Friday, July 22, 2022

BA.5 doesn’t care that you just had Covid-19

The pattern has become all too familiar: A new version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerges and begins to dominate new Covid-19 cases, until it’s replaced by an even more contagious version of the virus.

This year, subvariants of the omicron variant of the virus have ruled cases in the US. The BA.1 subvariant started the omicron wave. Then in April, BA.2 formed the majority of cases. By May, BA.2.12.1 took over. Now BA.5 is in the lead, triggering a rise in hospitalizations across the country. It may be the most contagious version of the virus to date.

Why does this keep happening?

It’s evolution. The more a virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to mutate, and eventually some of those mutations will confer a transmission advantage to the virus.

Omicron showed that it was adept at causing reinfections among people who were previously exposed to Covid-19. BA.5 appears to have an especially potent mix of mutations that evade protection from the immune system.

The good news is that Covid-19 vaccines still provide good protection against severe illness caused by BA.5 and are keeping death rates down. But because BA.5 spreads so readily, the small fraction of people getting seriously sick is adding up, an especially frustrating development for everyone who has been diligent about getting vaccinated, masking, and social distancing.

Scientists are now zeroing in on what’s making BA.5 so prevalent even in an era of widespread immunity. What they learn could help contain the current surge and counter the next one, potentially allowing them to devise booster vaccines that better shield against newer versions of the virus.

And SARS-CoV-2 isn’t done evolving. Figuring out how a variant as strange as omicron arose and how it fine-tuned into BA.5 could unlock tools for predicting and preventing other variants in the first place.

Why BA.5 is good at dodging our immune systems

If viruses have a purpose, it’s to make copies of themselves. They don’t have the tools to do that on their own, so they have to hijack cells from a host (i.e., us) in order to reproduce. The copying process can be sloppy, especially with viruses that use RNA as their genetic material, like SARS-CoV-2, so mutations abound.

Most of these changes are detrimental to the virus or have no effect, but some can make the virus cause more severe disease, infect more people, or better hide from the immune system. When lots of people have been vaccinated or previously infected, mutations that conceal the virus have a huge advantage.

“The high level of immunity in the population is likely exerting selection pressure on the virus and the virus is evolving to try to get around that immunity,” said Daniel Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

With SARS-CoV-2, when a version of the virus accumulates a distinct grouping of mutations and is deemed a public health threat, it’s classified as a variant and receives a Greek letter designation from the World Health Organization.

Smaller grouping of mutations within a variant are classified as subvariants, often described by letters and numbers based on their genetic heritage, though the line between variant and subvariant can be blurry. Adding to the confusion, SARS-CoV-2 can undergo recombination, where it blends traits from two different lineages. As researchers have improved their tracking of the virus’s genome, they’re seeing changes at a faster rate.

“What is striking is the speed at which we’re seeing the virus evolve,” Barouch said.

Omicron exemplifies how major and minor changes in the virus can take root. When it first cropped up in late 2021, it stood out for its suite of distinct mutations that set it far apart from other Covid-19 variants. Scientists couldn’t figure out its heritage since it didn’t closely resemble the major variants in circulation. Its closest known ancestor dates back to 2020, ancient times in terms of the virus’s evolution.

There are some theories, however. Omicron or a predecessor may have been circulating undetected. It may have evolved in a patient with a compromised immune system, granting the virus an unusually long amount of time to replicate and acquire mutations in a single host. It may also have jumped back into humans from another animal.

On the virus’s phylogenetic tree, a diagram that illustrates the evolutionary relationship among different versions of the virus, omicron is on a remote branch from the other variants. The dots represent reported sequences, and the distance between them reflects the number of mutations that divide them:

Compared to the original version of SARS-CoV-2 that arose in Wuhan, China, in 2019, omicron has more than 50 mutations. Thirty of these mutations are in the spike protein of the virus. These are the pointy bits that stick out from the virus and give it its crown-like appearance under a microscope.

The spikes directly attach to human cells to begin the infection process. They are also the main attachment point for antibodies, proteins from the immune system that recognize and inhibit the virus. So changes to the spike protein can alter how efficiently the virus can reproduce and how well the immune system can stop it.

Since omicron arose, SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences show that the virus has undergone more subtle changes. There are only a handful of mutations that separate BA.5 from earlier subvariants like BA.2, but they’re enough to give the virus a massive advantage. BA.4 and BA.5 actually have almost identical spike proteins and differ in mutations in other parts of the virus.

Antibodies are very picky about the parts of the virus they will stick to, so small changes in these portions can make antibodies much less efficient. This is bad news for some antibody-based treatments for Covid-19, some of which are no longer recommended for use against omicron. But other drugs like Paxlovid still work against the newer subvariants.

A narrow group of subvariants taking over the world is a shift from how the virus mutated earlier in the pandemic. “[T]he fact that these omicron subvariants are becoming so dominant and sweeping worldwide is different from what we saw with, for example, delta, where its subvariants (which never got separate letters) never dominated in the same way,” said Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Bern, in an email. Even omicron subvariants have undergone recombination.

It’s partly a consequence of the global increase in exposure to the virus. There are few immune systems left that don’t have any familiarity with SARS-CoV-2. So BA.5’s most important trait for its success is how well it can elude the antibodies and white blood cells of people who were previously infected or vaccinated.

Barouch and his collaborators recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that existing immunity has a much harder time countering BA.5 compared to earlier omicron subvariants. So even people previously infected with omicron can get infected with BA.5. It may also spread more readily between people, though it doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease.

BA.5 may be in the lead now, but future Covid-19 threats could look vastly different

The fact that omicron is still spreading with just small tweaks to its genome compared to earlier variants shows that its combination of mutations is highly effective at spreading. But that doesn’t mean that future versions of SARS-CoV-2 will just iterate from BA.5. A completely different version of SARS-CoV-2 could yet emerge and start the process all over again.

“While things do seem to be at least somewhat different with omicron, in that [it’s] given rise to so many successful subvariants, I don’t think we can rule out that there may be another variant appearing unexpectedly,” Hodcroft said.

What can we do about this?

The best strategy is to limit the spread of the virus, denying it opportunities to mutate. Getting vaccinated and boosted if eligible remains critical, not just in the US, but around the world. Though vaccinated people can still get infected with BA.5, their chances are lower than those who are not immunized, they are less likely to spread it to others, and most importantly, are far less likely to get dangerously sick.

It’s also worth noting that BA.5 was actually detected in South Africa back in February, but only in the past month has it gained momentum in the US. This highlights the importance of surveillance. That means tracking genetic changes to the virus and public health monitoring to catch surges before they erupt.

The concern now is that, in the US, vaccination rates have hit a plateau even though most of the population is now eligible for a Covid-19 shot. Public health measures like social distancing and mask mandates are almost gone. And with the rise of at-home testing, many cases are going unreported. So while BA.5 may not cause the same devastation as earlier versions of omicron, it can still cause a lot of misery as hospitals fill up.

Even now, in its third year, the trajectory of the pandemic remains murky, and the virus could still bring unpleasant surprises. “What this is telling us: we need to remain vigilant,” Barouch said.


Antibodies From Vaccines Interfering Instead of Neutralizing Because of Spike Protein Changes: Dr. Risch

The two most widely-used vaccines in the United States, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, both work by sending messenger RNA into muscle cells, where they produce a piece of the spike protein from the virus that causes COVID-19. The spike protein triggers the production of antibodies, which are believed to help prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and fight illness if one still gets infected.

But the vaccines are based on the spike protein from the original virus variant, which was displaced early in the pandemic. Since then, a series of newer strains have become dominant around the world, with the latest being BA.5.

“The vaccines only make a very narrow range of antibodies to the spike protein,” compared to the broader exposure experienced when one gets infected, Risch, an epidemiology professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders.”

“The problem with that is, of course, that when the spike protein changes because of new strains of the virus, that the ability of the immune system to make antibodies that correlate to the new strains becomes reduced to the point where it may be almost ineffective over longer periods of time,” he added.

That leads to the antibodies being triggered by the vaccines not binding strongly enough to neutralize.

“What that means is they become interfering antibodies, instead of neutralizing antibodies,” Risch said. “And that’s the reason I believe that we’ve seen what’s called negative benefit—negative vaccine efficacy over longer time—over four to six to eight months after the last vaccine dose, that one sees the benefit of the vaccines turn negative.”

Worse Effectiveness Amid Spike Protein Changes

A number of recent studies have indicated that people who were vaccinated are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 after a period of time, including Pfizer’s clinical trial in young children (pdf). Some real-world data also show higher rates of infection among the vaccinated. Other research indicates vaccines still provide some protection as time wears on after getting a shot, but the protection does wane considerably. The research all deals with the Omicron variant, which became dominant in late 2021, and its subvariants.

There were relatively few changes to the spike protein as the initial variants emerged, which meant that vaccines still provided a fairly good benefit, Risch said. But Omicron started off with more than 50 changes to the spike protein, and subvariants of Omicron such as BA.5 have added more.

He pointed to data reported by United Kingdom health authorities in March (pdf)—the officials stopped reporting the data after that—pegging people who had received both a primary vaccination series and a booster as having three times the rate of symptomatic infection as unvaccinated people.

“After the second dose of the mRNA vaccines, it looks like they provide a benefit against symptomatic infection for … most people for maybe 10 to 12 weeks,” Risch said.

“After the first booster, the third dose, that drops to six to eight weeks. After the fourth booster, it may be as short as four weeks before the efficacy wears off and begins to turn negative.”




Thursday, July 21, 2022

New Study Adds to Growing Body of Evidence Suggesting Mask Mandates Are Ineffective

A new study published this month revealed that COVID-19 mask mandates in schools have little to no effect.

“Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature which suggests school-based mask mandates have limited to no impact on the case rates of COVID-19 among K-12 students,” researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California–Davis said in a preprint study published on Research Square.

Researchers evaluated two school districts in Fargo, North Dakota, in which one had a mask mandate and the other did not during the 2021–2022 academic year.

“We observed no significant difference between student case rates while the districts had differing masking policies nor while they had the same mask policies,” they noted, adding that the “impact of school-based mask mandates on COVID-19 transmission in children is not fully established” amid mandates nationwide.

A number of other studies have found no link between mask mandates and a drop in COVID-19 cases.

In one study published in May, researchers found that COVID-19 mask and vaccine rules implemented by Cornell University had limited impact against the transmission of Omicron in late 2021 and 2022.

“Cornell’s experience shows that traditional public health interventions were not a match for Omicron. While vaccination protected against severe illness, it was not sufficient to prevent rapid spread, even when combined with other public health measures including widespread surveillance testing,” the paper said.

And researchers in Spain found that mask mandates for children in Spain weren’t linked to a lower rate of COVID-19 cases or transmission.

In an evaluation of schoolchildren, kids aged 6 and older in Catalonia were required to wear masks once school reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers said.

Researchers compared the incidence of COVID-19 in older children to younger children to try to determine whether the mandates had been effective in the aim of reducing transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, in schools.

Their study identified a much lower case rate in preschool, where there were no mandates when compared to older groups who were required to wear masks. Five-year-olds, for instance, had an incidence of 3.1 percent, while 6-year-olds had an incidence of 3.5 percent.

Researchers in Toronto, Canada, and California replicated a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of counties in Arizona, published in The Lancet in May, that expanded the number of data points and extended the time period. They discovered that cases quickly declined in the weeks after the CDC cut off its study and decreased more quickly in the counties that didn’t have mask mandates.

“School districts that choose to mandate masks are likely to be systematically different from those that do not in multiple, often unobserved, ways. We failed to establish a relationship between school masking and pediatric cases using the same methods but a larger, more nationally diverse population over a longer interval,” the researchers said.

“It was known long before COVID-19 that face masks don’t do anything,” Former Pfizer VP Michael Yeadon, a toxicologist and allergy research specialist, told The Epoch Times in May. “Many don’t know that blue medical masks aren’t filters. Your inspired and expired air moves in and out between the mask [and] your face. They are splashguards, that’s all.”


How Covid-19 has dramatically increased the number of children who can’t read — “the worst educational crisis for a century”

When covid­-19 first began to spread around the world, pausing normal lessons was a forgivable precaution. No one knew how transmissible the virus was in classrooms; how sick youngsters would become; or how likely they would be to infect their grandparents. But disruptions to education lasted long after encouraging answers to these questions emerged.

New data suggest that the damage has been worse than almost anyone expected. Locking kids out of school has prevented many of them from learning how to read properly. Before the pandemic 57% of ten­-year­-olds in low and middle­-income countries could not read a simple story, says the World Bank. That figure may have risen to 70%, it now estimates. The share of ten-year­-olds who cannot read in Latin America, probably the worst­-affected region, could rocket from around 50% to 80% (see chart 1 on next page).

Children who never master the basics will grow up to be less productive and to earn less. Mckinsey, a consultancy, estimates that by 2040 education lost to school closures could cause global gdp to be 0.9% lower than it would otherwise have been— an annual loss of $1.6trn. The World Bank thinks the disruption could cost children $21trn in earnings over their lifetimes—a sum equivalent to 17% of global gdp today. That is much more than the $10trn it had estimated in 2020, and also an increase on the $17trn it was predicting last year.

In many parts of the world, schools were closed for far too long (see chart 2 on next page). During the first two years of the pandemic countries enforced national school closures lasting 20 weeks on average, according to unesco. Periods of “partial” closure—when schools were closed in some parts of a country, or to some year groups, or were running part­time schedules—wasted a further 21 weeks. Regional differences are huge. Full and partial shutdowns lasted 29 weeks in Europe and 32 weeks in sub­Saharan Africa. Countries in Latin America imposed restrictions lasting 63 weeks, on average. That figure was 73 weeks in South Asia.

Over two years nearly 153m children missed more than half of all in­-person schooling, reckons unesco. More than 60m missed three­-quarters. By the end of May pupils in 13 countries were still enduring some restrictions on face-­to­-face learning—among them China, Iraq and Russia. In the Philippines and North Korea, classrooms were still more or less shut.

Poorer countries stayed closed longer than their neighbours. Places with low-performing schools kept them shut for longer than others in their regions. Closures were often long in places where teachers’ unions were especially powerful, such as Mexico and parts of the United States. Unions have fought hard to keep schools closed long after it was clear that this would harm children.

School closures were also long in places where women tend not to hold jobs, perhaps because there was less clamour for schools to go back to providing child care. Many children in the Philippines live with their grandparents, says Bernadette Madrid, an expert in child protection in Manila. That made people cautious about letting them mingle in the playground.

Places where schooling is controlled locally have found it harder to reopen. In highly centralised France, President Emmanuel Macron decreed that all but the eldest pupils would return to school nationwide before the end of the 2020 summer term. It was the first big European country to do this. This gave other countries more confidence to follow. By contrast, decisions about reopening in places such as Brazil dissolved into local squabbles. In America a full year separated the districts that were first and last to restart properly.

In some countries the results were truly dire. In South Africa primary schoolchildren tested after a 22-­week closure were found to have learned only about one-quarter of what they should have. Brazilian secondary-­school pupils who had missed almost six months of face-­to-­face school did similarly dreadfully. A study of 3,000 children in Mexico who had missed 48 weeks of in-­person schooling suggests they appeared to have learned little or nothing during that time.

Before covid­19 governments in many developing countries were overlooking egregious failures in their education systems. Optimists hope that the pandemic could spur them to start fixing the problems. Schemes to recover lost learning could lead to permanent reforms. Never before has there been so much good evidence about what works to improve schooling at scale, says Benjamin Piper of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.




Wednesday, July 20, 2022

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Effectiveness Quickly Wanes: Study

The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine booster doses dropped well under 50 percent after four months against subvariants of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provided just 51 percent protection against emergency department visits, urgent care encounters, and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 during the time BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, subvariants of the Omicron virus variant, were predominant in the United States, CDC researchers found.

Both vaccines are administered in two-dose primary series.

After 150-plus days, the effectiveness dropped to just 12 percent.

A first booster upped the protection to 56 percent, but the effectiveness went down to 26 percent after four months, according to the study, which drew numbers from a network of hospitals funded by the CDC across 10 states called the VISION Network.

The subvariant was predominant between late March and mid-June.

The effectiveness was lower against BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 than against BA.1, which was displaced by BA.2.

Against BA.1, the vaccines provided 44 percent protection against the healthcare visits linked to COVID-19 initially and 39 percent after 150 days. A first booster increased the protection to 84 percent, and the protection barely decreased for patients 50 years or older after four months. But for people aged 18 to 49, the protection plummeted to 29 percent after 120 days.

Underlining the waning effectiveness against severe illness, the majority of patients admitted to the hospitals between December 2021 and June 2022 had received at least two doses of the vaccines.

Further, the percentage of unvaccinated patients dropped during the later period, going from 41.6 percent to 28.6 percent (hospitalized patients) and from 41.4 percent to 31 percent (emergency department and urgent care patients), researchers found.

The CDC published the research in its quasi-journal, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Most articles it publishes are not peer-reviewed, and the articles are shaped to reflect CDC policy.


The astonishing data that may prove masks DON'T work as Covid cases in Singapore and New Zealand OVERTAKE Australia

New data shows Covid cases in Singapore and New Zealand have overtaken Australia in the latest Omicron wave despite ultra-strict mask mandates.

Masks are worn everywhere in the densely-populated Asian city while New Zealanders are forced to wear them in all indoor public places, such as shopping centres and libraries.

But both now have higher case numbers per million than Australia, where compulsory mask rules have been abandoned in most indoor settings.

These figures appear to smash the push now on in Australia for a return to mask mandates, which are currently compulsory only on public transport and in aged care and healthcare centres.

Since Australian mandates began to ease last October, per capita case numbers in Singapore exceeded, matched or lagged behind Australia, before rising ahead again.

In New Zealand, case numbers were six weeks behind Australia's Omicron wave in January, but since February they have matched or exceeded Australia.

Death rates in New Zealand also overtook Australia per capita at the start of March, despite the Kiwis being on the highest code red mask mandate restrictions - and have stayed higher ever since.

New Zealanders are told to wear a mask whenever they leave home. The country has a traffic light system of restrictions and was on code red until April when it moved to code orange.

Under code red, Kiwis had to wear masks at universities and colleges and in schools from Year 4 up, and when visiting early learning centres.

Masks also had to be worn in public places like shops, shopping malls, cafes, bars, restaurants, libraries, hairdressers and beauty salons.

All indoors events and indoor gatherings needed to be masked up,

Masks also need to be worn on domestic flights, taxis, ride-sharing cars and public transport, plus healthcare, judicial, remand and aged care centres.

But masks don't need to be worn outdoors or while exercising.

Since April, masks are not now needed in schools, indoor events, museums and libraries or at hospitality venues, but must still be worn everywhere else.

The country is tipped to return to code red on Thursday as NZ case numbers surge.

In Singapore, death rates dropped below Australia in April after racing ahead between October and Christmas, but are now surging wildly and are set to overtake Australia once more.

The Singapore findings were shared on Twitter by Australian National University infectious diseases professor Peter Collignon as debate rages on the need for masks.

The post, originally made by a Singapore resident, added: 'Singapore has never dropped its mask mandates. Masks are required indoors at all times.

'Australians aren't wearing masks much at all. Let's compare the data.'

The data has been revealed as Victorian children over the age of eight are now asked to wear a mask in classrooms until the end of winter amid a spike in cases.

The state government has insisted the new advice is not a mask mandate, with students encouraged to wear a mask indoors and on public transport.

Parents have described the new rules as a 'mandate by stealth' but former Labor Leader Bill Shorten said kids should be encouraged to wear masks where possible.

'We've had 300 days of home-schooling, and the schools closed,' he told Karl Stefanovic during an appearance on the Today Show on Tuesday morning.

'To me it's a no-brainer, do you want your child sick at home or do you want them running around wearing a mask?' the father of one said.

NSW and Victorian health ministers have both so far resisted the growing calls for a return to mask mandates, but critics say the looming state elections in October and November are the main reason behind any delay in bringing them back.

The new figures come as it was revealed the median age of those dying from Covid in Australia is now 83 years old, the same age as the nation's average life expectancy.

The federal health department's latest Covid report explodes the myths being used to drive Australian authorities to re-introduce mask mandates and continue having Covid cases isolate for seven days.

The data comes as St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney said they have just 'one or two' patients in ICU - with top doctors confirming the winter wave is far less severe than those to have previously hit Australia.

'We certainly don't have many,' confirmed a hospital spokesman on Monday. 'It's not presenting so much on the very acute side, where patients need ventilation.'

The vast majority of those who have caught Covid are under 50, with 3,121,953 cases so far. Just 293 people under 50 have died of the virus since the pandemic began.

The statistics show that since Australia's mass vaccination rollout began, those under 50 face a less than one in 10,000 chance of dying from Covid.

'The median age of all those infected is 31 ... [but] the median age of those who died is 83,' the latest federal health department 'Coronavirus At A Glance' report states.

Australia's average life expectancy is 82.9 years of age.

Most killed by Covid were men over 70 and women over 80, accounting for 7,585 deaths out of the nation's total virus death toll of 10,582 as of 3pm on Friday.

And even if Covid breaks out among elderly frail residents in aged care centres, more than 95 per cent of those infected will survive.

Of the 63,875 who caught Covid in Australian aged care centres, 60,771 recovered, with less than 1 in 20 of infected residents dying, for a tragic toll of 3,104.

NSW Premier Dom Perrottet admitted on Monday that the current flu wave was now a bigger threat than Covid. 'At the moment, the current strand of influenza is more severe than the current strands of COVID,' he told 2GB.

Doomsday modelling by the Burnet Institute for the NSW government last year said the state's health system could cope with up to 947 Covid patients in ICU.

But NSW currently has just 64 Covid cases in ICU across the state with only 13 on ventilators, according to NSW Health.




Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Measuring the Efficacy of California’s, Florida’s COVID-19 Policies

In their attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, California and Florida followed sharply different strategies.

While California used a wide array of restrictive mandates, Florida used a targeted approach that focused on those segments of society more vulnerable to the lethal effects of COVID-19. The conventional wisdom is that California’s strategic response to COVID-19 came at a high economic cost, but as compared to Florida, it resulted in many lives saved. That “wisdom” is only half correct.

There’s no doubt that California’s broad-based use of mandates led to a sharper loss in overall economic activity than Florida’s more targeted approach. The extent to which each state used mandates can be quantified by referring to Oxford University’s Stringency Index, which measures on a daily basis, using a scale from 1 to 100, 11 different statewide policy interventions.

Over the period of January 2020 to July 2022, California’s average Oxford University Stringency Index “score” was 43, placing it fourth highest of all 50 states. In sharp contrast, Florida’s average index was 27, placing it far lower at a rank of 40. Not surprisingly, in light of its significantly higher average stringency, California lost more jobs than Florida on a relative basis. California’s non-farm job total is still lower than its pre-recession high, while Florida’s is 3 percent higher. That translates to California losing 43,000 jobs, while Florida gained 280,000 jobs over the same time period.

Even more striking is a comparison between the two states when the gap in their stringency scores was at its widest. In January 2021, when California’s stringency index hit a high of 63, the state had shed 10 percent of its jobs—double the 5 percent loss in Florida, which had a stringency index of 32, roughly half of California’s. During that month, California’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent versus Florida’s 6.1 percent.

It should be noted that in spite of the fact that California experienced a greater relative job loss, Florida has a higher proportion of workers than California in the job sector hardest hit by the pandemic: leisure and hospitality.

These findings aren’t unique to California and Florida. In other research I’ve done, I showed that the 10 states with the lowest stringency scores between January 2020 to March 2022 had, on average, 1 percent more jobs than pre-recession levels. In sharp contrast, the 10 most stringent states—a group that includes California—had, on average, 2 percent fewer jobs.

Many would argue that in spite of these job losses, the tougher mandates followed by California were justified, given its lower COVID-19 death rate than Florida’s. Indeed, a comparison of the raw COVID-19 death rates between the two states initially seems to support that argument. The raw cumulative COVID-19 death rate through July is 242 per 100,000 people in California, compared to a much higher 328 per 100,000 people in Florida. That difference suggests that California’s tougher broad-based mandates saved the lives of 35,000 people in the state compared to Florida.

These comparisons using unadjusted COVID-19 death rates, however, are highly misleading. California’s population is the seventh-youngest out of all 50 states, at a median age of 37 in 2020. That compares to Florida, which ranks as the fifth-oldest state with a median age of 43 years.

When it comes down to the incidence of COVID-19 deaths, age matters—it matters big time. Although only 16 percent of the U.S. population is older than the age of 65, that age cohort accounts for almost 75 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. The fact that California has 15 percent older than the age of 65 while Florida has 21 percent clearly makes Florida more vulnerable to the lethal effects of COVID-19.

To adjust for these age differences, statisticians use age-adjusted data that basically convert statewide differences in ages so that they conform to the age cohorts of the United States. When I used that procedure to adjust California’s and Florida’s COVID-19 death rates, California’s age-adjusted death rate of 261 per 100,000 was roughly the same as Florida’s rate of 267 per 100,000.

Using an alternative age-adjustment statistical metric that measures excess deaths as a percentage of expected deaths over the period of March 2020 to March 2022, researchers found that California and Florida had the same excess death rate of 18.8 percent.

These empirical results suggest that California’s use of broad-based mandates as compared to Florida’s more targeted strategy—a strategy that came at a great economic cost to California—had no measurable impact on lives saved.

An example of Florida’s targeted strategy is its tough lockdown on visits to the state’s long-term care facilities, a policy that effectively placed these facilities in quarantine. The impact of this approach can be seen in statistics that show the cumulative COVID-19 death rate for those 75 to 84 years old was 1,606 per 100,000 in California as compared to a lower 1,279 per 100,000 in Florida. Even more dramatically, the COVID-19 death rate for those 85 years and older was 4,055 in California versus 3,087 in Florida. Florida’s more stringent targeted strategy for safeguarding the elderly largely explains why California and Florida’s age-adjusted COVID-19 death rates are roughly the same.

An example of the ineffectiveness and the high cost of California’s broad-based lockdown strategy is its closing of almost all of its public schools. A ranking of the percentage of cumulative in-person education shows that California ranked last of all 50 states at 19.2 percent. That compares to Florida’s 96.2 percent—the third highest in the nation (pdf).

An Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development estimate puts the COVID-19 era losses in lifetime earnings for a student denied in-person education at 3 percent (pdf). These losses in foregone earnings will have their greatest negative impact on students from low-income families, a loss that came with no discernable benefit in lives saved. Total COVID-19 deaths in the 5 to 14 age range cohort were 23 in California and 27 in Florida. Compare those numbers to the COVID-19 deaths for those 85 years and older of 23,116 in California and 17,319 in Florida.

Even though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was widely attacked for what many claimed to be the state’s lax stringency mandates, a careful examination of the data suggests that Florida’s policies were more effective than California’s. An important lesson that emerges from this comparison is that targeted state regulations that more carefully evaluate their potential benefits and costs are more effective than broad-based policies that have more indiscriminate effects.


Big vaccine change for Australian children aged under six

I don't like this at all. It is normal to give young kids vaccines but the Covid vaccines have a lot of troublesome side effects -- so they could seriously harm immature immune systems. And the vaccines are of dubious efficacy against Omicron anyway. So why take the risk?

There is also a long history of risks being understated in safety studies -- some things not being counted, for instance -- so the study reported below is not very reassuring

Australia‘s medical regulator has approved the use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine for children aged under five.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration examined a North American clinical trial before making its decision on infants and children.

Moderna’s product, called Spikevax, has until now only allowed for people aged over six. Those people can get two doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart. People over 18 can also get it as a booster.

After Tuesday’s announcement, children as young as six months will be able to get the vaccine. Those under six years old will be recommended two Moderna doses.

The concentration of the vaccine’s active ingredient will be lower in doses given to small children.

The North American trial was conducted across several sites and involved 6000 participants aged between six months and six years old.

“The study demonstrated that the immune response to the vaccine in children was similar to that seen in young adults (18 to 25 years) with a favourable safety profile,” the TGA said.

“Clinical trials also showed that the safety profile in children is similar to that seen in adults. Most adverse events seen in clinical trials in children aged up to six were mild to moderate and generally reported after the second dose.

“These included irritability/crying, redness and/or swelling at injection site, fatigue, fever, muscle pain and axillary (groin) swelling or tenderness,” the TGA said.




Monday, July 18, 2022

Free the National Guard … From Scientifically Dubious Vaccine Mandates

Roger L. Simon

The opening paragraph by Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, in the military reserve component’s annual posture statement reads:

“The National Guard is a lethal, cost-effective, dual-role operational force that provides strategic depth to the Army, Air Force, and Space Force, and responds to crises in our homeland. We are capable of operating in a complex global security environment, and continue to invest in modernization and readiness to prepare for the threats of the future. Today’s National Guard is an integral part of addressing the gravest challenges facing the Joint Force.”

Sort of … at least it should be.

Unfortunately, these days the Guard is being manipulated and often attacked on all sides as the proverbial political football.

First came the question of its use. Although the Guard was properly called into Minneapolis after the George Floyd rioting and into Portland, Oregon, after that benighted city’s post-election violence (maybe it should have been earlier), the question of why it wasn’t present for the Jan. 6 events—however you want to define them—remains unanswered. From what we understand, then-President Donald Trump, under whose leadership they served, offered them to the congressional leadership who, for whatever reason, were disinterested.

Yet worse, however, is what has happened now to the actual members of this volunteer army, the National Guard. (Yes, we should never forget that National Guardsmen, many of whom served previously, are all volunteers. What could be more patriotic than that?)

Those volunteers who didn’t dutifully—subserviently might be a better word—take the COVID-19 vaccines will be ejected from the National Guard.

From here on The Epoch Times:

“About 40,000 National Guard and 22,000 reserve soldiers will be blocked from service for rejecting the COVID vaccines, U.S. Army officials said on July 8.

“’Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,’ an Army spokesperson told

“The deadline for the Defense Department’s vaccination mandate passed at midnight on June 30. The order cuts off pay and some of the military benefits to the 62,000 service members.”

I’m going to say right now that those 62,000 are most likely among the bravest of the National Guard because they have the courage to stand by their beliefs as few do.

Ironically, news of this despicable treatment of the very people to whom we owe our thanks arrived not long before the father of it all, Dr. Anthony Fauci, began to backpedal:

“White House COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci conceded Wednesday morning that COVID-19 vaccines don’t protect ‘overly well’ against the virus.

“Speaking during a Fox News interview, Fauci told host Neil Cavuto that ‘one of the things that’s clear from the data [is] that … vaccines—because of the high degree of transmissibility of this virus—don’t protect overly well, as it were, against infection.’”

So if they don’t protect “overly well,” why are we kicking all those people out of the National Guard?

Few of those being ejected are anywhere near the supposed danger age of over 70 or so with the requisite comorbidities. Most are reasonably physically fit, possibly quite fit. But they have to go. No “our bodies, ourselves” for them.

Fauci, in the Cavuto interview, suggested the vaccines indeed did work against severe reactions for older people because he had evidence. It turned out, however, that the evidence he provided was from a study with only one person—himself. He had taken an array of shots and boosters and, at 81, only got a self-described mild case of COVID.

I will counter that with another study of one person—myself. I’m only a few years younger than Fauci. I took the initial Pfizer shots back in February 2021, abjured all boosters after that, almost never wore a mask except when forced on airplanes, and have been in many crowds, unmasked, in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Nashville and have never contracted COVID at all, at least as far as I know.

Does that prove anything? Of course not, but neither does what Fauci told Cavuto “as a scientist.” Not remotely.

I don’t know for sure what inspired Fauci’s backpedaling and his ludicrous cover, but I suspect there’s a world of potential lawsuits out there that could cause grave financial harm to Big Pharma and those like Fauci who work so closely with them. One of the reasons some say they recommend these dubious shots to children is to avoid these devastating suits. When the government makes vaccines mandatory for children, the companies that produce them are held harmless.

Following on the theme of volunteers, and since I live in the Volunteer State (Tennessee), I would be remiss in not noting that as of now our Republican governor, Bill Lee, has been on the wrong side of the National Guard story, doing nothing, despite many asking, for the ejected Guardsmen. (The Tennessee Star has been covering this closely.)

Also in Tennessee, 5th District congressional candidate Kurt Winstead, a brigadier general in the National Guard himself, has been curiously silent on his beleaguered fellow Guardsmen.

This, although the policy endangers far more than just the National Guard—it seriously endangers the already endangered national security of our country. As Breitbart is reporting, it’s on the brink of engulfing our entire army:

“At least 260,000 American troops—or about 13 percent of the 2.1 million total force—are not fully vaccinated despite a Biden administration vaccine mandate for the military, and many of them could face discharge.

“According to the Department of Defense website, at least 268,858 service members as of July 13 are still not in compliance with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s August 2021 mandate for every member of the military to be fully vaccinated with two doses of a vaccine. That figure does not count the thousands who have not taken any doses.”

I guess Biden is planning on having Ukrainians do all our fighting for us. Sorry, folks, we just don’t have the troops.


New study highlights subtle side-effect of Covid vaccine

A new survey has found over 40 per cent of respondents experienced a change in their menstrual cycle after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination.

The survey results were recently published in the journal Science Advances and the survey set out to investigate the "emerging phenomenon" of changes to menstrual bleeding after inoculation.

More than 39,000 people took part in the survey conducted by the University of Illinois and Washington University School of Medicine over the course of a few months in early 2021, after Covid-19 vaccines became widely available.

The survey found 42 per cent of respondents who had a regular menstrual cycle bled more heavily than usual after the vaccine, while 44 per cent experienced no change.

"We found that increased/breakthrough bleeding was significantly associated with age, systemic vaccine side effects (fever and/or fatigue), history of pregnancy or birth, and ethnicity," the research article says.

"Generally, changes to menstrual bleeding are not uncommon or dangerous, yet attention to these experiences is necessary to build trust in medicine."

While the number of people who experienced changes to their menstrual bleeding is startling — the authors noted people who noticed a change might have been more likely to participate.

Covid-19 vaccines have been found to be safe, with little risk of serious side effects.

A study published earlier this year found there were small and temporary changes to women's periods after being vaccinated.

Dr Kate Clancy told ScienceAlert the goal of the study from University of Illinois and Washington University School of Medicine was "never to perfectly assess prevalence".

Instead, the goal was to validate people's concerns.

Katharine Lee, an author of the report told the New York Times it is important people know they might experience a heavier-than-usual period, so they're not scared or shocked if they do.

The article notes that vaccine trials do not typically monitor adverse events beyond seven days.




Sunday, July 17, 2022

A belated victory against COVIDiocy

In a belated victory against COVID insanity, a state Supreme Court judge has declared null and void New York’s Rule 2.13, endowing the state health commissioner with unbounded power to issue isolation and quarantine orders.

Enacted in February 2022 and renewed since, the regulations have been published in the state register for possible permanent adoption. Yet it would be madness to codify this power months after the real threat of COVID receded into nothing.

Lunatic, too, given New York’s atrocious record on protecting the most vulnerable (i.e. the elderly) from the virus.

Kudos to state Sen. George Borrello (R.-Chautauqua) and his fellow complainants on their successful lawsuit over the rule — and to Judge Ronald Ploetz for his ruling.

The rule, which Ploetz noted paid only “lip service” to the Constitution, was itself the fruit of a poison tree: the overbroad powers the Legislature granted then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the pandemic’s start.

Cuomo used those powers not only to shutter the state’s economy, but to serve special interests like the hospital lobby, including via the deadly mandate for care homes to admit COVID-positive patients. The state is still reeling from his dictatorial pseudoscience today.

But COVID rules were never about science. On the numbers, Cuomo’s draconian policies had no significant effect on our outcomes when compared to states with far more liberal rules. And Cuomo himself seemed to break them whenever the mood was on him.

Those rules were about power, exercised by fanatics and hypocrites. By blocking one of them, Judge Ploetz has done New York a great service.


US agencies aren’t ‘following the science’ on COVID — and staff are too scared to complain

By Marty Makary and Tracy Beth H√łeg

The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the National Institutes for Health, Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.

“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

That particular FDA doctor was referring to two recent developments inside the agency. First, how, with no solid clinical data, the agency authorized COVID vaccines for infants and toddlers, including those who already had COVID. And second, the fact that just months before the FDA bypassed its external experts to authorize booster shots for young children.

That doctor is hardly alone.

At the NIH, doctors and scientists complain to us about low morale and lower staffing: The NIH’s Vaccine Research Center has had many of its senior scientists leave over the last year, including the director, deputy director and chief medical officer. “They have no leadership right now. Suddenly there’s an enormous number of jobs opening up at the highest level positions,” one NIH scientist told us. (The people who spoke to us would only agree to be quoted anonymously, citing fear of professional repercussions.)

The CDC has experienced a similar exodus. “There’s been a large amount of turnover. Morale is low,” one high level official at the CDC told us. “Things have become so political, so what are we there for?” Another CDC scientist told us: “I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I’m embarrassed.”

Why are they embarrassed? In short, bad science.

The longer answer: that the heads of their agencies are using weak or flawed data to make critically important public health decisions. That such decisions are being driven by what’s politically palatable to people in Washington or to the Biden administration. And that they have a myopic focus on one virus instead of overall health.

Nowhere has this problem been clearer — or the stakes higher — than on official public-health policy regarding children and COVID.

First, they demanded that young children be masked in schools. On this score, the agencies were wrong. Compelling studies later found schools that masked children had no different rates of transmission. And for social and linguistic development, children need to see the faces of others.

Next came school closures. The agencies were wrong — and catastrophically so. Poor and minority children suffered learning loss with an 11-point drop in math scores alone and a 20% drop in math pass rates. There are dozens of statistics of this kind.

Then they ignored natural immunity. Wrong again. The vast majority of children have already had COVID, but this has made no difference in the blanket mandates for childhood vaccines. And now, by mandating vaccines and boosters for young healthy people, with no strong supporting data, these agencies are only further eroding public trust.

One CDC scientist told us about her shame and frustration about what happened to American children during the pandemic: “CDC failed to balance the risks of COVID with other risks that come from closing schools,” she said. “Learning loss, mental health exacerbations were obvious early on and those worsened as the guidance insisted on keeping schools virtual. CDC guidance worsened racial equity for generations to come. It failed this generation of children.”

An official at the FDA put it this way: “I can’t tell you how many people at the FDA have told me, ‘I don’t like any of this, but I just need to make it to my retirement.’ ”

Right now, internal critics of these agencies are focused on one issue above all: Why did the FDA and the CDC issue strong blanket recommendations for COVID vaccines in children?

Three weeks ago, the CDC vigorously recommended mRNA COVID vaccines for 20 million children under five years of age. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, declared that the mRNA COVID vaccines should be given to everyone six months or older because they are safe and effective.

The trouble is that this sweeping recommendation was based on extremely weak, inconclusive data provided by Pfizer and Moderna.

Few young kids get COVID-19 vaccination in the Big Apple
Start with Pfizer. Using a three-dose vaccine in 992 children between the ages of six months and 5 years, Pfizer found no statistically significant evidence of vaccine efficacy. In the subgroup of children aged six months to two years, the trial found that the vaccine could result in a 99% lower chance of infection — but that they also could have a 370% increased chance of being infected.

In other words, Pfizer reported a range of vaccine efficacy so wide that no conclusion could be inferred. No reputable medical journal would accept such sloppy and incomplete results with such a small sample size. More to the point, these results should have given pause to those who are in charge of public health.

Referring to Pfizer’s vaccine efficacy in healthy young children, one high-level CDC official — whose expertise is in the evaluation of clinical data — joked: “You can inject them with it or squirt it in their face, and you’ll get the same benefit.”

Moderna’s results — it conducted a study on 6,388 children with two doses — were not much better. Against asymptomatic infections, it claimed a very weak vaccine efficacy of just 4% in children aged six months to two years. It also claimed an efficacy of 23% in children between two and six years old, but neither result was statistically significant. Against symptomatic infections, Moderna’s vaccine did show efficacy that was statistically significant, but the efficacy was low: 50% in children aged six months to two years, and 42% in children between two and six years old.

Then there’s the matter of how long a vaccine gives protection. We know from data in adults that it’s generally a matter of months. But we have no such data for young children.

“It seems criminal that we put out the recommendation to give mRNA COVID vaccines to babies without good data. We really don’t know what the risks are yet. So why push it so hard?” a CDC physician added. A high-level FDA official felt the same way: “The public has no idea how bad this data really is. It would not pass muster for any other authorization.”

And yet, the FDA and the CDC pushed it through. That slap in the face of science may explain why only 2% of parents of children under age five have chosen to get the COVID vaccine, and 40% of parents in rural areas say their pediatricians did not recommend the COVID vaccine for their child.

More here: