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BOOSTERS IN THE TIME OF OMICRON – I have questions
Just trying to make sense of the numbers and the mandates. Spoiler alert, I failed!
On Wed 12 Jan 2022 the Victorian Health Minister decreed that all workers in certain critical industries must receive a booster dose of covid 19 Vaccine, this was following the ATAGI’s statement, from December 24, 2021, that there was “strong evidence suggests that booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines may enhance protection against symptomatic disease due to the Omicron variant.” It also goes on to state, “This is primarily based on in vitro studies of neutralising antibodies demonstrating that the decreased binding seen with the Omicron variant compared with ancestral strains can be overcome by increasing antibody concentrations with a booster dose.” (Emphasis mine).
The next paragraph reads:
A mathematical modelling study has examined the relationship between neutralising antibody titres and vaccine effectiveness estimated in epidemiological studies. The investigators predicted that six months after primary immunisation with an mRNA vaccine, efficacy for Omicron is estimated to have waned to around 40% against symptomatic disease, and 80% against severe disease (36.7% [95% CI: 7.7-73], 70.9% [95% CI: 32.9-91.5] and 81.1% [95% CI: 42.1-96] for the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively). A booster dose with an mRNA vaccine has the potential to increase efficacy for Omicron to 86.2% (95% CI: 72.6-94%) against symptomatic infection and 98.2% (95% CI: 90.2-99.7%) against severe infection.3
Notice the two phrases used, “strong evidence” and “based on in vitro”? Interesting choice of words considering that the Victorian health minister dismissed similar evidence on ivermectin for the same reason. He dismissed the Monash in vitro study published in 2020 which showed that ivermectin destroyed covid-19 cells within 48 hours, stating that in vitro (that is studies done in test tubes or in the lab) don’t necessarily translate to real world results. So, the strong results from the Monash University in vitro study on ivermectin are dismissible, yet in vitro studies on a 3rd jab of a still technically experimental and novel mRNA vaccine warrant strong recommendation by the ATAGI and subsequent mandates? On a side note, since the above-mentioned in vitro study on ivermectin there have been over 60 more in vivo (realworld) studies peer reviewed and published to date. But, according to the media and health authorities, there is still not enough evidence to recommend ivermectin as an early treatment for covid, not even a weak recommendation at that. Instead, the TGA banned GPs in Australia from prescribing it off label altogether, even with the patient’s informed consent. In fact, the TGA have largely ignored all the evidence for early treatment options that use repurposed drugs, the only reason ivermectin gets a special mention, is because it caused quite a stir in 2021. The media’s treatment of ivermectin seems to have cast a chill on discussion of early treatment all together since, unless of course we are talking about new pills put forward by big pharma. However, I digress.
So anyway, it appears their ‘strong’ evidence back in December was based on a grand total of 10 studies. One of which states that “The durability of the effect of the third dose is yet to be determined.” However, granted that given the unusual situation, it is impractical to wait for all the data to be peer reviewed, however, using such limited data to mandate injections of boosters does not seem reasonable, let alone wise to me. To strongly recommend a procedure is one thing, but to mandate, that’s another thing entirely. We are told to ‘follow the science’ but what if there is no science, i.e., no data, to follow? Then, is it just a matter of making it up on the fly? How do we know that the boosters are going to make any difference to the real-world numbers that matter, hospitalizations and deaths?
Perhaps the ATAGI has access to data or evidence that it is not sharing with us? In any case, in its infinite wisdom it has seen to recommend a shorter interval between 2nd jab and booster dose as a public health measure; “An earlier booster dose is expected to reduce the risk of symptomatic infection, severe illness and death from COVID-19. In combination with enhanced public health and social measures, it is also expected to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the health system and its the broader impacts on the community.” It reduced the interval between 2nd dose and booster from 6 months to 4, and now, to 3 months. Based on what data exactly? According to the ATAGI, “A UK study found that AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines given as booster doses around 3 months after a primary course of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine were all generally well tolerated.” For now. We do not know what effect repeated doses of the recommended vaccines will do to the human immune system. At least the European Union is voicing some concern that repeated booster doses could be a threat to the immune system and don’t see them as a viable strategy.
Even ATAGI saw it prudent to acknowledge that this was a best guess situation, admitting that,
“The effectiveness of a booster dose to prevent onward transmission of Omicron from infected persons, and the duration of protection afforded by a booster are currently unclear. It is expected a reduction in symptomatic infection will parallel a reduction in transmission. ATAGI will continue to closely monitor emerging data regarding these evidence gaps.”
You know what else will cause a reduction in transmission? Naturally acquired immunity. Given that at the time of writing, the Omicron variant seems to have already peaked in NSW and Victoria should render the above statement moot, I would have thought. But anyway, back to the data. So, ATAGI expected, in December 24, that a booster would improve protection from infection and spread of the Omicron. O.k. so let’s see how the data is panning out. Note. I have limited resources and my investigative journalism skills kind of stop at Google, Duck Duck Go and Safari, but let’s see what I get.
From Our World in Data:
From that very simplistic chart above, it seems to me that the increase in vaccine doses seems to loosely parallel the increase in cases numbers, ICU and deaths. The vaccine uptake from the start of rollout in 2021 seemed to not really impact case numbers much at all in-fact, until Omicron, when cases seemed to have abruptly shot upwards. Patients in ICU and deaths appeared to be trending down until Omicron sent them soaring upwards again. Vaccines seem to have little to no effect according to the above data.
In fact, the very high vaccination rate, 90% plus by end of November 2021, seems to have had no impact on the super steep rise in Omicron cases at al. Note, the above chart does not separate whether double vaccinated, or booster vaccinated, just the number of vaccine doses in total. But to my simple mind, and I am open to correction, I just want to understand why it seems to be that the vaccines have done a whole lot of nothing when it comes to stopping transmission, especially of Omicron? Yet we are expected to believe that a third dose of the same thing will do something that the earlier doses did not do.
Now when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths, according to the above chart, initially as the vaccine uptake increased, hospitalizations and deaths appear to reduce. Yay! I guess that’s where the narrative of, “vaccines were never meant to stop you getting covid, but they do reduce hospitalization and death” came from. However, the high transmissibility of Omicron means that cases seem to have skyrocketed to highs never seen in Australia previously even with a 90% vaccination rate. With rising cases however, we have higher hospitalization rates, and unfortunately, more people dying. Not so good. In another month’s time we will have a clearer picture. The cynic growing inside of me can’t help but think that this aggressive push to get everyone boosted in record time is more political than health related.
However, there is a silver cloud to this depressing lining. Whilst case numbers have increased dramatically, the case fatality rate is lower than ever. Let’s take a look at a couple more graphs from “Our World in Data”.
It would seem, according to the above graph, that the case fatality rate, (the number of cases to death ratio) has declined dramatically since the height of the original wave). From around 10% to close to 0% in the last month. So, what does that tell us? Perhaps the vaccines have helped to prevent deaths to a degree. Looking at the data from January, it appears that despite the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant, this is a much milder version of covid. Some are even saying that Omicron is less severe than seasonal influenza, but slightly more serious than a cold. Whilst it is still prudent to proceed with caution and utilize self-responsibility in keeping yourself and those around you protected by keeping an eye on symptoms, getting tested (much easier with at home Rapid Antigen Tests, when you can get them) and staying home if unwell – does a bad cold/moderate flu justify mandating and coercing healthy people into get a third injection of mRNA genetic material? Without really knowing what the medium – long term outcomes might be for adults, women and especially children, who are extremely unlikely to suffer severe symptoms, and given that even ATAGI admits that the durability of a booster dose is unclear, once again, I ask in all sincerity, how can the Victorian government justify these mandates?
What about the chart below, which shows the number of vaccine doses compared to the number of deaths? It clearly shows that the increase in vaccines, including towards the end of the line showing vaccine doses ticking upwards, which I assume is the start of the booster roll out, has placed very little downward pressure on the numbers of deaths in recent weeks, as shown below. Initially the vaccines appeared to have a downwards effect on the death totals, but as the efficacy wanes after a few months, and coupled with the introduction of Omicron to Australia, the deaths have increased again in the last few weeks.
I will be the first to admit, I am no mathematician, no statistics expert, not an epidemiologist or public health expert. I am merely, in this context, a non-practicing journalist (meaning, I have my degree, but I do not currently work as a professional journalist) so if I am wrong, please, comment below and tell me I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. I’d love for our public health experts, and our politicians to be right about the vaccines and booster so I could just roll my sleeve up and be done with it.
But. I cannot help but see what I see. And I will not be gaslit and told something is “safe and effective” when the data do not seem to show that. If the vaccines worked, as they were promised to have worked, we would not be in this situation. Yet here we are.
There are other questions that are causing me to pause. If the vaccines work, why are upwards of 70% of cases in NSW double vaccinated? (I struggled to find the equivalent Victorian data). If the vaccines are safe, why have there been over 100, 000 reports of adverse events and over 700 reported deaths to the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (the Australian version of VAERS) related to covid-19 vaccines? Note, before I get fact checked, I understand these reports are not all verified but they are still one heck of a safety signal. Certainly, enough to put a pause on mandating the injections if common sense was still a thing. Which it clearly is not.
In summary, from what I can tell, there is very limited data available on the efficacy of the booster to limit transmission, reduce infection, or limit hospitalization and death. On the other hand, there is emerging and reliable evidence, real world evidence (not in vitro studies, or assurances from big pharma representatives) that Omicron is a much milder variant, not that good at infecting the lower lungs and therefor more like a flu or common coronavirus that we have been living with for centuries. Putting aside the long-term potential side effects of too many injections, too close together, there is not enough evidence to convince me that taking another shot is going to make much of a difference to my chances of surviving a coronavirus infection. It certainly does not seem to be able to stop me from catching it, and if I do, the chances of surviving Omicron seem to be close to 99.96% anyway.
Yet, the government of Victoria is now tabling mandatory boosters for all residents, and they have reduced the time frame from 6 to 3 months, with very little evidence to support that it is safe to do so, and no idea about how long its efficacy will last. Without clear data on the utility of a third dose on the entire population, without clear data on medium to long term safety on all the shots, the justification for mandating covid boosters for anyone seems very thin to me.