There has been some conflation and confusion recently over ONS’s initially intriguing but ultimately infuriating deaths by vaccination status reports. They intrigue because they offer a possible route to the paired holy grails of vaccine effectiveness and vaccine safety. A number of bloggers, including Dr No, have gleefully thrown eye of newt and toe of frog into the bubbling cauldron, only to be rewarded with a poke in the eye from a howlet’s wing. A couple of tyros have even added time warps to try and make sense of the data, only to reach uncertain conclusions. Throughout the melee, the focus has at times shifted from numbers to rates and back to numbers again, at others, from covid deaths to non-covid deaths and even all deaths, but the data has work-hardened as it has been worked back and forth, and cracks have begun to appear. Perhaps the cracks were always there, we just couldn’t see them.
When the facts change, we’re supposed to change our minds, but what do we do when the facts don’t make any sense? If we followed the doctrine often attributed to John Maynard Keynes, we should probably stop making any sense, and go mad. Such thoughts occurred to Dr No as he contemplated another silent but deadly dataset released by ONS a couple of weeks ago. It extends the previous release of covid deaths by vaccination status, which ran from January this year to early July, to late September, and so covers a period of considerable interest. Just as before, the published report only covers covid deaths1, and needless to say, the vaccines are shown to be wonderfully effective. Tractor production continues to rise. But, again just as before, buried in the underlying dataset are the weekly numbers for all cause mortality. All cause mortality, as readers familiar with these things will know, is normally the most unadulterated mortality data there is, unfogged by distractions about diagnostic fudgery. A stiff is a stiff is a stiff, the whole stiff, and nothing but the stiff. What all cause mortality lacks in detail, it gains in robustness.
Dr No was going to call this post Habeas Virus, a stab at applying the legal principle of Habeus Corpus — roughly, bring me the body, or the accused must be brought before the court, though that is not a literal translation — to say that we need to see SARS-CoV-2, the virus accused of causing covid–19, before the court of scientific enquiry, if we are to determine its guilt. The trouble is, Google translate has habeus virus mean ‘have virus’, which conjures up Have Virus — Will Replicate, which won’t do at all. Other translations suggest ‘you have the stench’, which might work on some levels, but not on others. It is all too ambiguous. Instead, Dr No went with Schrödinger’s Virus, aiming to suggest an experiment in which you have a box said to contain pure, isolated SARS-CoV-2, but until you open the box, there is no way of telling not so much whether the virus is dead or alive, as whether it even exists. When you do open the box, you find Macavity’s not there!
“And when you reach the scene of crime — Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air —
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!”— T. S. Eliot, “Macavity: The Mystery Cat”, Old Possum’s Book of Practical CatsPerhaps the greatest problem facing modern science isn’t the corrupting influence of power and money, but an even deeper one of incomprehensibility. Dr No has touched before on how increasing super-specialisation means that increasingly scientists from one discipline are unable to make sense of another discipline, because the language and theory in each discipline have become so dense as to be impenetrable to all but initiates in that discipline. It is as if science has become a broad church spreading its wings over a vast array of cults and sects, each one swearing allegiance to the Greater God of Science, but each with its own rules and creeds, an impenetrable vista of numberless caverns of knowledge meaningless to man.
With the barrage of political and mainstream media talk of rising covid cases, new scariants and the urgency of vaccinating all, and then some — soon there will be talk of syringe drivers, pumping in covid vaccine in 24/7 — and not to mention Tuesday’s nodding through, not so much on a song and a prayer as on a laugh and a wink, by the blind horses in Westminter, of another six month extension of the Coronavirus Act, there can be little doubt that government is limbering up to implement Plan B. No doubt there is already a Plan C in draft, and so on, to pile Pelion on Ossa, forever and ever, world without end. But how are we really faring with covid these days?
A recent paper, published at the end of last month, did the obvious, a scatter plot of covid vaccination rates against recent cases for 68 countries, and got the sort of plot that looks like a loo pan after it has been used by a person with a particularly bad case of gas powered Montezuma’s revenge. Dots everywhere, but very little focus. Such a scatter plot suggests there is no connection between the variables, or in the case of covid vaccination, it has no discernable effect on case numbers, despite the fact the authors fitted a trend line that suggests a slight increase in case numbers in countries with higher vaccination rates. As ever, we have to remember that cases is a misnomer: they are merely positive PCR tests, that may or may not also be cases, and of course, just as correlation is not proof of causation, so too is the opposite true: lack of correlation is not necessarily proof of no connection. This applies particularly in a cross sectional study such as this, where the epidemiologist’s sword has cut a slice through a single moment in time.
Byzantine formulas unfathomable by man, stretching out beyond five miles of fetid ground, and down to a sunless sea — all very well, but sometimes the simpler analysis better does our pleasure guarantee. The human brain is smarter at spotting a trend in a chart than in a table, and the chart at the top of this post tracks the weekly all cause mortality over the summer, expressed as a percentage difference compared to the average mortality over 2015 to 2019 for the same week, with an added trend line, using ONS data. Anything above the 0% line is excess mortality, and we can see at a glance things are not going well. In fact, we shall all likely be dead pretty soon, if the trend in recent weeks continues. What on earth is going on?
In Germany, in the 1930s, you had to wear a yellow star, if the state deemed you unclean. In Britain, in 2021, a number of leading universities have pretty much done the same thing. The University of Bath’s Student Union, among others taking similar action, has issued coloured wristbands to students indicating covid vaccination status. Those deemed clean will get fast track entry to Freshers’ Week events, while the unclean will have to make alternative arrangements, and suffer segregation at entry, or even be refused entry at all. That a bunch of likely Trotskyite zombies posing as student union officials should dream up a controlling and coercive scheme comes as no surprise; of far greater surprise and concern is the fact — if a student union spokesperson is to be believed — that the “fast-track wristband has been the overwhelmingly popular choice with our students”. It’s a wonder that spokesperson didn’t add that “model individuals will be commended in accordance with regulations, and extensive publicity will be conducted through the news media to create a trustworthy and glorious student opinion atmosphere”. To which Dr No can only add: this time, the turkeys really have voted for Christmas.
Dr No had high hopes that, given recent data published by ONS, PHE and NHS England, on deaths by covid vaccination status and vaccination rates, he would be able to get something of an answer to the vexed question of whether the covid vaccines increase or decrease overall mortality. Fat chance. He quickly found himself wandering on a tundra of statistical quicksand. Key data was missing, and the numbers that were available simply didn’t add up. He spent far more time than he should have done peering up ONS drainpipes and down PHE rabbit holes getting nowhere. It was yet another landscape of cavernous numbers meaningless to man. Nearing desperation, he was about to give up, when it occurred to him that he could make a simple adjustment, and get an answer. This post describes the calculations, including the adjustment — which is not without it problems — and comes to two important conclusions: firstly that covid vaccines may well increase mortality in the short term, and secondly, being unvaccinated does not appear to carry increased mortality risk.
Recent seasons of Call the Midwife have become so sudsy that it can only be a matter of time before a baby disappears down the sluice, lost in soapy foam. Cyril has now got both religion and his girl, Lucille, and radiates joy, like a light bulb. Dr Turner, the GP who cares so much that it hurts, has had his early constant expression of quizzical amusement at the follies of his patients change into one of tortured anguish, as if all the human suffering of Poplar has been etched permanently into his face. Sister Julienne is showing early signs of being subject to a corporate take over — perhaps the writers want to warn us about what is happening to the NHS in 2021 — and Sister Monica Jones has upped her LSD habit, with deleterious consequences for her thought patterns. But even as the levels of Fairy Liquid have increased, the series has remained a true picture of traditional medical and midwifery practice, including, most importantly, tireless and valiant attempts to combat the harmful effects of the inverse care law.