Responding to a bit of anti-vax propaganda

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One of my concerns during the pandemic has been the way that truth has so often been the first casualty.  The debate has often been polarised between two extremes. On the one hand you’ve had the zero COVID lobby determined to prove that our governments are intentionally trying to kill us, at the other end, there are those who want to claim that the virus has been exaggerated in order to justify an encroachment on civil liberties.

Peculiarly, both groups find one specific area of common ground by seeking to use data to show that the vaccine is ineffective or at least not as effective as claimed.  The Zero-COVID lobby need to show that even with the vaccine we still need harsh lockdown type measures, the deniers wish to prove that the vaccine isn’t worth taking.  The irony is that to do so, the latter group have to rely on some quite scary representations of the figures because for the vaccine not to work, it needs to look like lots of people are still getting very ill and dying.

Here’s one example of an “anti-vax” article.  The author chooses to focus in on Israel to test their hypothesis that vaccines don’t work. This is interesting in itself for a couple of reasons. First of all, there’s real world data available from all around the globe now, including here in the UK. In fact, we’ve got lots of data readily available from an adult population that is over 80% and on its way to 90% fully vaccinated. In the UK’s case the vaccines were delivered with an 8-12 week gap which we now know to be optimum for maximum vaccine efficacy.  Israel on the other hand, although an early trend setter provides its own unique challenges. First of all, like the UK, a proportion of the adult population is still unvaccinated, secondly the vaccines were delivered at a 3 week interval. This means that not only was the delivery method likely to be less effective in providing long term protection than the UKs but also the majority of those vaccinated are much further along from their second jab and so likely to be seeing higher rates of immunity waning. 

Even still, the article is problematic for numerous reasons. It starts with this bold claim.

We have all come to accept that the vaccines have little impact on infection – this even though we were once told it was 95% effective against infection. But no matter – be sure to throw that down the memory hole. The latest ‘mandatory science opinion’ is that the vaccine prevents cases from evolving into severe cases that require hospitalisations and, eventually, death.

That’s an interesting perspective but no, we have not “come to accept that the vaccines have little impact on infection.”  The 95% figure was the high end view of vaccine efficacy against the original strain.  We are now dealing with the Delta variant which we know to spread more easily and be more resistant to vaccines. However, we are still looking at 60-80% efficacy against symptomatic infection which compares favourably with the annual flu vaccine.

What that does mean though is that with 40% of Israel’s total population unvaccinated, a significant number experiencing the waning affect of the vaccine and between 20-40% prospects of being infected with the vaccine, that’s a lot of people still potentially at risk of illness. It is worth pointing out then that despite the dismissiveness with which the article treats the matter,  65% of serious cases in Israel come from the 17% of adults who have not been vaccinated and…

Per capita, for every death of an Israeli over 60 that had received the booster shot, there are 15 deaths of unvaccinated Israelis in same age group[1]

There are other question-marks about how the article handles data. For example, I’m not convinced by its decision to focus on test positivity rates rather than actual numbers of cases. Positivity rates are helpful in terms of confirming the reliability of data but positivity will increase if all other factors remain unchanged should the number of tests reduce.

Secondly, the article looks at deaths per hospitalisation.  An increase there isn’t particularly relevant to vaccine efficacy but may or may not tell us something about effectiveness of hospital treatment. The reality is that as hospitalisations are going to be much more prevalent among the unprotected and vulnerable we may well see a higher percentage of those going into hospital sadly dying. 

Finally, the article simply fails to acknowledge that we are comparing data for the Delta variant with data for Alpha and the original strain. 

I’m not sure what the aim of the article is given that the vast majority of adults in the UK have now had the vaccine.  As I have said before, there is a risk that whilst such articles are too late to prevent people from being vaccinated that they do play a part in reducing our trust in one another and in objective truth so that the public conversation becomes more and more toxic.

[1] Israel’s 17% unvaccinated now account for 65% of all serious COVID-19 cases – Israel News –

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