Bizarre COVID logic

The German vaccine commission has rejected the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine for people over the age of 65, based on the lack of available data about its safety or efficacy. Both the UK and AZ PR machines creaked into action to refute the assertions. Their response, however, was opaque and misleading and designed to obfuscate the real issues identified by the Germans.

The PR lines of defence were twofold. In the first, there was an admission of the factual basis of the German interpretation by Mary Ramsay, the Head of Immunisations at Public Health England (PHE) said “There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group” – aka “we have no idea”- but that admission was inevitable since it was a matter of record. She then went on to say that “immune responses were very reassuring”.

The second line of defence was rather more bizarre. To quote one source “Their (Grumpy: the Germans) assessment is that effectiveness is not yet demonstrated for over 65s. They have not said the vaccine is ineffective for over 65s“. This is rather like saying that “we have no data on whether drinking drain cleaner will harm you, but in the absence of any information to the contrary we feel it is reasonable to recommend doing so to all pensioners.” This is a variation on the the Bernard Russel ‘Teapot’ analogy that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

As an example of the above, MHRA Chief Executive Dr June Raine said current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against Covid-19 in people aged 65 or over”, which since there is no convincing evidence falls into the logical ‘proving a negative” trap.

Both defence lines were also made opaque by firstly conflation designed to mislead. Ramsay, at PHE said “both AstraZeneca and Pfizer … provide high levels of protection” implying that the two could be equated in terms of effectiveness; in fact AZ was only 62% effective in the age groups they did test, against more than 90% for the Pfizer version. They are not even vaguely comparable, and of course they have no sound data on whether it is effective in the over 70’s.

The second aspect of opacity was to couch all defences in qualitative terms, rather than references to quantitative data – always the refuge of those seeking to mislead. This is especially the case where the UK Medical Regulator relied on unpublished data in its decision to grant AZ authorisation. What does ‘high levels of protection’ or ‘reassuring’ mean ? No-one knows. It’s a “hooray” word used by politicians or their lapdogs to support the otherwise unsupportable.

Grumpy pointed out this lack of data and irrational authorisation based upon it in a post here . He concluded that post by saying “Readers should be clear; taking this juice and reverting to normal living if you are a pensioner, is a risk which is, in Grumpy’s view, simply not worth taking.” He stands by that view.