On skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines - I

Posted by Manuel Oñate on other


18 min read

On February 2022 the covid hysteria entered a new phase when the Omicron wave made evident that the mass vaccination campaigns have failed to control the covid pandemic. Contrary to the official narrative, maintaining a high degree of skepticism regarding the necessity and convenience of mass vaccinating the entire population using insufficiently tested vaccines was the most rational position. On this first post of the series I summarize the evolution of the official narrative and how it diverged from the evidence that was showing that the vaccines were not in fact as safe and effective as they had been presented.

On this series of posts, I contend that skepticism was the most rational position regarding the covid vaccines. To set the stage, on this first post, I summarize the evolution of the official narrative on covid vaccines since the Trump administration started the Operation Warp Speed until the present moment, and how this narrative drifted from the emerging evidence increasingly more. I have been very careful to include only the information that was available at the time and published on the mainstream media or scientific papers (preferably peer-reviewed in reputable magazines).

When doubting the covid vaccines was not anti-vaxx (March to October 2020)

Before Trump lost the election, mainstream media, democrat politicians and left-leaning pundits were very concerned about the risks posed by the rushed process to authorize the covid vaccines. It looks in retrospect that these concerns were political, or ideological, rather than based on an actual perception of the risks involved. But they were sensible because history has proved that with vaccines the worst errors occur when there is pressure to vaccinate, cutting corners irresponsibly to speed up the process.

The Washington Post reported on September 2020 that Biden question[ed] whether a vaccine approved by Trump would be safe.

Biden said Americans should trust a coronavirus vaccine developed under the Trump administration only if the president gave "honest answers" to questions about its safety, effectiveness and equitable distribution. "I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump," Biden said. "And at this point, the American people can't, either."

In a typical Trump style rebuttal, the same article quotes him as saying "I know that if they were in this position, they'd be saying how wonderful it is".

The article documents an unusual fact; both Trump and Biden were correct. Biden by being cautious, and Trump by saying that Biden would not be so cautious if he was the president.

The list of politicians and prominent Internet covid celebrities that were not happy with the "Trump vaccines" is very extensive. At the end, their arguments amounted to just two central ideas: "anything Trump does, we oppose" and "we need to prevent any pre-election success story for Trump."

Just one example will suffice. The former economist turned left gospel evangelist, Paul Krugman, was very concerned on September 2020 about the approach of Trump to the management of the covid crisis. In his column, Krugman suggested Trump had appointed Scott Atlas just because he was saying what Trump wanted to hear. This appointment reminded Krugman of Trofim Lysenko, an agronomist and biologist that was skeptic of the genetic theory and became a favorite of Stalin. His ideas and practices contributed to the famines that killed millions of people in the URSS and China.

In addition, Mr. Krugman feared Trump was pressuring regulators to have them authorize a covid vaccine.

OK, we all understand what's going on here. Many observers worry that the Trump team, in an effort to influence the election, will announce that we have a safe, effective vaccine against the coronavirus ready to go, even if we don't (and we almost certainly won't have one that soon)...
... And you know what happens when a national leader does that? People die.

Paul Krugman

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Krugman on this particular point. Time has shown that he and the other left leaning influencers were right to be cautious with the vaccines that were being tested, but for the wrong reasons.

There were other voices critical with the path followed to authorize covid vaccines using a fast track and the choice of vaccines. They did not focus on the politics, but on solid biological and pharmacological considerations. For example, the prestigious British medical journal theBMJ published an editorial on August 2020 which would prove to be most accurate.

So instead we are heading for vaccines that reduce severity of illness rather than protect against infection, provide only short lived immunity, and will at best have been trialled by the manufacturer against placebo. As well as damaging public confidence and wasting global resources by distributing a poorly effective vaccine, this could change what we understand a vaccine to be. Instead of long term, effective disease prevention it could become a suboptimal chronic treatment. This would be good for business but bad for global public health.

Fiona Godlee

When vaccines were going to end the pandemic (November 2020 to August 2021)

As you know, Trump lost the election causing a reversal in the position of those that were so concerned with the procedure used to authorize the vaccines. We have not been told what Science™ exactly caused their reversal of judgement, so we can only speculate.

Whatever the reason, as soon as the American people neutralized the Trump threat by not voting for him, the official narrative changed. Fears of rushed authorizations of the vaccines were no longer important. Rather, vaccines offered the promise to end the pandemic, once and for all, if only everybody got vaccinated.

It doesn't matter that the previous attempts had failed miserably, that the "two weeks to flatten the curve" had turned by then into, "almost a year of house arrest and no end in sight to successive waves of covid strains". And masks are better at stopping coronavirus than a vaccine, but infections and deaths had increased right after masks become compulsory.

The same circus organized itself again for the third time (or fourth, if you count the PCR test and trace fiasco). History would repeat. Covid zealots, now turned into vaccinators, moved the goalposts whenever reality failed to follow their predictions. And after moving them, they would blatantly lie affirming that they had always referred to the new targets, but we had misunderstood them.

It is undeniable that the published results from the vaccine trials made the vaccines look just short of miraculous. Reported vaccine efficacy was over 90%. Thus, Fauci proclaimed in November 2020 that COVID-19 won't be pandemic "for a lot longer" thanks to vaccines.

As soon as the relevant public health authorities authorized the vaccines in their respective territories, they started the mass vaccination campaigns. Note that the decision to start any mass vaccination campaign can only rest on three fundamental hypotheses:

  1. Vaccines are safe.
  2. Vaccines have a direct effect, protecting the inoculated person against contracting the disease, or at least reducing the severity of the disease.
  3. Vaccines have also an indirect effect, protecting the community by reducing the risk of vaccinated individuals infecting others (prevention of secondary infections).

Public health authorities should immediately stop any ongoing vaccination if they suspect that any of these hypotheses are not true. The reasons are obvious:

  • if vaccines are relatively unsafe but provide an excellent protection for the vaccinated, the decision to vaccinate should be personal, based on an individual risk/benefit analysis (the more dangerous the disease, the higher the risk you accept to prevent it). An indiscriminate vaccination campaign is not acceptable.
  • if vaccines are good at preventing secondary infections but a particular sector of the population, for example younger people, suffers adverse effects that exceed the protection they receive from the vaccine, they should not be subject to vaccination. Requesting someone to get vaccinated only to protect other people is not ethical. Some people might still decide to accept the risk for the common good (or more likely to protect a frail relative), but it is not correct to demand such a sacrifice for anybody.
  • if vaccines do not prevent secondary infections, we should restrict vaccination to the people that have the higher risk from the disease, provided that the risk is demonstrably higher than the risk involved with the vaccination itself.
  • if vaccines are extremely safe, but provide no protection to the vaccinated or to the community (that is, if they are sophisticated placebos), the vaccination campaign is unnecessary and wasteful and should stop.

No matter how you look at it, if any of these basic hypothesis ceases to be true, it is no longer conceivable to consider mass vaccinations. And when it happens, vaccines should be retired completely, or at most reserved only for these situations in which they make sense.

Was there enough information available to determine if these hypotheses were true in the case of the covid vaccines?

In reality, no. The trials had only measured the number of symptomatic infections in the vaccine and placebo groups. Authorities had accepted that trials would last until a certain number of participants (between 150 and 200) had a confirmed symptomatic infection. In this context, a symptomatic infection means, for instance, cough or sore throat, and covid confirmed by PCR test.

The vaccine efficacy that was reported was the ratio of the relative risk reduction of symptomatic infections in the vaccinated and the unvaccinated groups. For example, the Pfizer trial had 170 reported infections 28 days after the first dose, 8 in the vaccine group and 162 in the placebo group, implying an efficacy of 95.1% (162 - 8 divided by 162, since both groups had roughly the same size). The other authorized vaccines achieved comparable levels of efficacy measured in the same way.

There are many caveats with the design of the trials. Symptomatic infection is not the best end point to assess a vaccine. Severe symptoms or deaths would have been much more representative, because that is what we were trying to prevent. But they would have required a much higher number of participants and possibly much longer duration. In addition, the sample used underrepresented the most vulnerable sectors of the population. It could be possible that the efficacy of the vaccines for those with higher risk could be much lower. Finally, the safety of the vaccines had not been established satisfactorily. The trials were underpowered to detect rare adverse effects (the less probable is an adverse effect, the more people are necessary to expose it) and their duration was too short to detect long-term effects.

Even if the caveats mentioned above are important and invalidate the trials as insufficient, the most important issue regarding the trials is another one. Focusing on symptomatic infections, and only within a very limited period after the vaccine efficacy reaches its maximum, resulted in that they did not measure two key metrics: asymptomatic infections and infections that took place before the cut out date. As we shall see, the consequence is that the trials ignored the three most important problems caused by the vaccines:

  • the trials did not prove in any way that vaccines prevented infections on the vaccinated, nor that they prevented secondary infections from vaccinated individuals after they become infected.
  • also, the trials did not reveal a short initial period of immune suppression occurring right after the first dose.
  • finally, the trials did not measure the evolution of the efficacy over time.

Discounting all these shortcomings caused by the inadequate experiment designs, authorities proclaimed the vaccines to be safe and effective and the biggest bio-medical experiment in history started.

During the optimistic initial period, mass vaccination campaigns progressed more or less well throughout the Western World. The pace of vaccination depended more on the relative incompetence of the administrations involved in the deployment than on the hesitancy of the population, who was ready to get jabbed as soon as offered the vaccine.

Why a high proportion of modern human adults became unpaid participants in a massive experiment, for a disease that was not very dangerous to most of them, requires further exploration. Maybe in a future article.

While the vaccination campaigns progressed at a good pace, vaccinators were happy and felt magnanimous. They were surely determined to get everybody jabbed, but they thought it was going to happen voluntarily because the vaccines were so good that everybody would get them.

Thus, Biden for example maintained in December 2020 that he [wouldn't] mandate getting COVID-19 vaccine or wearing masks. Instead, he would "do everything in [his] power as president of the United States to encourage people to do the right thing. And when they do it, demonstrate that it matters", whatever that means.

As early as February 2021, that is to say just two months after the start of the mass vaccination, there were already strong indications in the countries that had progressed faster (especially Israel and the UK) that the vaccines had a much higher rate of reported side effects than traditional vaccines, as shown by the number of adverse side effects reported on the vaccine adverse event reporting systems.

The spike in infections following the start of the vaccination campaigns caused by the temporary immune suppression mentioned above was striking. Some experts wanted to blame the victims by calling for stronger warnings needed to curb socialising after vaccination.

To solve this inconvenient spike, certain public health authorities (for instance, the CDC in the United States) adopted the creative accounting practice used by the pharmaceutical companies during the trials. A person only becomes a vaccinated person two weeks after being physically vaccinated. This bizarre definition of vaccinated individual kills two birds with a single stone: First, it hides the vaccination spike. Second, infections, hospitalizations and deaths of recently vaccinated persons count as if they had happened to unvaccinated people.

By ignoring these early signals, authorities and covid celebrities could repeat the same fallacy used to credit the lockdowns as the major cause behind the end of the first wave in 2020. Thus, in the Spring of 2021, they announced vaccines had reduced hospitalizations and deaths throughout the World:

So even though there are breakthrough infections with vaccinated people, almost always the people are asymptomatic and the level of virus is so low it makes it extremely unlikely — not impossible but very, very low likelihood — that they're going to transmit it. When you get vaccinated, you not only protect your own health and that of the family but also you contribute to the community health by preventing the spread of the virus throughout the community. In other words, you become a dead end to the virus. And when there are a lot of dead ends around, the virus is not going to go anywhere.

Anthony Fauci
May 2021

As the Summer advanced, there were more worrying indications from the countries that were ahead on their vaccination campaigns, and more transparent with the data. Calling victory for the vaccines might have been premature.

Besides the raw numbers available from countries with higher transparency standards, such as Israel and the UK, around August studies appeared from Israel, Qatar and other places. A worrying picture was emerging:

  • Vaccine efficacy against infection and severe disease wanes fast towards zero or even negative values six months after vaccination. Negative efficacy means that the vaccinated have a higher risk than the unvaccinated.
  • Recovery from natural infection provides a better protection against reinfection and severe outcomes.
  • After infection, vaccinated have the same virus load as unvaccinated, implying that they are equally infectious. Therefore, vaccines do not prevent secondary infections. They are non-sterilising or leaky vaccines.
  • Leaky vaccines create an evolutionary pressure on the virus that favors variants able to escape the protection provided by the vaccines.
  • To make things even worse, the well-known phenomenon of the Antigenic Original Sin, combined with the prospect of future vaccine escaping strains, foreshadows a bleak future in which the vaccinated respond to the new viruses using defenses made obsolete by the same vaccines that have imprinted them with the wrong protection.

I will discuss these inconvenient facts in more detail in a future post in this series. For now, what is important to note is that maybe the information about these problems was escaping the censorship established by governments, mainstream and social media, and it was reaching the public. Or perhaps sane skepticism was more widespread than what vaccinators believed.

No matter why, it was becoming clear that after the initial vaccination frenzy, there were big pockets of the population that would not get vaccinated unless vaccinators coerced them. And that is exactly what would happen in due course.

The reality of the vaccine failure did not reach everybody. Paul Krugman, having completely forgotten that vaccines were developed under Trump's regime, was feeling the Quiet Rage of the Responsible in August:

To say what should be obvious, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public spaces aren't "personal choices." When you reject your shots or refuse to mask up, you're increasing my risk of catching a potentially deadly or disabling disease, and also helping to perpetuate the social and economic costs of the pandemic. In a very real sense, the irresponsible minority is depriving the rest of us of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

No. Mr. Krugman, neither masks nor vaccines deprive the "responsible" of their life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. Also, you might consider the similarities between the experts favored by the current administration and the Lysenko cautionary tale you used on your previous article, because they are striking.

Vaccines are failing, so let's vaccinate more (September 2021 to January 2022)

If the signals during the Summer of 2021 were unmistakable to anyone following Internet sources skeptical with the official narrative, in September they were undeniable even to the members of the public that got (mis)informed exclusively through mainstream media and the heavily censored social media.

Everybody either had become infected after being vaccinated, or knew many other people in their inner circle that had become infected after being inoculated. It was no longer possible to pretend that vaccines offered any degree of lasting protection. News of the side effects were also widespread, because many people had suffered from them or heard from friends and relatives.

Rather than working on a strategic retreat, as would have been advisable, vaccinators tried to maintain the sinking narrative. It only showed that vaccinators are insane people.

Insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results

Albert Einstein

An unwritten rule of tyrannical governments is to blame a particular sector of the population when their policies do not achieve their goals. If vaccines were failing, scapegoats had to be found and blamed for the failure. Thus, the persecution of the unvaccinated started, right when it was no longer possible to pretend that vaccines could control the pandemic.

On September 2021, Biden delivered his infamous "pandemic of the unvaccinated" speech:

This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it's caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.

Joe Biden

By pronouncing these words, Biden proved he is a horrible person. One of many other horrible people that took advantage of their position to force healthy people to submit to a medical procedure that was obviously unsafe, ineffective and potentially harmful.

It is not only that they are evil. They are also profoundly stupid.

It was stupid to push the vaccines when there were no guarantees that they would work, and it was even more stupid to continue pushing them after it was obvious they didn't work, and could only make things worse.

From September 2021 to January 2022, vaccinators did everything in their power to coerce the people that had decided not to yield to the vaccination insanity. They established vaccine passports to make life miserable for the diminishing number of unvaccinated people, and in some places, they even made vaccination mandatory.

The vaccinators narrative had to morph into something that no longer made sense. Unvaccinated were harming the vaccinated because the vaccines were not enough to protect them. But if being vaccinated oneself offered not enough protection, how could you gain any benefit from the vaccination of other people?

It is clear that vaccinators were not using rational logic. It was just an ideological belief, or just irrational panic.

Meanwhile, nature confabulated one more time against the covid zealots.

A new variant called Omicron was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in mid-November. Omicron was more transmissible than previous variants, but was also milder. By December, it had already spread to dozens of countries.

Omicron presented a striking antibody evasion compared with previous variants. Thus, the phenomenon of reinfection of recovered covid patients, which had been rare with the previous variants, became much more common. In fact, the magnitude of immune evasion of Omicron raises the question of whether it is a distinct serotype from the original virus. Maybe the first variant of the endemic version of covid?

What about breakthrough infections?

During December 2021 and January 2022, every week would bring competing studies claiming that "Boosters offer a substantial protection against Omicron", "Vaccinated have increased risk of getting infected by Omicron", "Vaccines do not protect against infection, but they still offer protection against hospitalization and death", "Mortality rates are higher in the vaccinated for many cohorts". It was tiresome.

Depending on your intentions, and the methodology you used, you could get whatever result you wanted using different portions of the patchy data available, thus making the whole exercise meaningless. For that reason, I won't indulge in a futile analysis of the evidence regarding the true effectiveness of the vaccines in the Omicron world.

What is important is that people had lost faith in the vaccination experiment, because there was a widespread perception that vaccinated got infected as much (if not more) than unvaccinated.

What broke the covid narrative is that more and more people experienced directly covid, and it was not that bad after all. Two years protecting yourself against covid, and it was a bad cold for most people.

The covid panic was built on the basis that we had to prevent the spread of covid by all means, because it was a mortal disease that affected everybody. That basis was no longer possible to maintain.

The experiment to contain, or even better, to eradicate the virus had failed. What would they try next?

The narrative collapses. Every man for himself (February 2022)

If the overturn of a century of epidemiology that occurred on March 2020 was inexplicable, the collapse of the narrative was equally unexpected. In fact, both were based on the same phenomenon, only inverted: In 2020, authorities and the media induced the public into a collective panic. In 2022, the public lost their fear.

Italy and Spain had created the conditions that made possible the covid nightmare in March 2020, by copying the authoritarian response of China to the virus they had created. The United Kingdom ended covid restrictions on January 19, 2022. In quick succession, Denmark (January 27), Sweden (February 3) and Norway (February 12) copied it. In March, most of the world followed suit.

Unprecedented containment measures were adopted in 2020, not in response to an actual threat but as a precaution against the potential outcomes "predicted" by epidemiological models.

In 2022, these authoritarian measures were dropped, precisely when the infection rates were at a maximum level since the start of the crisis. And in many places, real hospitalizations and deaths (not predictions) were comparable, even higher, than those prevailing when the panic started.

In the next months and years, those responsible for the catastrophic management of the covid crisis will be busy obscuring the facts to avoid taking responsibility for what they did. I have mixed feelings about whether or not they will succeed.

It has taken almost two years and the virtual destruction of the principles of liberal democracy to conclude what we already knew: States cannot control a respiratory virus by imposing containment measures or mass vaccinating the population using inadequate vaccines.

In the next post on this series, I will discuss in more detail what the mass vaccination campaigns have accomplished and whether the benefits outweigh the risks.