, he's no longer a winner. Not true. Back in 2016, Trump won the biggest upset in political history. This time around, he added 11 million new votes. His 74 million votes were the most votes for any incumbent president in America's history. Trump also received more votes than any Republican in history.

Sorry, Trump haters, but that's called "winning" at superhuman levels.

Nonetheless, Trump lost and Joe Biden won. Democrats, RINOS (Republicans in Name Only) and the "fake news" media all believe Trump is finished. So, now it's time for the greatest comeback in history -- for Trump and America.

Here's my game plan for how Trump can make Trump and America great again.

First, Trump must become the kingmaker of the GOP. The Trump Army is 74 million strong. The Republican Party belongs to Trump. He should remake the party in his image.

In some ways, his defeat was empowering. As president, Trump couldn't get rid of RINOS and never-Trumpers, because he needed their votes. But from the outside, he can remake the party, elect allies and end the careers of the GOP traitors who stabbed him in the back. Are you listening, Rep. Liz Cheney?

Trump should recruit, endorse and campaign for Trump Republicans in each GOP primary where they're running against RINOS, never-Trumpers and backstabbers. Seventy-four million Trump voters will vote for his chosen candidates in GOP primaries. By 2022, the GOP will be 100% remade in Trump's image.

Secondly, Trump should spend the next four years fixing voter fraud at the state level. Trump should recruit his billionaire buddies to put up hundreds of millions to attack this problem. Trump's goal should be to reform election law in just the handful of states that cost him the election: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona.

If Trump spends his time, money and focus on reforming election laws in those six states, the GOP will be back in business in 2022 and 2024.

Thirdly, Trump needs to raise billions from his billionaire backers to build TMN: Trump Media Network. That should include a national cable TV network; a national talk radio network; a new version of Drudge Report (called Trump Report); and conservative versions of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Conservatives will never again have to depend on the mainstream media or Silicon Valley to broadcast their news and opinions.

Only Trump has the money, brand and fundraising ability to change the media and social media landscape like this. And think of the amazing bonus: Not only will 74 million Trump voters have permanent places to communicate but if we all move away from mainstream media and social media, they will collapse. Trump will cripple his enemies and put many of them out of business.

Lastly, here's one more idea: Trump, run for Congress in 2022. Pick any GOP-friendly district in Florida, where you're loved, primarily one run by a RINO who stabbed you in the back. You'll win the primary by a landslide. Since it's a GOP district, you're guaranteed victory in the general election. Once in Congress, after the GOP has regained control in the midterms and most of the candidates are loyal to you, you'll be elected speaker of the House. From that platform, you can lead the impeachment of President Biden.

Let the Trump comeback begin. Seventy-four million of us can't wait.



The White House refuses to address GameStop controversy (Fox News)

Congressional committees to hold hearings on trading fallout (Examiner)

Someone's Got Some 'Splainin' to Do: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen received nearly $810,000 from hedge fund embroiled in GameStop debacle (Examiner)

Yellen was also paid by Chinese Communist Party-linked group that even The Washington Post highlighted (National Pulse)

Nancy Pelosi's Tesla stock purchase before Biden's "Buy American" EO raises ethical and legal questions (PJ Media)

Seriously, this story reads like a courtroom drama: "The Trump case, which the board has 90 days to consider since receiving it last week, is seen as a crucial test of the panel's legitimacy. The board will begin taking public comment on it on Friday."

Biden revives international abortion funding even though 77% oppose it (World)

"The radical Democrat agenda must be stopped": Donald Trump commits to campaigning for Republicans in 2022 (Post Millennial)

Orwellian gun control bill proposed by Sheila Jackson-Lee would create public registry of all firearms (Bearing Arms)

China flexes its military muscle in Taiwan and Philippines (National Review) | Secretary of State Antony Blinken issues early warning to China after "verbal threat of war" (Examiner)

Capitol Police chief calls for "permanent fencing" around (ahem) the People's House (Examiner)

Biden Pentagon says Trump right-sized Afghanistan force, but officials won't commit to full withdrawal (Examiner)

"The Pearl family is in complete shock by the decision": Islamist convicted of beheading WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl acquitted (Reuters)

Maryland church donates $500K in reparations to "atone" for slavery (NY Post)

Godzilla is now a "gender-neutral icon" because there wasn't enough woke insanity in the world already (Not the Bee)

Novavax says its COVID vaccine is more than 89% effective (CNBC)

U.S. economy slowed sharply in fourth quarter (NPR)

Dumbest bank robber ever? Armed bandit in Chicago demands $10,000 but then hands teller his state ID upon request (Daily Mail)



Sunday, January 31, 2021

A conservative defence of the Soviet Union

The Left defended the Soviet Union right up to its implosion. But conservatives think of it as indefensible. Vladimir Vladimrovich Putin mourns its loss. I am very pro-Russian but could see nothing good about the Soviet system.

Several older ladies of Russian ancestry inhabit my social environment. One I get on particularly well with is very Right-wing. She admires Donald Trump and thinks Muslim refugees should be sent back to the hellholes where they came from, for instance. So I was a little surprised to hear her express great regret for the loss of the Soviet system in Russia. What was that about?

Her reasons were in fact straightforward. As a Russian-speaker, she watches the Russian news so is much more aware of what is going on there than most Westerners. And she also has Russian relatives in several parts of the old Soviet empire with whom she keeps in touch.

And what particularly grieves her is the loss of the peace and unity that prevailed in the Soviet system. There were no race riots, Muslim uprisings or nationalist mini-wars in the old days. People from different etnicities could and did live anywhere in the Soviet empire and lived their lives in peace together with the people around them. Russians could live in places like Kazakhstan and still live normal Russian lives there without fear of hostility towards them. And it worked the other way: Muslim Chechens could and did move to Moscow for the economic opportunities there without harassing Russians about Jihad.

In more recent times that has all changed. Eastern and Western Ukraine are at war with one-another, Georgia is openly hostile to its Russian minority, There was a brutal war of independence in Chechnya which is still bubbling beneath the surface. And Chechens have carried out grave atrocities in Russia itself. So Russia is now not much better than the United States when it comes to huge disharmony and violent uphreavals. The urban riots of Black Lives Matter and Antifa would have been unthinkable in the Soviet Union.

So what my friend mourns is the loss of social harmony. Departures from social harmony were simply not allowed in Soviet times. Regardless of what might be bubbling beneath the surface, social peace and order was maintained.

So is she being unreasonable? Is she overlooking the limitations of Soviet life? She is not. She knows perfectly well how the material circumstances of Soviet life differed from the consumer society she now inhabits. But she is quite simply not materialistic. She thinks that peopole in Soviet society had "enough" materially for a satisfactory life and that the calm and order there were much more important to a happy life.

A peaceful and relaxed life is not necessarily opposed to a materially prosperous life. Both she and I live in Australia, where we have both those things. But Australia is something of an outlier. Australians hear with horror stories about the seething hatreds of American society but nothing bothers us much on our way to the beach. So you CAN have it all but not so much in the USA or Russia

This whole discussion reminds me of the East German experience, something I have previously written about. East Germans too tended to regret the loss of their old Communist system and its predictabilities. For my previous comments on East Germany, see here

And it might also be worth mentioning that economic historian Martin Hutchinson compares Belarus (White Russia) favourably with California. See here

Communist regimes offered STABILITY, which is a good conservative value


Why the Dutch are rioting

The riots are wrong and heartbreaking. But many people feel desperate in this lockdown.

We in the UK say we are turning a blind eye to something. In the Netherlands, they say, ‘we zullen het door de vingers zien’, which means, we’ll see it through the fingers. It is how the Dutch communicate that they are letting something slide.

The Dutch government has been seeing a lot through the fingers lately, especially the effects of its pandemic response. And it is not going well. Over the weekend, tensions boiled over, with unrest and rioting in many parts of the country. The Dutch capital of Amsterdam was a hotspot, and there were flare-ups in Rotterdam and Den Bosch. But it was Eindhoven that was the worst hit, with rioters setting cars on fire, smashing windows, and pelting the police with rocks and fireworks.

Dutch media reported around 300 arrests on Sunday, with many remaining in custody well into Monday. While this will undoubtedly shock those who know the Netherlands well, tensions have been rising steadily since Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and his government placed the country under lockdown in mid-December.

The new lockdown meant that Christmas was all but cancelled, as strict social restrictions were brought in to prevent households from mixing. As in the UK, businesses have been hit hard, with many unable to trade. Not only have bars and restaurants been forced to close, but so have any shops not deemed ‘essential’.

This decision was taken when as many as 10,000 new Covid-19 cases a day were being reported. As Rutte announced it, there were jeers and whistles from protesters gathered outside. Though he said 9 January was the date on which restrictions would end, this was always treated with scepticism by the Dutch public. So, few were surprised when it was extended to 19 February. And you won’t find much confidence that it will end then, either.

The imposition of an additional curfew has further stoked tensions. This means that as of Saturday, the Dutch are forced to stay off of the streets between 9pm and 4:30am. Violating the curfew risks a fine of at least 95 euros. This new measure is seen by many as the latest in a series of whimsical infringements on Dutch life. In many quarters, it seems to be the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

According to Mark Rutte, 99 per cent of the Dutch public are complying with the various restrictions, and that may be true. However, the feeling I get is that people’s compliance is becoming increasingly begrudging. Many here, who have already been placed under severe pressure financially, also feel they are kissing their way of life goodbye bit by bit. This is leading to a rise in resentment towards the government and authorities.

And Rutte already has enough problems, not least that he is leading a caretaker government at the moment. On 15 January, he handed his resignation and that of his cabinet to King Willem-Alexander. This followed the results of an inquiry into a child-benefits scandal, which led to approximately 26,000 parents being falsely accused of fraud and made to pay back thousands of euros. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the inquiry found that the tax authority broke the law by investigating in a discriminatory way and with institutional bias. Due to heavy criticism of Rutte and his cabinet, they resigned en masse.

However, the resignation is a sleight of hand. Not only are Rutte and his cabinet remaining in their posts until a new government is in place — they are also likely to be returned at the General Election, scheduled for March. This ‘pseudo-resignation’ has been widely slated by Dutch opposition MPs, who have called for those involved also to take themselves off the candidates list. Rutte for one has ruled that out.

Just days ago, Rutte suffered a slip of the tongue in the Dutch parliament. During the debate on the curfew, he shocked many by stating that his government actually has more power due to its caretaker status. Upon being quickly corrected about this, he added, ‘well, they can’t get rid of us’, much to his own amusement. At a time when the people he serves are suffering so much, this flippancy, not to mention arrogance, has not gone down well.

Of course, this is not to endorse the rioting. The scenes of hostility, wilful damage and looting I am witnessing on the streets of this normally peaceful and tolerant country are heart-breaking. Worryingly, just how peace is going to be restored is as yet unclear. Bringing in the military has been ruled out for now, but with more violence and looting taking place on Monday, calls for that to change are increasing.

There is certainly much cause for reflection here, not least by the people holding the power and calling the shots. They have destroyed people’s livelihoods and they have taken away their freedom. Extraordinary times or not, they should expect to be held accountable.


The West’s Russian folly continues

Alexei Navalny’s ability to galvanise anti-government sentiment in Russia is impressive.

After his arrest and detention in Moscow last week, his associates released a two-hour long video report, alleging that President Vladimir Putin had spent $1 billion of state funds on a coastal palatial compound, complete with an underground ice-hockey rink. While allegations of large-scale kleptocratic goings-on and general municipal and state-level corruption have been Navalny’s stock-in-trade for the best part of a decade, this particular exposé clearly struck a nerve – within 24 hours of its release on 19 January it had been viewed over 70million times.

What is more, it was released amid calls from Navalny and his aides for nationwide protests against Putin’s rule on Saturday. And a significant minority were more than ready to respond. Not only in the expected garrisons of Navalny support in Moscow and St Petersburg, where tens of thousands turned out, but also across Russia, from the island of Sakhalin, just north of Japan, to Russia’s urban centres in the west. Indeed, such was the turnout of protesters and, of course, Russian security forces, that, according to one activist group, over 3,100 people had been arrested in 109 Russian cities – a sign both of the prevalence of dissent, and the Russian state’s intolerant approach to it.

With Russia’s parliamentary elections looming in September, the protests look set to continue, especially as the weather and pandemic abate. As Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s closest associates, put it, ‘Without a doubt this whole story is just beginning’.

And no doubt that is true. Navalny’s investigative broadsides, highlighting the corruption of Russia’s ruling elites, have reached and helped cultivate a significant domestic audience. And his plight, from the arbitrary arrests and suspicious sentences to his near death at the hands of a Soviet-era nerve agent in August, have turned him into something of a hero.

But only for some. For it is important to remember that Navalny’s appeal is to specific sections of Russian society – to the largely urban young and to middle-class professionals. He has channelled and given shape to their reservations about, and grievances against, Putin. And he has substantiated, with detailed allegations, the sense that Russia’s elites have, effectively, stolen their wealth from the Russian people. He has shown them that Putin et al are the reason why Russians’ lives are not better. That this ‘mafia state’ is the obstacle to a prosperous future. Hence many protesters were chanting ‘Putin is a thief!’ outside government buildings, while passing traffic honked their horns in support. Navalny plays the role of the figurehead here, the vector for anti-government, anti-Putin sentiment.

But Navalny is not what too many Western leaders and a largely anti-Russian Western media are now desperately turning him into. He is not the ‘opposition leader’ in any organisational or party-political sense. Nor is he the leader of an overwhelmingly popular revolt. Certainly not yet.

So, while his simple anti-corruption message commands the support of a sizable minority, many in Russia, although far from hardcore Putin supporters, are largely indifferent towards Navalny – someone Russian state media has only recently started referring to by name. Indeed, an indication of how Navalny is perceived by Russians was given in a survey conducted by the independent Levada Centre late last year. It showed that not only did few Russians believe the Kremlin was behind Navalny’s poisoning (with the Russian state media blaming a foreign conspiracy), but also most Russians did not care either way, or believed the entire poisoning was staged. Navalny’s cause matters a lot, then, but, as it stands, only for some.

Yet, such is the anti-Putin myopia of Western leaders that they seem keen not only to anoint Navalny as the official opposition, but also to throw their weight behind him. Incredibly, Joe Biden’s new US administration, ushered in under armed guard only days ago, condemned Russian ‘restrictions on civil society and fundamental freedoms’, and announced it ‘will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners in defence of human rights – whether in Russia or wherever they come under threat’. Which certainly sounded like it was pledging its support for Navalny.

Likewise, Manfred Weber, the leader of the largest bloc in the European Parliament, condemned the arrest of Navalny and the crackdown on this weekend’s protests, and called for the EU to hit ‘the Putin system’ ‘where it really hurts’ – ‘and that’s the money’. In other words, more sanctions against Putin. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian backed Weber’s call for sanctions, and described the arrests of protesters as a ‘slide towards authoritarianism’.

The problem here is not that the criticism is inaccurate. It is not. The Russian state is often authoritarian, as its treatment of political dissent and protest frequently shows. No, the problem is that Western interference in Russian political affairs is no answer.

For a start there is the irony that those pushing it from the opinion pages and parliaments of the Western public sphere are precisely those who have complained loudest about supposed Russian interference in Western politics over the past four years. More importantly, there is the simple fact that, if anything, such interventions help their nemesis Putin himself, providing the Kremlin with proof that Navalny really is backed by foreign forces. That then becomes a justification for a further crackdown not just on Navalny, but on any opposition to Putin. Which is precisely what Russia’s UK embassy tweeted about the pro-Navalny protests: ‘This is a professionally prepared provocation, encouraged by embassies of Western countries.’

Moreover, by effectively seeking to create political instability in Russia from without, backing and supporting those opposed to Putin, what do Western powers hope to achieve? Nothing concrete exactly. No, it seems that, right now, they’re content with the anti-Putin posture. They enjoy venting against the bad guy. They enjoy slamming the evil mastermind behind a thousand anti-Western plots, from Brexit to Trump. And they enjoy conjuring Russia up as the authoritarian antithesis to Western liberalism and democracy.

But their actions, from EU-led sanctions to NATO’s looming presence in Russia’s neighbouring states, are not merely postures. They have real-world effects, fomenting conflict both within Russia and without. If Putin really is to be ousted at some point in the near future, it can only happen because Russians want it, not because Western powers wish it.