Patriotic vetting and hypocrisy

The Guardian underlined its slightly odd take on the world (presumably suffering under the delusion that the UK had any real impact globally of the affairs of same) by bemoaning the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong saying “China’s top law making body has formally unveiled plans to ensure that only “patriots” can govern Hong Kong, as Beijing tightens its grip on the city with electoral changes including a vetting process for all parliamentary candidates”.

As Grumpy has pointed out several times in this blog, the writer seems to have set aside the fact that Hong Kong was ruled by the British for 155 years as a colony, with precisely zero ability of the citizens to vote for their leader, or have independent control of the laws they were subject to. Even worse, this state of affairs came about because the UK took the territory by two acts of war, to establish their right to act as a narco state and kill Chinese mainland citizens with heroin. This is hardly a position of holding the moral high ground.

The objection the Guardian raises is the wish of the Chinese government to ensure that those elected (democracy ?) to rule the territory recognise that it is, and will continue to be, integral with China in perpetuity, and not to work to subvert that fact, which is not open to a local government to change.

The Guardian, as well as setting aside the brutal colonial past of the UK, conveniently ignores that the United Kingdom too enforces the same exactly the same undertakings on members of its own parliament. Sein Fein’s democratically elected members are unable to take a seat at the Westminster, because they have refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Head of State, which they are required by law to take. This seems to mirror the Chinese position in that it ensures that only patriots can participate in the government and is clearly a form of “vetting” – just as in Hong Kong.

Many of the pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have a stated goal to subvert Chinese authority and push for independence and secession. As Grumpy pointed out elsewhere in this blog, European citizens in Catalonia, Spain, are current spending years in prison for merely seeking to hold an illustrative referendum – something the Chinese wish to avoid. Might Nicola Sturgeon also find herself incarcerated if she declares UDI and holds a referendum, if Boris follows the example of his European friends ?

Only one cheer for AstraZeneca

It’s becoming clear that the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine is second rate in comparison with certain other technologies, and in particular the Pfizer/BioNTech version. A recent peer reviewed study has shown that the Pfizer version has shown 94% effectiveness.

AZ were on the back foot from the outset, because the medical trials showed only a 62% effectiveness for their vaccine. Whereas the Pfizer vaccine is ineffective in 6 out of every hundred injected, 38 people taking the AZ vaccine will be at risk – more than 6 times as many.

Even this inferior performance was based on a second jab about 4 weeks after the first; but the UK government decided to take a jump into the unknown by extending that gap to 3 months, based on both guesswork and some unpublished data. This was, as the US regulator disbelievingly noted, ‘making it up as they went along’. Pfizer were alarmed enough to issue a statement to say they had no data to determine whether that strategy would be effective or not. Clearly the government believed it knew better than the vaccine’s inventors ; now there’s confidence for you.

The UK approach was based on a (valid) statistical reasoning that by extending the second dose period, more people would be vaccinated because of the limited supplied of vaccine. This was fine for the overall numbers, but the effect at an individual level was not potentially negative and not possible to assess.

These uncertainties were further compounded from the get go because AstraZeneca did not include any meaningful tests of the most at risk cohort, being those over 70. In other words, there was no data to support it having any effect, merely opinions that what worked in the sprightly goose would also work on the geriatric gander.

It’s too early to tell whether the reductions in infections as at this time (25 Feb 21) have been achieved primarily because of the lock down, or because of the vaccination of the first groupings at risk. More will data emerge as the personal mixing restrictions are loosened as Q1/21 progresses.

Boris and Co have inevitably been talking up this mediocre second rate product and praising the UK’s “world beating” science and research capability. It’s all rather dismal. Grumpy drew a short straw and got the AstraZeneca jab (damn) but the bottom line is that this really is one of those situations where something really is better than nothing, especially when ‘nothing’ is a iron lung then a body bag.

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.

A fiasco in the making

When plans go wrong, it may well be that some unforeseen change in circumstances negated the (at one point) valid assumptions and logical processes used to create those plans. It may well be that the inevitable post mortem on the coming vaccination fiasco – for such it will be – attributes the virus mutation to the disruption of previously sensible preparations.

However, every item of evidence points to this not being the case in the planning by the hapless Matt Hancock for the COVID vaccination schedule. On 30.12 the government’s own website was still stating that two vaccine doses would be given between 21 and 28 days apart. It was on the basis of the results of rigorous tests of that regimen that the UK regulator (MHRA) approved both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines. Yet just one day later, Hancock and his co-conspirators slipped out that this accepted regimen was to be abandoned. It was done surreptitiously without announcing the rationale for this up front, and it was left to the press and others to tease out the reasons.

Essentially, after having made statements about the rate of vaccinations and the deliveries of doses, it became clear that the inventory was not there to support that rate, and hence the change to pushing back the second doses to ‘up to’ (a common politician get out phrase) 3 months after the first – and making this retrospective for those already vaccinated. They also changed guidance to include mixing vaccines for the first and second doses.

Chis Witty and his fellow national medical chiefs shredded whatever little professional integrity they had left by issuing a statement which included the words “the great majority of the initial protection from clinical disease is after the the first dose of vaccine”. The wording is subtle as an attempt to prevent this from being an outright lie, but it is unequivocally intended to deceive. It was promptly disputed by the inventor of the Pfizer vaccine, which said they the 21 day gap they specified was because “the data tells us that is the best way to do it”. They went further and refuted Whitty completely and said there was “no evidence that any protection was given 21 days after the first dose”. So Whitty and Hancock know better than the vaccine developers ?

Professor Adam Finn of Bristol University was one of several sundry ‘experts’ recruited in a PR exercise to avoid more flak, and directly contradicted the makers and said that people who got the first jab would have 91% protection, which would rise only marginally to 95% after the second – but Pfizer’s press release makes it clear that that have no data to support that with a 3 month gap. As the US regulator put it, the UK government had abandoned science and were making it up as they went along.

Grumpy’s main complaint about this is that on 30.12 when Hancock was receiving plaudits for the vaccine delivery, stating that the country would “be out of it by Spring”, and would be performing two million inoculations each week from January 4th, he already knew that the inventory was not there to deliver that (as he announced the next day). Worse, the ‘army of volunteers’ to perform the jabs was already evaporating because they did not have certificates for their fire safety and anti-radicalisation courses required by the government – beyond belief.

Hancock’s utterings, and those of the discredited Witty are not simply spin or sophistry – they are lies, plain and simple as he knew when he uttered them. Disgraceful, and no wonder faith in British politics by the populace continues to decline.

Footnote : Part of the government disinformation campaign has officials and politicians stating that the Oxford Vaccine is 70% effective – read the test results as Grumpy has done. This is not the case; it was found to be either 62% or 90% effective, depending on dosing protocols – there is no such thing as 70% for an individual. In fact, since a full dose regimen will be used, that first does will provide just a 3 in 5 chance of warding off COVID, with no data about the effect of the 3 month gap thereafter.

Also, Moderna and Pfizer have stated that “mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable with either each other or with other COVID 19 vaccine products. The safety and efficacy of a mixed product series have not been evaluated. Both doses should be completed with the same product” Yet the UK regulator has issued guidance that mixing vaccine types is permissible, prompting a virus expert at Cornell University to say that the “UK are now just trying to guess themselves out of a mess”

Oxford obfuscation<<< updated on 31.12.20

It is the view of Grumpy that there has been significant intervention by the government to subvert medical opinions in the interests of avoiding political embarrassment. In response to the decision to have a 3 month gap between the first and second doses, Pfizer have issued a statement, as follows

“Data from the phase 3 study demonstrated that, although partial protection from the vaccine appears to begin as early as 12 days after the first dose, two doses of the vaccine are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95%. There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days”

In other words, Matt Hancock is ignoring data from the inventor of the Pfizer vaccine that underlines there is NO evidence that a 3 month gap will provide any protection for the majority of that period. as set out below, this is driven by the vaccine delivery schedule and the need for political points. This has all the makings of a future scandal.

(Initial post as follows) Matt Hancock announced this morning (30.12.20) that the Oxford vaccine had been approved for use in the UK. Seemingly good news, but it very soon became apparent that the implementation plan was almost wholly driven by political considerations rather than a well planned strategy to reduce COVID. Further, given vaccination is planned to start in January, their are many outstanding questions about more or less every aspect of its use.

Dosage : It is as yet unclear as to whether the dosage regime will be a half dose (‘LD’) followed by a full dose (‘SD), or whether it will be two full doses. This is of more than academic relevance, since the SD+SD regime is only about 60% effective, which is way, way worse (although cheaper – perhaps a factor) than the competing Pfizer and Moderna vaccine alternatives. The alternative LD+SD option was stated to be up to 90% effective, but as it was not tested on anyone over 55, whether it will work at all for the most vulnerable 60+ years cohort of the population is just not known, as admitted by all parties. (See )

Protocol : All the tests submitted as a basis for approval for the vaccine to the UK regulator, the MHRA, were based on two doses 28 days apart. It has now been decided that the doses will be separated by 3 months. Grumpy can find no evidence of whether this regime, plucked from mid air, is as effective or not. Note how the LD / SD variation had a huge impact on effectiveness, so it is baffling how the MHRA approved a plan which had simply no material testing evidence to support not only its efficacy, but whether it was safe or would even work as assumed – and it is assumption. Previous documentation on the dosing has stated (as late as the date of this entry) that “two doses of vaccine, four weeks apart, are needed to to offer best protection”; when did this change, and why? The answer lies, Grumpy believes, in the fact that the government’s own numbers on vaccine delivery schedules and the rate of vaccination simply do not add up, and this is a fudge to avoid Hancock embarrassment over yet another failure.

Numbers : Hancock spoke on the BBC Today program on 30.12 and stated that 1m vaccinations per week would be done from January 4th. This implies that by February 4th, 4m people will have been vaccinated. However, bulk deliveries of vaccine (40m doses) will not be available for 2-3 months (according to AstraZeneca), so these numbers simply don’t add up, as the first delivery of 4m units does not have sufficient doses. The inevitable fudge comes from the sudden change in plan to separate the doses by 3 months, thus doubling the number of first shots available. The delivery schedule had already slipped back by many weeks, so Grumpy thinks that pulling back from the 1m per week target is all but inevitable – testing/tracking all over again. The switch to a 3 month gap for no stated medical reason is thus driven entirely by political motives, and Hancock sought to bury this the fanfare resulting from approval.

Timing : Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, stated on the Today program on 30.12 that the Company could deliver “up to” 2m doses per week. The population of the UK is 67m, so (assuming the 2m doses included both first and second jabs) the population would be vaccinated at best by April 2022. Allowing for the 30m Pfizer doses ordered (but not yet fully delivered) , that would bring completion forward somewhat, with the caveat that neither company has a record of delivering on time. That timing is far short of Matt Hancock’s less than credible statement on Radio 4 ‘s Today program that the UK would be “out of this by the spring.” This is surely a statement he will come to regret, but as Grumpy has pointed out before he has a habit of offering unnecessary hostages to fortune. (See )

Europe : The EMA (EU regulator) has not approved the Oxford vaccine, stating that there is no basis for granting even a conditional licence. Are the standards less demanding in the UK ? Does the European regulator know something the UK regulator does not, or is discounting?

New mutation : As of 30.12, AstraZeneca informed Reuters that its Covid-19 vaccine is potentially effective against the new coronavirus variant, with studies underway to fully analyse the impact of the mutation. Studies underway ? They don’t know yet whether it will work on a variant pushing daily cases over 50,000 or not? Is this one more element of evidence pointing to the the UK regulator being premature, which raises the issue of government pressure and interference to get it approved ?

So, in summary, here are the questions to ask

  • Will the dosing regime be LD+SD or SD+SD ? This has a huge impact on how the individual should plan his/her lifestyle post vaccination
  • If the dosing is LD+SD, will more tests be done to confirm its effectiveness (or otherwise) before rolling it out to the 60+ cohort, or do the government plan to use the next batch of 70+ citizens as test mice?
  • Why was the gap between doses suddenly changed to 3 months, when all tests were done on 28 days ? Is there any quantitative evidence (certainly none is published) that this would be an effective protocol, or even work ?
  • How can the conflict between stated delivery schedules of Oxford vaccine and the claimed rate of vaccination be explained ?
  • Given the CEO of AstraZeneca’s statement on the ceiling on dose deliveries, how does the implied time to complete UK vaccination reconcile with Hancock’s optimism on being “out of it by the spring” (whatever that might mean) ?

Brexit done

Well, Brexit is sort of done. It could have been worse, and Boris has maybe just enough positive headline points in the agreement to avoid shredding by die-hard Brexiteers. What it all means is yet unclear, and maybe Grumpy will have comments to make in the coming weeks.

One element which did some to his mind was the issues of borders. Grumpy has opined before on the predictions of remainers and the ‘duty free’ rip-off companies regarding border issues. (see ). UK tourists (and it is hoped reciprocally inbound European tourists) will have to queue up for more passport inspection or stamping, and will be restricted to the amount of time that can be spent in Europe in a 90 day period, albeit this will affect in reality only a tiny percentage of Brits.

Grumpy hunted through his box marked ‘junk for disposal’ and came up with an old passport. It reminded him that in earlier times one had to queue up to get passport stamps for entry into Spain, for example, but he does not recall this being much of a hassle or a deterrent against getting a spot of sun. As an ex relatively frequent traveller to the USA he was also reminded that his old B1B visa allowed relatively pain free access to the US.

So, he mused, over the years which were the best and worst border crossings in his long travels ? Setting aside Washington Dulles (which Grumpy feels exists only as a textbook example of how not to build an international airport) first prize for consistent border hassle must have been getting the Eurostar on Friday evenings at Gare du Nord in Paris in the early days of the service, especially when “une greve” between RATP (metro and buses) and SNCF (main line) was in progress. This was French officialdom and surliness at its simply magnificent worst, unsurpassed even by US border officers at airports.

However, the simplest and quickest entry events anywhere over the years were (maybe surprisingly) by a huge margin in Hong Kong (no queues, no man behind a desk, entry with fingerprint).

As an anecdote, Grumpy discovered by accident that in Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle airport there was a simple and essentially undetectable mechanism for getting in and out of France (if one had no checked baggage) without ever needing to bother with the border. Ironically, for those trips, France would have won the simplest entry prize. He has no idea whether the flaw still exists at the airport. Without giving anything away, it is based on the existence of shared toilets on the entry level between domestic and international arrivals, it was less obvious than it sounds, and was discovered by taking a wrong turning then getting on the wrong rubber moving walkway which are part of that larbyrinthine edifice.

Avoid the (ineffective) Oxford Vaccine

Anyone over the age of 70 should seek, if possible, to be vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna varieties of COVID vaccine. The Oxford vaccine essentially condemns anyone in that age group to continue to isolate from society at large for a significant time, unless they wish to adopt a ‘Russian roulette’ approach to a virus which kills 200 times as many of their cohort than its does citizens in their twenties.

As of the second week of December 2020 it is clear that the Oxford vaccine is significantly less effective than the alternatives. The drive to introduce it is hidden in words which appear in several of the utterances by its advocates, and they are ‘cost / benefit’. It’s cheap, and justifiably so since for oldies it is potentially not only inferior, it is inferior only on the basis of assumption and not fact. In the words of one industry reviewer “that from the interim analysis of these trials, we cannot yet infer efficacy in older adults, who are the group at greatest risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.” In other words, on the potential eve of its introduction, the medical profession has no solid evidence to show it works with the very first targets they plan to vaccinate; the 70 – 80+ age group.

Read that again. The bottom line here is that for the 70+ cohort, the medics simply don’t know whether it will work or not, or if even if it does have an effect, whether that is for only 1 in 100 having the jab. With that knowledge, any sane and rational person will accept the jab as a gamble, but would continue to isolate for 2021, or until the incidence of COVID in the population at large has dropped to a comparatively insignificant level (probably 2022).

With standard vaccine dosing, the Oxford version was 62% effective as opposed to the 92% efficacy for the Pfizer vaccine. However, the testing regime did not include volunteers over the age of 55. Further, as a result of a mistake in dosages (not exactly encouraging confidence in the Oxford team) an alternative regimen was found to be much more effective (up to 90%). That sounds good, but peer reviewers of these results were highly critical, as there was no acceptable explanation for the difference, especially as it was a very small number of volunteers and could have been a fluke. The medics are saying “we have no idea why this works, if indeed it does” and this is not a reason for anyone to inject anything into ones body.

However, UK agencies responsible for licensing (and presumably under political pressure for better numbers) allowed the results of the two regimes to be averaged, resulting in a net apparent efficacy of around 70%. This time, some 500 older people had been included, but none over 70.

Think what this averaging means. If, in the extreme, half the volunteers had a vaccination dosage A which had 0% effect, and the other half vaccination dosage B which had 100% effect (i.e. one dud, one perfect) the ‘average’ efficacy would be 50%. However, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ dose in real life. In this example, it either works or it doesn’t. For an individual, it’s a spin of a coin as to whether you’re safe-ish, or could have been injected with water. Even at the stated efficacy the vaccine will have no effect at all on 2 out of every 5 people.

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.

Gini in a bottle

What does the United States share with El Salvador, Rwanda, Bolivia and Zimbabwe ? The answer is a high Gini Index. The Gini Index is a measure of overall equality in a country, and values are compiled by a number of organisations, including, for example, the CIA.

In a society, if wealth flows to a small section of the society and the majority have an increasingly eroding quality of life, there become a point in a democracy where change takes place. At some point, in most democracies, the “have nots” can outvote the “haves”, and move to reverse the imbalance, whether by progressive tax laws or other means. Not so in the USA, where one man’s vote in Wyoming is very different to one man’s vote in California.

The 2020 election has brought this into sharp focus, where the US Senate will spend the next 4 years thwarting the popular vote by preventing Biden from implementing policies the population gave him the mandate to effect.

The issues are well known, and there is no point in Grumpy repeating them here, other than to note that in California 40m+ residents get the same number of senators (2) as some 700,000 in Wyoming. This has the potential – as the “have not” numbers grow – that huge unrest will be created because a Republican manjority is not only baked in, but they increasing perpetuate that by gerrymandering the voting constituencies.

Globalisation has added to the strains by allowing large corporates to export not only the jobs of low level workers, but their profits. From 1978 to 2019, the average salaries of CEOs grew by 1000% compared with just 12% for the average worker in that period,

The barriers to reform are insurmountable in the current structure, which means that pressure for change will build in society without any democratic means for release. Critically, in the next 15-20 years, America will see unprecedented change, in that the world will see played out the inevitable battle for supremacy between China and the USA. In many ways, the odds are probably against America; China has more than 4 times as many people, and the luxury of being able to plan ahead with a consistent strategy by virtue of the lack of constant political change and democratic constraints.

Niall Ferguson authored a book (“Empire”) on the growth and decline of British Empire, and “Colossus” which argued that the USA was heir to that mantle whether it declared it or not. More tellingly, as the aftermath of the first Trump reign closes, Ferguson noted in a conclusion that the history of empires shows that most collapsed in a generation or less, but – as the American inequality Gini escapes from its bottle – that collapse came not from opposing blocks, but from within the empire itself.