It is hard to know what to think at present. On the one hand, we have the expensively orchestrated flow of seemingly miraculously and marvelous news from the big pharmaceutical companies, eagerly pitching their vaccines through the press to the FDA. On the other hand, we’re setting new records for daily new case and daily death rates, and we’re told rates will get very much worse as the month progresses.
So what is it? The light at the end of the tunnel? Is it sunny daylight awaiting our emergence, or is it an oncoming express train?
No-one yet knows. But what we do know is the drug companies are not telling us the complete story about their vaccines or how successful they truly are.
We’ve seen claims of around 95% effectiveness, which certainly sounds brilliantly encouraging. But we’re never told the range of possible measures that it could be. For example, let’s think about something we understand – if you roll a dice 18 times and a six doesn’t come up on any of the 18 times, the chances of that happening is 3.76%. Say someone has perfected a special way of rolling a dice so a six never appears, and then rolls the dice 18 times with no six appearing. We could say we are 96.24% certain that his method works.
But what would have happened if he rolled the dice 18 times and one time a six appeared? All of a sudden, the odds of that have dropped (I think down to about 80%, but I’m not certain). What say the 19th time and a six appears – again, the overall odds shift to a less significant number – probably also around 80% (in theory, you’d expect three sixes to appear, going from zero to one is a big shift in the odds).
So while the statistic “96.24%” seems very exact and very persuasive, it needs to also tell us what would happen if a six did appear (which it could and might) and how much of an impact that would happen on the odds.
The drug companies are giving us the 96.24% statistic, but they’re not telling us about the range of possible outcomes within which that 96.24% number falls.
As a clear example of this, I saw Moderna say their vaccine is 100% effective in preventing severe virus cases. Any statistician, when confronted with a confident statement of “100% effective”, and a very small sample size, immediately knows, without needing to even look at the numbers, that they are being sold a dose of snake oil.
Moderna based their claim on a mere 196 cases of Covid-19 occurring among their study participants (so far…..). 185 were among test subjects who received the placebo, and the other 11 were among test subjects who received the actual vaccine.
The first thing you notice is that out of the tens of thousands of test subjects, we’re basing the vaccine effectiveness on only 196 cases appearing. All the numbers – 185 placebo cases and 11 vaccinated cases – are ridiculously low, as is the little-more-than-two-month measurement time. Wouldn’t you like to know how effective the vaccine is at three and four months, and longer, too?
Now let’s look at the 100% effective claim.
There were 30 “severe” cases (a somewhat subjective claim which also needs to be balanced not only against whether the severely affected people were vaccinated but also by their age and other factors too). All of them were in the 185 placebo subjects.
So, extremely simplistically, a first grader would say “30 cases in the placebo subjects, none in the vaccinated subjects, therefore 100% effective”.
But anyone else would say “One in every six of the placebo subjects had a severe case of the virus. But there were only 11 virus cases among the vaccinated subjects. We’d only expect 1 or 2 of them to have severe cases. Going from one or two expected cases down to zero observed cases, so far, is as likely to be chance as it is a proof of 100% effectiveness.”
In reality, having no severe cases in 11 cases would happen 14.3% of the time just by random chance. It is almost exactly the same as rolling a dice 11 times and having no sixes appear. We can only be 85.7% certain that the no cases is significant rather than random, and the normal standard for deeming if something is significant or random is three times higher – 95%/5% instead of 86%/14%.
Bottom line – AstraZenica’s claim of 100% effectiveness is nonsense, for several reasons. No self-respecting statistician would ever say that, without hastily adding a bunch of disclaimers and confidence interval data.
One more thing. None of these vaccine studies have been properly “double blinded” with the test subjects not knowing if they’d been given the vaccine or a placebo. Almost all the test subjects who received the real vaccine knew that, for the simple reason that they had two sets of moderately strong reactions to the injections, which the placebo-receiving test subjects did not experience.
This in itself weakens the entire results of the testing. It doesn’t invalidate them, but it means that “best practices” have unavoidably not been observed.
There’s also another fascinating and fearsome point, hinted at in this article. Quite apart from the main thrust of the story, about how the antibody protection from a previous Covid infection (and possibly from a vaccine) might be short-lived rather than long-lasting, there’s another point that has not yet been fully aired in the media.
He said: “We need a vaccine that can be used multiple times, a recombinant vaccine will not suit. “Once injected with an adenoviral vector-based vaccine, we won’t be able to repeat it because the immunity against the adenoviral carrier will keep interfering.”
Are these modern brand-new types of vaccines limited in terms of how often they can be given to us? This is a matter little discussed, but mentioned in passing and then quickly ignored. For example, when explaining how the AstraZenica vaccine was accidentally discovered to work better if test subjects were first given a half dose and then in their second dose given a full dose, it was mentioned this seemed to work better because that way our bodies weren’t as strongly responding to and fighting against the vaccine itself the second time around.
This is an issue we need to see a lot more exploration on and explanation about. What level of tragedy would it be if we all rushed off to get one of these new types of vaccines, and then discovered that it was short lived and because we’d already had it once, we couldn’t have it again?
I’ve plenty of objections to our rushed testing of these vaccines, and while there are definitely concerns about not leaving enough time for negative side-effects to appear, an equal or bigger concern is we’re not waiting long enough to see how long-lasting the vaccine protection may be. Yes, I know we can do antibody testing to see what level of antibodies remain in vaccinated people’s blood, but keep in mind we’re still not exactly sure how/what antibody process it is that is most important and effective at fighting the Covid virus. Which antibody levels do we monitor? And what are the necessary minimum levels to give a person a high degree of protection?
So many unknowns…..
There were a couple of US state swaps in both the cases and deaths columns.
There were some minor swaps in the minor country list. In the major country list, the Czech Republic barely pushed past Belgium into first place, and Italy reappeared after a long absence from the list.
France reappeared in ninth position in the death rate list.
On Sunday I’ll be able to match the statistics for Sunday with those shown last Sunday.
US Best and Worst States
|Last time||Now||Last time||Now|
|1 Best||VT (6,571)||VT (7,439)||VT (107)||VT (120)|
|5||OR||OR (18,800)||OR||OR (231)|
|51 Worst||ND (100,217)||ND (106,428)||NJ (1,928)||NJ (1,953)|
Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
|6||French Polynesia||San Marino|
|10||French Guiana||Panama (39,421)|
Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
|1||Belgium||Czech Republic (50,167)|
Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
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Items below include a discussion on the biggest mystery about the virus of all, one which few other commentators have noticed. Another mystery which has been commented on a lot is exactly how many people have been dying of the virus. Still another mystery is why the CDC is reducing the quarantine period, and a totally perplexing mystery is why WHO is so slow even to state the obvious that has been clear to everyone else for months. Plus musing as to if we can really trust hoteliers when they tell us their indoor air is safe.
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1 thought on “Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 3 December, 2020”
Good points about the vaccine trial data. I see that AstraZeneca and the Oxford University scientists are even disagreeing publicly about how it happened that 2,600 trial subjects came to get a half-dose. AZN says it was an accident. The scientists say it was planned. Either way, is it really credible to “average” such a limited set of results in with a much larger group who got the full dose?
There are so many unanswered questions currently that even I am having concerns about getting vaccinated. The issue you raise about recombinant vaccines is among these. What happens if we need another shot in six months’ time? Or — does a Covid shot guarantee that we are not infectious? If not, the whole issue of “vaccine passports” being discussed by some people is a non-starter.
All this is terribly damaging to public confidence and feeds into the streams of disinformation and antivax nonsense currently being seen. It’s time the pharma industry was held to a ban on results by press release. No more of these carefully crafted PR announcements hinting of “promising” results from early trials. Let’s see the full results or nothing at all.