Jay Bhattacharya talks with Megyn Kelly about Covid vaccines, natural immunity, and the incentives facing hospitals to diagnose Covid. Martin Kulldorff debates Paul Offit on vaccine mandates. Carl Heneghan and Martin Kulldorff defend Jay Bhattacharya from efforts by Bhattacharya’s Stanford University colleagues to silence his voice in scientific debate. Two slices: Last week, anonymous posters with the portrait of Stanford University Professor of Medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharya were plastered on kiosks around the Stanford campus, linking him to COVID deaths in Florida. Even though cumulative age-adjusted COVID mortality is lower in Florida than in most other large states, these smears appeared. Taking it one step further, the chair of Stanford’s epidemiology department, Professor
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Last week, anonymous posters with the portrait of Stanford University Professor of Medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharya were plastered on kiosks around the Stanford campus, linking him to COVID deaths in Florida. Even though cumulative age-adjusted COVID mortality is lower in Florida than in most other large states, these smears appeared.
Taking it one step further, the chair of Stanford’s epidemiology department, Professor Melissa Bondy, circulated a petition among faculty members demanding that the university president exercise his obligation “to clarify for the faculty the limits of public pronouncements when proclaiming on public health policy.”
The petitioners are upset that “several Stanford faculty members have publicly advocated for policies for others that are contrary to those the university has adopted” and that “these recommendations are disturbing and contrary to public health standards; they foster uncertainty and anxiety and put lives at risk.”
While insidiously not naming anyone, the petition explicitly targets Bhattacharya by quoting his answer to a question from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about masks on children. He responded that “there is no high-quality evidence to support the assertion that masks stop the disease from spreading.” To deserve trust, scientists must be honest about what is and what is not known, and we agree with Bhattacharya.
Randomized trials provide the best available research evidence to inform health-care decisions and are considered the gold standard for determining intervention effects. But no randomized studies have shown that masks in children are effective. Instead, there are observational studies of uneven quality that reach conflicting conclusions.
Stanford University’s striking motto is “The Winds of Freedom Blow.” It is tragic that other stronger winds are now passing through the Stanford campus that are destructive for science and the global scientific community.
For most people in most circumstances, the vaccine is a good bet and a no brainer for those whose risk from Covid is much greater than any risk the vaccine might pose. But the net benefit declines quickly as you go down the age table. A shot for a 75-to-84 year-old is 22,000% more likely to save a life than a shot for an 18-to-29.
But starting with Mike Pence on CNBC on March 27, 2020, most politicians decided it was career suicide to speak realistically about the expected course of the pandemic. The virus instead had to be vaguely discussed as if it were an invading team of enemy frogmen that might be tracked down and eliminated.
In a story on Monday acknowledging that Covid won’t be eliminated, it will likely become endemic like the flu, this newspaper generously added that Covid was a disease “that many public-health authorities once believed they could conquer.”
This is not quite right. It was only in the miasma of their rhetoric that they seemed to believe this. Multiple strains of flu and cold-causing coronaviruses once emerged as novel pathogens and now circulate routinely. Any epidemiologist would have told you to expect the same of Covid, at least until they fell insensibly in line with the rhetoric demanded by the career imperatives of active politicians facing the prospect of re-election.
The core problem here is the Prime Minister’s reluctance to stand up and say “this is as good as it gets”. I have previously mentioned Jonathan Van Tam’s dictum that you should never start a medical or public health intervention without being clear when you are going to stop it. While the Government may have seen off the Zero Covid lobby, it is still behaving as if elimination were the goal.
Ministers are not publicly acknowledging that Covid-19 is taking its place alongside other endemic respiratory viruses, and is not necessarily the most dangerous or burdensome of them in a largely vaccinated population. The infection fatality ratio, the chance of dying if you get Covid-19, is currently estimated by the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge to be around 0.26 per cent – and most of this is in the over-75s, where the rate is 3.3 per cent. This is broadly comparable with the rates for influenza and RSV, another common respiratory virus. Both of these represent more of a threat to the very young, as well as having a significant impact on the over-80s. Covid deaths seem to overlap with both so there is little impact on the overall mortality rate in a vaccinated population.
Today, all teachers in NYC schools, and in cities around the country, must be vaccinated yet are still forced to wear masks. Being vaccinated only makes invincible those with many zeroes in their bank accounts.
‘But look, these celebrities only went maskless outside. They had to wear masks indoors. Everyone knows wearing a mask outside is silly,’ goes the argument. My five-year-old continues to have to wear a mask for recess. Outside, still, today. There is nothing anyone can say to make it make sense. There is no logic or science behind the rule that kids must be masked at all times, inside and out. Study after study has shown that an unvaccinated child has lower risks than a vaccinated adult. The real problem is that the child is not famous.
For what it’s worth, the museum’s policy couldn’t be clearer: All visitors ages two years and older are required to wear masks at all times, regardless of vaccination status. They are also expected to maintain six feet of distance from other people at all times. AOC said she was working to keep the museum open to the public, but when the public visits the museum, they are obligated to follow irritating and (in the case of masks for the vaccinated) largely pointless procedures. Yet the city’s elite are exempted from such requirements.
In fact, the law treats non-celebrities like second-class citizens. Hypocrisy is written into New York City’s official COVID-19 policies. The city’s mandate requires vaccination in a wide variety of circumstances: restaurant customers, gym employees, and museum visitors can all be asked to show their vaccination cards. Visiting celebrities, though, are exempt. The law specifically excludes out-of-town athletes, performance artists, and their entourages. (Last year’s quarantine orders similarly exempted the same groups of people.)
Writing at Unherd, Adam King decries the madness of “Covid safetyism.” Here’s his conclusion:
And more recently, in the Age of Lockdown, social media has given the operation of the availability heuristic nuclear capabilities. The “reasonable man” is bombarded with a very particular set of examples of adverse consequences, and so it is these that stand to determine the shape of negligence. Never mind the social benefits of allowing people to judge for themselves what is best for them and their children, or to apply the much-vaunted precautionary principle according to their own tastes: if you don’t get the vaccine, and the booster shots when they arrive, you’re practically a murderer.
There is a clear and enduring downside to recasting the normal business of everyday life as a special privilege reserved for those who will take their medicine as directed by the government of the day. The upside — increasing the proportion of the vaccinated population from 90% to, say, 98% — is nebulous. Let us keep our heads, while all about us others — France, Australia, New Zealand — are losing theirs, and bear in mind the undeniable fact that we are seeking to strike a balance. In the coming weeks, the Government would do well to consider, very carefully, what is really meant by “reasonable”.
In other words, incidental or mild cases accounted for a rising share of so-called COVID-19 hospitalizations—nearly half by the end of June. That means it is increasingly problematic to treat that number, which includes COVID-19 patients without life-threatening symptoms as well as COVID-positive patients admitted for other reasons, as an indicator of severe disease. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which collects data on what are commonly called “COVID-19 hospitalizations,” uses a more ambiguous term: “COVID-19-associated hospitalizations.” But even that description is misleading, since the tally includes many hospital patients who were not admitted for treatment of COVID-19.