Here are some answers to some lingering questions we now know.
Can vaccinated individuals still catch Covid? Yes
Could they be asymptomatic? Yes
Could they infect others? Yes, although evidence suggests that their partial immunity leads to a less severe infection, which in turn leads to them shedding fewer virus particles. That doesn’t mean the virus is less virulent, just that they’re less threat to others. This obviously has implications for “vaccine passports”.
How long does immunity last? Still unknown, but the absence of large numbers of vaccinated people catching Covid is encouraging. So far it’s looking like six months is a safe assumption, and probably longer.
Will mutations beat vaccines? Still an open question, however although most vaccines have reduced efficacy against at least some of the variants, there are still some vaccines that remain at least 80% efficacious (after two doses, where necessary). It’s still possible that a spike protein mutation could invalidate the immune response mounted by current vaccines, however.
What’s the number for herd immunity? Still an open question, and perhaps more relevantly the other question – should we be relying on herd immunity – remains open.
Efficacy numbers for various vaccines? To some extent overtaken by events. The good news is that most vaccines provide quite a large reduction in the risk of both death and infection serious enough for hospitalization. Of course that’s not the whole story; AstraZeneca was and remains less efficacious than Pfizer on all measures – infection, serious infection, and death – as well as effectiveness against more recent variants, however it remains better than nothing if you catch Covid.
Are the vaccines effective in over 55s? Yes, although as widely anticipated they suffer from the same effects of age-diminished immune response as every other vaccine. Again, Pfizer is more effective than AstraZeneca, so that challenge remains.
Who will get which vaccine when? No idea whatsoever. The rollout has been an absolute shambles, continues to be a shambles, and nobody knows when it will end or how. People who were universally acknowledged to be high-risk and high-priority remain unvaccinated six months in when they were supposed to be vaccinated by April, while schoolchildren of wealthy parents have been vaccinated with Pfizer “by mistake”. The Morrison government has so little confidence in its ability it abandoned any goal or target whatsoever for any phase of the rollout or any number of Australians, beyond the extremely optimistic but fairly pointless measure of “everyone who wants a shot being offered one by December”. Like all previous aspirations and claims this one is subject to revision and denial, so the safest assumption is nobody knows.
The arguments about the number of Westerners unprotected or poorly-protected remain, and remain essentially unaddressed by the Morrison government. In fact, nearly any forward-looking question remains unaddressed, or dealt with in the vaguest and most aspirational terms.
Which safeguards to drop? Nothing has changed here. The only update really is that the Morrison government continues to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to manage quarantine, and despite numerous attempts by the states to institute purpose-built and fit-for-purpose quarantine has remained stubborn and inert, endangering the whole population by repeated breaches. The myth of “closed borders” has been exploded, with literally hundreds of thousands of non-Australians entering and leaving the country on a variety of visas and exemptions, while the government maintains the pretence that we’re “closed”.
Vaccination questions: there is no check for efficacy after you’re vaccinated.
So far the questions about mixed dosage, or vaccination with Pfizer after AstraZeneca remain unanswered, except that nobody has been allowed to do it, which is an answer of a kind.
What will we get, and when? Remains a complete mystery. The Morrison government latterly has been releasing predictions of when Pfizer supplies will arrive, but their location and distribution after that remains a total mystery, as well as the groups to whom they’re allowed. Constant changes to the AstraZeneca eligibility have made the entire process even more of a shambles.
Suffice it to say that every revelation of how the process has been managed has shown the government’s incompetence, negligence and indifference to the health of the nation. These articles provide a much more comprehensive analysis:
“The first casualty of war is the truth”⧞
For months I’ve watched with growing alarm the obvious—and less obvious—bullshit being fed to us by politicians on the subject of Covid-19 vaccines. Even more alarming sometimes has been bullshit from government health experts. For politicians to lie, obfuscate or evade is second nature, but when experts and scientists start playing fast and loose with facts, or decide that “you can’t handle the truth” then it’s past time to call it for what it is.
In fact, there are at least three kinds of lies and misinformation being peddled: by commission, by omission, and by evasion, and sadly there are examples of each.
This is an attempt to identify and clear away some of that bullshit.
Obligatory disclaimer: I am not an epidemiologist, virologist, vaccine expert or expert in public health. I do have a tertiary degree containing mathematics, statistics and logic, and all the facts in here are drawn or derived from quoted published references, however all of this is purely my personal opinion. If you have any health concerns, please consult a qualified health professional. May contain nuts, keep away from small children and naked flames.
Blaming the Unvaccinated for the New “COVID” Strains
According to scientific evidence, the narrative that the unvaccinated are virus factories for more dangerous variants is absolutely false, and only obeys the criminal project of blaming the unvaccinated for the harmful effects produced by the “vaccines”.
Common sense shows that a year passed without variants, strains or new modalities before they appeared, just when the unvaccinated were the population as a whole. It has only been a matter of starting the inoculation of experimental compounds and suddenly there are more versions of the virus than natural children of Julio Iglesias after a tour. The reason is obvious: just as bacteria generate resistance to antibiotics, vaccines exert evolutionary pressure on viruses to accelerate mutations and create variants capable of evading the immune response, making them more virulent and dangerous. The fact that they appear in the countries where inoculation is most widespread is further evidence in favor of this thesis, and against the sceptics’ blame game.
In an unvaccinated person, the virus does not encounter the same evolutionary pressure to mutate into something stronger. That means that if SARS-CoV-2 mutates into more lethal strains, the cause is the stimulus that the “vaccine” causes by varying the conditions under which it had been stable so far. Any other version of what is happening with the so-called “new strains” is a self-serving distortion of reality in the service of the new Tutsi genocide that governments and media are encouraging, this time against the so-called “denialists”.
Will the anti-COVID vaccines encourage SARS-CoV-2 to mutate and create more and more variants? Or will mutations usually occur in people who do not yet have the vaccine? Let’s dig deeper into the scientific research to find out.
Most people in the United States have not been vaccinated, despite what the media says. People who refuse to participate in a medical experiment of genetic modification are not a small fringe group.
We are the majority, representing just over half (51%) of the U.S. population over the age of 18, as of July 12, 2021. (More specifically, 56% have already received one dose and 49% are fully vaccinated, which for Moderna and Pfizer means having received two doses).
According to the scientific evidence, the narrative that unvaccinated people are virus factories for more dangerous variants is false. What’s worse is that the opposite is true, and it obscures the fact that the vaccine could put us all in a far more terrible situation than we need to be.
Vaccines cause viruses to mutate
As explained in the article, “Vaccines Are Pushing Pathogens to Evolve,” published in the journal Quanta, “just as bacteria generate resistance to antibiotics, vaccines can cause changes that allow diseases to take over.”
The article details the history of the Marek’s disease vaccine for chickens, which first appeared in 1970. Today we are on the third version of this vaccine, as in a decade it ceases to work. Why? The virus mutated to evade the vaccine. And it is becoming increasingly deadly and more difficult to treat.
A 2015 paper published in the journal PLOS Biology examined the theory that vaccines drive the mutation of the herpes virus that causes Marek’s disease in chickens. To do this, they vaccinated 100 chickens and kept 100 unvaccinated. Then, they infected all the birds with different strains of the virus. Some strains were more virulent and dangerous than others.
Throughout the birds’ lives, the unvaccinated birds spread the less virulent strains into the environment, while the vaccinated birds spread the more virulent strains. As noted in the Quanta journal article:
“The findings suggest that Marek’s vaccine stimulates the proliferation of more dangerous viruses. Greater virulence could give the viruses the means to overcome the immune responses of birds that received the vaccine and make them sick.”
Here’s another example: the NPR news agency reported on February 9, 2021 that “vaccines may contribute to viruses mutating.” NPR science correspondent Richard Harris noted:
“You may have heard that bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics and, in the worst case, render drugs ineffective. Something similar can also happen with vaccines.
This concern arose in the debate over whether to delay a second vaccine so that more people can receive the first vaccine more quickly. Paul Bieniasz, a Howard Hughes researcher at Rockefeller University, says the lag would leave people with partial immunity for longer than necessary.”
According to Bieniasz, partially vaccinated people “could serve as a sort of breeding ground for the virus to mutate.” This is the exact statement used by people who do not understand natural selection to label unvaccinated people.
Now, the purpose of the alarmist dissemination about variants is to instill fear. So far, although some SARS-CoV-2 variants seem to spread more easily, they are also less dangerous. The Delta variant, for example, is associated with more conventional flu-like symptoms, such as runny nose and sore throat, rather than the characteristic COVID-19 symptoms involving shortness of breath and loss of smell.
In an interview for the documentary entitled: “Planet Lockdown”, Dr. Michael Yeadon, a life science researcher, pointed out the fraud they commit regarding the variants. He actually refers to them as “apes” because they are almost identical to the original virus. And, as such, they pose no greater threat than the original.
If someone accepts the validity of this poster it will not confirm that the “vaccine” works, but that his or her brain has stopped working.
works, but that their brain has stopped working.
“It’s very normal that when RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2 reproduce, they make typos,” Yeadon explains. “They have a very good error detection and correction system, so they make only a few typos that are called ‘variants.
“When government scientists tell you that a variant that is 0.3% different from SARS-CoV-2 could masquerade as a new virus and be a threat to your health, let me tell you, they’re lying to you,” Yeadon says.
Mutations are good for the vaccine business. Of course, by driving fear of variants, vaccine makers ensure a steady supply of people willing to participate as guinea pigs in their for-profit commercial scheme. Pfizer is already preparing the application for a lucrative third booster dose against COVID to be licensed.
According to Pfizer’s head of research, Dr. Mikael Dolsten, initial data suggest that a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine can increase levels of neutralizing antibodies by five to ten times. The company is also working on variant-specific formulations.
Dolsten points to data from Israel, where only Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine was used, showing a recent increase in cases. This suggests that protection begins to wane at around six months. For now, the FDA does not recommend booster doses, but that could change at any time and most likely will.
Pfizer recently announced that it intends to increase the price of its anti-COVID vaccine once the pandemic subsides, and during a recent investor conference, Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio said there is a “significant opportunity” for gains once the market shifts to annual doses.
In an April 2021 article, The Defender portal reported anticipated earnings from anti-COVID vaccines and boosters over the next few years:
Pfizer anticipates minimum revenue of $15 billion to $30 billion in 2021 alone.
Moderna anticipates sales of $18.4 billion in 2021; Barclays analyst Gena Wang forecasts company’s 2022 revenue to hover between $11 billion and $12 billion in 2023
Johnson & Johnson anticipates sales of $10 billion in 2021.
Many more routine vaccines are coming
The way things have been going, it seems inevitable that we will face routine vaccines, where new variants will “need” boosters on a regular basis. Boosters will also drive the “need” for vaccine passports to keep track of everything. And according to The Defender reported:
“Annual anti-COVID booster doses represent good returns for investors. But some independent scientists warn that trying to outwit the virus with booster doses designed to tackle the next variant could be counterproductive, and would in fact create an endless wave of new variants, each more virulent and transmissible than the last.”
Dr. Geert Vanden Bosche, a vaccinologist who has worked with GSK Biologicals, Novartis Vaccines, Solvay Biologicals and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, published an open letter to the World Health Organization on March 6, 2021, in which he warned that implementing a global vaccine campaign during the height of the pandemic could create an “uncontrollable monster” where evolutionary pressure will force the emergence of new and more dangerous mutations.
“There is no doubt that continued vaccination campaigns will allow new and more infectious viral variants to become increasingly dominant and ultimately cause new cases despite vaccine rates. There is also no doubt that this situation will soon cause complete resistance to circulating variants of current vaccines,” Bossche wrote.
Ok, But With Vaccines, Everything Goes Back To Normal, Right?
In a word, no. And that’s the first part of the vaccine bullshit. While everyone would love to be able to forget all the current safeguards, vaccination is not a silver bullet22.
Here’s a challenge: which, if any, of the current safeguards could, or should we remove if we had a vaccine?
Before you answer, consider these simple statistics: if every single Australian was vaccinated with a 95% efficacious vaccine (the current best available)3,4 then there would still be over one million Australians at risk‑the 5% for whom the vaccine didn’t work.
Now if we actually reached that position, they would probably be protected by herd immunity, assuming the vaccine stops asymptomatic transmission. However we won’t achieve that result, so the real picture is much less rosy that that. Why? Because somewhere around 11% of Australians have indicated5, 6, 7 that they won’t get vaccinated; currently children under 18 aren’t in the queue; and most importantly we don’t have the necessary doses of a 95% efficacious vaccine8 for 25 million people.
Currently we’re promised 10 million doses of a 95% efficacious vaccine—enough for 5 million people—and we’re promised 53 million doses of a 62% efficacious vaccine29, 48. Sometime. Vaguely and varyingly specified.
Importantly, it should be noted that the 62% efficacy figure is only valid for people aged under 55. There aren’t enough data to determine what the efficacy actually is for the nearly 7 million Australians over the age of 559.
There’s another piece of bullshit, right there. Anybody who tells you what the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine is for people over 55 is lying, and if they quote a number without warning you that it only applies to under-55s then they’re lying by omission10, 46.
We don’t know.
Most Phase III trials so far haven’t included people over 55, or haven’t had enough to provide statistically useful results. We don’t know. We do know that, as a general rule, people’s immune systems become less and less effective the older they get, so it won’t be the vaccine’s fault if effectiveness is lower in over-55s. However, given that this group is also at greatest risk from serious illness or death, we should definitely be choosing the vaccine that works best for these nearly 7 million Australians.
That’s nearly one third of the Australian population who actually don’t know whether they’ll be getting even 62% efficacy, and neither do the politicians or health experts, but I’ll bet you haven’t been hearing that very often.
Looking at the government’s currently published rollout plan49 we can see that Phase 1 includes more than 6.8 million vaccinations, which is already more than the doses of the 95% efficacious Pfizer vaccine we are promised. However Phase 1 only vaccinates people over 70, leaving everyone between 55 and 70 using the AstraZeneca vaccine of certainly much lower and actually unknown efficacy. [Edit] In fact the EU announced on January 27th that they probably will not be authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 6050, precisely because the known efficacy is already much lower, and for older people it’s unknown. There are 2.6 million Australians aged between 60 and 699 who are probably not going to be very happy knowing that they’ll be receiving a vaccine the EU won’t even use for their age group.
But for now let’s pretend that we do know the efficacy of AstraZeneca for over 55s, and that, optimistically, it’s as good as for people under 55. So based on the best information we currently have, if we assume that people under 18 and people who refuse aren’t vaccinated, and the remainder are 100% vaccinated with the vaccines we have available, we will end up with the following result, after all vaccinations are finished:
Nearly 40% Unprotected
That is, roughly 15.5 million Australians protected, and 9.5 million not protected, or nearly 40% of the Australian population.
And that’s at the end of the vaccination program, sometime late in the year. Before then, of course, the number unprotected is even larger.
But hang on, didn’t I hear the Chief Health Officer (CHO) say that even if the vaccine doesn’t stop you getting Covid-19, it will 100% prevent serious illness or death?14, 15
Yes, I did. And it’s bullshit.
As explained both by a number of Australian experts46 and a paper in the British Medical Journal16. Simply put, the design of the trials didn’t allow that question to be answered, and in the case of the AstraZeneca results, the number of cases of severe illness or death were so small that no useful scientific conclusion could be drawn from them.
We don’t know.
The CHO considerably overstepped the mark, possibly in an attempt to convince people to get vaccinated, but misleading people is never a good strategy when your credibility is as important as your expertise.
Which Safeguards To Drop?
So, knowing these figures, let’s return to the question: with forty percent of the population at risk—even when vaccination is finished late in the year—which of the current safeguards should we then drop? Quarantine of overseas arrivals? Hand washing? Contact tracing?
Hopefully the answer is obvious: none of them. Not only will we be a long way from herd immunity, we’ll have a very significant percentage of the population just as vulnerable as they are today. For their sake, as well as for society as a whole, we can’t afford to drop our guard, because up until now simply by using these precautions and without vaccines we have managed to practically eliminate the virus. We would be crazy to relinquish these safeguards with such a large proportion of the population still at risk.
Now the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, recently observed that the vaccines are “not a silver bullet,” and that
once the vaccination starts COVIDSafe practises do not end. They continue. COVIDSafe practises will be a 2021 lived experience22
That sounds reassuring. But wait. As recently as last November, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said “Our goal is to have the borders open, subject to vaccination and health advice, by the end of 2021.”23 Apparently international borders aren’t part of COVIDSafe.
More recently, when pressed, both the former CHO and the current CHO indicated that they didn’t think international borders would be substantially re-opened this year even after vaccinations12, 13, but there’s been no clear statement even on this most obviously critical safeguard from government.
Instead, and by contrast, all that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, would say is “We will see how things play out over the course of the year.”13
Even on the most optimistic projections it’s blindingly obvious that these safeguards have to stay, but Morrison won’t tell the possibly painful truth. Instead he’s deliberately non-committal with a vague and misleading non-answer that holds out the possibility that the CHOs are wrong, or a miracle might happen. So much for being guided by science and the experts.
On the one hand, he proclaims that COVID safe practices will continue, and on the other hand he holds out the possibility that international borders might re-open. Amazing. We’re an island continent, and with community transmission reduced to zero or near zero the only threat to our entire population is the virus arriving from overseas. Yet while Morrison tells us to keep washing our hands, he also says he might open international borders…
Worse, the failure of governments to clarify which safeguards are going to be retained—even after vaccines are available—raises the very unpleasant possibility that in fact they do intend to drop or relax one or more of the current safeguards, but they’re not telling us that either. Bad either way.
Worst of all, it’s a very safe bet that at this stage the National Cabinet and its expert advisory bodies will have drawn up contingency plans for what to do in best-case and worst-case vaccination scenarios, and will have defined trigger and decision points. They could publish those, and share them with us so that we know what to expect and can have some certainty and confidence. State Premiers have done this on a regular basis when defining the necessary conditions for imposing or relaxing State-level lockdowns and quarantine, and that gives us confidence and certainty.
But Morrison hasn’t, which is bullshit.
But Vaccination Is Good, Right?
For an individual, on the face of it, the choice is simple: the very small risk—in most cases—of an adverse reaction versus being freed from the threat of serious illness or death. What could be simpler?
Except it’s not that simple. The complexity lies in the very many possible consequences outside each individual’s control, and more particularly in the lies, evasion or just dead silence surrounding those consequences. Given that the program is expected to start in a few weeks, surely this information should be available by now? Of course, the start date for the rollout keeps getting changed, but none of the detailed information that should be available before then has been released.
Here are just some of the questions to which none of us knows the answer:
- Q: If I’m vaccinated, will there be a check to see whether I’m actually protected? A: Not specified, so how will you know if you’re in the unlucky 40%, and what steps or precautions to take rather than believing you’re now safe?
- Q: If I’m vaccinated, can I still catch Covid-19 asymptomatically and pass it on to others? A: We simply don’t know, but that vital ignorance isn’t being emphasised in the “everybody get vaccinated” campaign, presumably for fear that it will stop people getting vaccinated. But that’s paternalistic rubbish—Australians should be given all the information and expected to be responsible, not treated like babies.
- Q: If I’m vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine but I’m in the 40% for whom it isn’t effective—and assuming I find out rather than believing I’m protected—do I go to the back of the queue for a different vaccine, assuming that’s even possible? A: Not specified and not known, so maybe if you’re scheduled for a 62% AstraZeneca shot you’d be better off waiting for a Pfizer or other 95% shot. Nobody knows, which frankly is bullshit.
- Q: Will some sort of vaccine passport be instituted, is it legal, and if so how will they be validated? A: Not ruled in or out, nobody knows, it will be chaos if 40% of the population can’t have one.
- Q: If, along with many others, I get vaccinated does that make it more likely that other infection controls will be relaxed, possibly leading to greater risk? Only I may not even know if I’m at risk or not? A: The government’s not telling us, so you can’t make an informed decision.
- Q: What vaccines, and in what quantities, does the government actually guarantee will be available? A: We’ve been told repeatedly about Heads Of Agreement and Memoranda Of Understanding, and even contracts, but we don’t know any of the details of those contracts and what is actually guaranteed or even likely, or when. Or rather, we keep getting “updates” which change both quantities up and down, and dates back and forward. Despite vaccinations starting in a few weeks, supposedly, we have nothing but a four page big-diagram flyer with a few Stages on it. No detail whatsoever.
- Q: If vaccine supplies don’t arrive when the government said they would, or the government actually has no guarantees anyway, will we be subjected to the same untested, unproven and scientifically dubious strategies being used in the U.K.19, 20? Strategies like only one shot, which is not working well in Israel17, 18? Or strategies like mixed shots, in the U.K.? We understand that in the case of the U.K. they are facing a lethal exponential spread and any immunity is better than no immunity, but that’s clearly not the case in Australia. So why hasn’t the government explained what its strategy is? In a serious, even life-threatening situation like this, Australians deserve to know all the possibilities, not just the best-case scenario that everyone hopes is what happens.
With all of those questions unanswered perhaps it’s not surprising that what looks like a simple decision is actually more complex. Most worrying is the total absence of information about what is arriving and when, and then what will happen if you get vaccinated and you find yourself in the 40% for whom it didn’t work, particularly since we have no information about vaccine passports or about any changes in other safeguards.
Which is bullshit.
Safety Or Supply? Voluntary Or Compulsory? Guaranteed Or Not? Herd Or Not?
Now that vaccines are actually available it has become clear that there are both acute and chronic applications for them. In many countries they’re desperately needed as a circuit-breaker to try to dampen an acute, out-of-control spread of infection and to reduce illness, death, and saturation of health systems.
That’s not our need, thankfully. So while there’s no question—apart from those I’ve raised earlier—that vaccinations would be beneficial, there isn’t the unarguable imperative to start tomorrow, assuming of course that we had any actual vaccine available tomorrow. Which brings us to the next round of bullshit—what do we actually have, and when are we going to use it.
As early as April last year it was obvious that, if one could be created, a vaccine was a vital ingredient to returning life to something resembling “normal”. The Prime Minister remarked at the time that “…a vaccine ultimately enables everybody to go back to life as it was.24” So you would expect that a number one priority of the government would be obtaining a vaccine, should someone succeed in making it.
Despite many subsequent government announcements about investments in R&D projects, four months later, in July, experts were warning the government that without a local manufacturing capability for many of the candidate platforms, Australia would inevitably be at the end of the queue25. Then in August, the Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 asked Dr. Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Health Department, why Australia was lagging behind twelve other countries which already had 27 agreements in place for supply of vaccines, while we apparently had none. All Murphy could say was that Australia was “in active, Commercial-In-Confidence discussions and negotiations,”26 which is Public Service speak for “You’re right, we still don’t have any.”
Then lo and behold, five days later the Prime Minister announced that Australia had a deal with AstraZeneca that would guarantee free vaccines for every Australian, made in Australia27. This put Australia “at the head of the pack”.
The same day AstraZeneca was forced to make a statement, “clarifying” that: there was no deal, agreement or contract, just a Letter Of Intent; there was no guarantee of onshore manufacturing; and in particular there was no guarantee of 25 million doses as mentioned28. Labor spokesman Chris Bowen pointed out that, in contrast, the US, the UK and China all had actual deals with AstraZeneca.
Two weeks later the Prime Minister announced that Australia had a deal with AstraZeneca that would guarantee free vaccines for every Australian29… Sound strangely familiar? Minister Hunt boasted that this meant Australians would be “among the first in the world” to receive a Covid vaccine.
Again, bullshit. While we’re lucky not to urgently need the vaccine, pretending we’ll be “among the first in the world” isn’t just hyperbole, it’s a flat-out lie.
They also proudly announced that Australia had secured “early access” to 3.8 million doses in January and February. What they didn’t mention was that the US, India and the EU had secured 1.7 billion doses. What they also didn’t mention was that they had no intention of using those doses in either January or February or probably March, assuming that they were real.
Two months later, in early November the government told us that vaccine rollouts in Australia wouldn’t start until late March21. At the time questions were raised about why there was such a long lead time for our program, when some countries had secured supplies and were about to start. The government gave several reasons for this, which are worth enumerating (emphasis mine):
- Unlike most other countries, Australia has its epidemic well under control and doesn’t need an urgent vaccination program to try to dampen an out-of-control spread. In contrast, we have no or very few cases of community transmission, and as a result no urgency for vaccination.
- Because there is no vital urgency, safety is our primary concern. In other countries the approval given for vaccine use is an emergency approval, while here we can and should afford to wait for the usual full regulatory process to ensure Australian’s safety.
- The decision as to whether any vaccine is approved for use lies entirely with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and we don’t expect that they will be able to complete their investigations before the end of January at the earliest.
All of which sounds reasonable.
However at the very same time the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, was telling us (emphasis mine):
“So, we think the first vaccines are likely to be available in March. It’s guidance, at this stage, not a guarantee. If they were available earlier, we’ll make them available earlier, if it takes a little bit longer that would be the case33.”
Note that he’s simply talking about availability. A few weeks later the UK actually had supplies of the Pfizer vaccine and was using them32, but in Australia—”at the head of the pack” and “among the first in the world to receive the vaccine”—our Health Minister couldn’t be sure whether we’d have vaccines available four months after the UK.
Safety? Clearly not. This is about supply, not safety.
Now don’t get me wrong; the safety of any pharmaceutical is vitally important, and we’re all familiar with the tragic consequences when, despite all the safeguards, we get it wrong. The government and health experts are absolutely correct in observing that we’re not in an acute crisis where we should set a lower bar for safety simply because the alternative is far worse. However the reason for the “January approval, late March rollout” clearly had nothing to do with safety, and hiding behind it is—you guessed it—bullshit.
What followed then was an almost Keystone Cops sequence of announcements, each superseding its predecessor as the rollout date shifted repeatedly from late March first to early March—announced January 6th35—then to mid-to-late February—announced January 7th36. It’s worth noting that when in late December the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, called for the rollout to begin as soon as possible after approval, the Health Minister accused him of taking a “deeply concerning and irresponsible path”37. Two weeks later and Hunt and Morrison had brought the rollout forward by up to six weeks.
Who knows what the health professionals actually responsible for the massive national logistics necessary to fulfil these constantly shifting promised dates are thinking… They’re probably thinking “This is bullshit!”
So now, with the rollout potentially less than three weeks away, there are still all these unanswered questions. In addition to the ones I posed earlier, there’s also questions about whether the vaccination will be voluntary or compulsory, whether supply is really guaranteed or not—and what the strategy will be if it isn’t—and whether the government is aiming for herd immunity or not. I’ll cover those briefly.
Voluntary or Compulsory?
In August, while announcing the “deal” with AstraZeneca that wasn’t, the Prime Minister also remarked that he would make the vaccine “as mandatory as possible.”38 Only a few hours later he was explaining that it wasn’t compulsory at all39. So one of those was a lie. “Not compulsory” remained the official position as recently as late December, but in early January the Prime Minister’s language shifted again, saying there needed to be
“National consistency in public health orders, which is the process by which any requirement to have a vaccine is made legal across Australia. [States and territories were yet to decide] where if, in any cases, there is a requirement to have that vaccine40.”
Then, in a move that has become familiar since it has already been used for international borders, aged care and quarantine, the Prime Minister shifted responsibility to the States, raising the spectre of differing regulations regarding vaccination from State to State:
“It is voluntary. But that is an important discussion on the public health and safety that needs to be had with states and territories, who are responsible for public health.”
Unbelievable. The start of the program is weeks away and they haven’t agreed on this? They’ve been hoping for a vaccine since April and announcing since August, it’s now January and they still haven’t got this sorted? Bullshit.
Guaranteed Or Not?
One of the striking differences between the government’s rhetoric about numbers of doses and dates and the equivalent language from the pharmaceutical companies is that the government constantly aims to give the impression of precision, using phrases like “late March” or “late January” or “mid February”, while the pharmaceutical companies are actually extremely vague, saying things like “second quarter 2021” or “second half 2021”. They wouldn’t be saying “Q3” if they had a contract that said “August 1st”, so the government is misleading us.
For example, when pressed, all that the Prime Minister could actually say was the “government’s contracts with both Pfizer and AstraZeneca would be “binding” them to delivery in the first quarter of 2021.43” That means March 31 is a contractually acceptable date, a far cry from “mid February”, and given the news of supply interruptions we have no way of knowing just how “binding” our contracts are. Given that a Letter Of Intent was represented to us as a contract, it’s anybody’s guess.
Despite all the rhetoric about being “at the front of the pack” and guaranteed supply, what the government isn’t saying is the indisputable truth that, in global terms, we are a minnow in a very large pond. If it comes to a pharmaceutical company prioritising one customer over another, who do you think is going to win? The US, with 380 million citizens, the EU, with 450 million citizens, India with 1.4 billion, even the UK with 67 million, or Australia—with 25 million? Unless our government secured a place in the queue by actually paying up front, and we have no way of knowing whether they did, there’s every possibility that, come a glitch, our order will get bumped.
And glitches have already come; for Pfizer, in mid January41, and a week later for AstraZeneca42, which raises the very reasonable question as to what’s going to happen if there is an interruption in Australia’s supply. As usual, the government is deliberately keeping us in the dark by providing no answer. Having watched exactly the same problems overseas they must have come up with a strategy, but they’re not sharing it, which leaves us guessing as to what’s best, individually, for each of us.
Will they delay the necessary second dose? Will they adopt the UK and Israeli strategy of only giving a single shot, with only 50% or less efficacy? Will they delay the second shot with completely untested efficacy outcomes? Will they attempt to mix and match vaccines? Only they know, and they’re not telling us, which is inexcusable.
The only safety-net we have is the CSL laboratories in Australia producing the AstraZeneca vaccine. Barring production problems there, we can be reasonably certain that we will have access to their output regardless of competition or global logistics. However, as we know, the AstraZeneca only has an efficacy of 62%, which is why we’ll probably end up with 40% of the population unprotected.
Which brings us to the last question: herd immunity.
Will this be the shot herd around the world?
We don’t know.
The WHO points out31 that different viruses require differing percentages of the community to be immune before herd immunity is achieved. Measles, for example, requires 95% of the population to be immune. Polio requires around 80%. Nobody yet knows what percentage is required for Covid-19, firstly because nobody has achieved it, but secondly because other factors affect the percentage. For example, we don’t yet know how long vaccine-acquired immunity will last, and we don’t know whether vaccine immunity will prevent asymptomatic transmission, which of course destroys herd immunity, all of which is pointed out in a paper in The Lancet30.
Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped various people, including government ministers and advisors from quoting a number, which is plain bullshit. In May the Prime Minister decided it was 60%44, and in November Greg Hunt quoted unnamed health officials as saying the number required was 66%23. Both rubbish. The paper in The Lancet makes a scientifically derived estimate of 75%-90%, but that is based on an assumed vaccine efficacy of 80%, which we don’t have.
It was precisely this problem, together with others, that led a group of experts recently to question the government’s strategy45. They pointed out that it was unlikely that the AstraZeneca vaccine would allow us to reach herd immunity, and that it wasn’t even known whether someone receiving a failed AZ shot could ever be immunised with a different, possibly more efficacious, vaccine. Given that we aren’t in urgent need of vaccines, and given that much more efficacious vaccines already exist we might be better off waiting until we have enough of those.
Their concerns met with a significant push-back from the government and health officials, in which a number of claims that we know are bullshit were repeated. Greg Hunt said, of the AstraZeneca vaccine:45
“It’s important to note that the results also show up to 90 per cent effectiveness more generally, with final results to come. And up to 100 per cent in relation to severe illness.”
Both of these claims are just plain false, as is clearly explained here46. Notice, by the way that he didn‘t say “By the way, we don’t have any reliable data on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine on the seven million Australians over the age of 55.” Strangely, he left that bit out.
The CHO also repeated this previous claim which is simply not supported by the trial results and statistics, which is a polite way of saying he mis-spoke:
“One thing is clear from those interim results is that this vaccine is very effective against severe disease”
He also suggested that we shouldn’t pay attention to the 62% efficacy figure because it was only “interim results”. Note the subtle hypocrisy here. He’s asking us to believe some of the data in the paper because he believes they support his arguments, but he’s asking us to discount other data, because they don’t. In any case, he forgot to say that it is the result of a global Phase III clinical trial involving nearly ten thousand subjects, published in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, and it’s the best data we currently have. Finally, he didn’t mention that there’s no guarantee that if more results come in that the number might go down instead of up, but the CHO wasn’t speaking scientifically, he was speaking politically, trying to counter a reasonable fact-based argument with FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. This does him no credit, and it brings other experts into disrepute.
More importantly still, and as usual, the government isn’t really telling us what its strategy is or what its goals are. Is it hoping to reach herd immunity? If it intends moving forward with a 62% efficacious vaccine, instead of waiting for a 95% efficacious one, what safeguards is it putting in place for the 40% of Australians who will remain unprotected? What current restrictions is it intending to relax, if any, and when, and with what triggers? If we’re to believe that the government can organize the logistics for a nationwide vaccination program we can reasonably assume that they also done the planning around the outcomes from that program, but they’re not giving us any fine detail on either the vaccination program or the larger public health policy settings. Which is simply unacceptable.
The long list of unanswered questions I and others have posed are reasonable and deserve the best answers our elected officials and public servants can provide, but we’re not getting them.
The pandemic has shaken the nation, in fact the world, to its core, and while the fight to contain and overcome it might look like a war, its first casualty shouldn’t be truth. What everyone needs most right now is the best, clearest information available, and elected officials who aren’t afraid to say “We don’t know” when they don’t know, and the whole truth when they do.
Not more bullshit.
[Updated 2021-01-27 to include EU regulator’s comments regarding lack of AZ efficacy data for over-60s and probable authorization only for people under 60]
- Will covid-19 vaccines save lives? Current trials aren’t designed to tell us