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Deadly Serious: Challenging Ivo Vegter

Hello Ivo,

You allege in your recent piece in Daily Friend that PANDA cannot be taken seriously. And you apply that more pointedly to PANDA chairman Nick Hudson.

These are grave assertions in an open society. Tantamount to a cancellation attempt.

You attempt to show PANDA is so dangerous, so untrustworthy and so malignant that we ought to ignore them. I argue you have failed.

Let’s hammer this thing out together.

A vulnerable minority

You call Nick “callous” for arguing that Covid “is a disease that affects a vulnerable minority and for the rest of us there’s negligible risk posed by this disease.” You are welcome to do that. It is an opinion well within the bounds of sense. But being callous doesn’t add to reasons for cancellation.

Callousness also needs to be evaluated against the reality that there are lots of causes of suffering and death, but limited money and time. Nobody would object to a major effort to fight Covid if it was cost-free. Demanding more and more resources to fight Covid with meek reference to any other problems is callous. And deadly.

We need to justify diversion of resources to Covid against all other diseases, the economy, childhood development, mental wellbeing and… well, practically “everything”. I’ve fleshed this out in two other pieces, one of them on the Daily Friend and another on my Substack. It really does amount to justifying taking resources that could go to anything else, towards this one disease.

Nick’s is a subjective statement. Your “negligible” will be different to mine. The same goes for “vulnerable” and “minority”, to an extent.

You cite a quality source to show “that Covid-19 was the leading cause of death for people aged 35 to 54 in the most recent wave”. Fair enough. But there’s more.

Now let’s go to the UK ONS Statistics. This shows what I’d call negligible deaths for youngsters over the course of a year in England and Wales.  The “Under 65” column is striking.

Here are Covid deaths per capita by age in the US as at June 2021, from CDC data:

While age is the major risk factor, having one or more illnesses/conditions is strong, too. Consider this CDC chart

UK’s ONS (Office of National Statistic) has a similar take on this:

The UK ONS data is even more convincing. Here’s a strong absolute number: in 2020 in England and Wales, 772 healthy people under 65 died from covid-19. That figure was 101 for those under 45.

Of course, deaths of unhealthy and elderly people are no less sad. But it has meaningful implications for quality-adjusted years of life lost. Especially when it comes to costly responses, like diverting medical resources away from other causes of death.

In the greater scheme, Covid has not been a killer worthy of the maniacal response.

Deaths in 2020 were also lower than every year up to about 2008. I recall 2008. Nobody considered locking down the world.

Covid’s ranking among the biggest killers has varied widely over time and across geographies. Here’s just one data point from the ONS again: “The coronavirus (COVID-19) was the 24th leading cause of death in May 2021 in England (accounting for 0.9% of all deaths registered in May) and the 31st leading cause of death in Wales (0.6% of all deaths).”

In September it was the third biggest killer

Third or 24th, the burden is on those wanting Covid to be such a dramatic focus.

Coalitions and control

You say:

“‘If anyone thinks this is about a virus, they are stark-raving mad,’ is how Hudson opened his comments on this week’s episode of the Big Daddy Liberty Show on the prospect of mandatory vaccination in South Africa. What else does he think vaccination achieves? Government control? Big Pharma profits?”

You seem to conflate vaccine mandates and vaccine campaigns. I agree vaccine campaigns are hardly tyrannical. Nick was referring to mandates.

Vaccine mandates come with apps and rules and enforcement mechanisms that can control where I can jog, who I join for a beer and who I can work for. [I wonder if they can decide what I write…]. This amounts to government attempting Chinese CCP-style control. This is the infrastructure of tyranny. They enable near-total control. All the more CCP-ish if they are cloaked in the narrative that it is for the greater good.

The prospect alone is bone-chilling.

You trot past the possible motivation that governments just love control, and will often take it in any form they can. But this is a defensible thesis.

You dismiss the motivation for Big Pharma profits as potential drivers of government vaccine mandates. Why might the millions and billions of rands to be made all round – legitimately and not – definitely not be a motivator?

You fail to address another potential explanation. Collective panic. It happens. Dancing mania that gripped some European villages between the 14th and 17th centuries, witch hunts, McCarthyism and Manchester United fanaticism. I reckon we’re in one.

How can we demonstrate this? Poll people, as the CDC has done, and you’ll find many think their chances of dying if they get Covid are many times higher than they really are. And they vastly underestimate how concentrated deaths are among the elderly. I don’t see why politicians would be above these errors. If you think the chances of someone under 24 dying from Covid is 40 times higher than reality, you might well be in a state of mania. Terrified and illogical.

A few too many

You argue 90,000 deaths, as in South Africa, is not “a few”. I agree. But don’t think that calling ninety thousand deaths “a few” adds to an argument for cancellation.

Your warning that Nick might change his mind by pondering the likelihood he’ll one day be in a vulnerable group is unhelpful. If Nick changes his mind, nothing about Covid changes. You flatter him.  

Vaccines versus transmission/susceptibility

There is robust evidence that vaccines not only fail to stop spread, but do nothing to stop spread. And in a number of populations they’re correlated with higher rates of infection.

UK official data (from the UK Health Security Agency, recently and sinisterly renamed from Public Health England) showed for months that people over 30, are getting the virus at higher rate if vaccinated. 

And here’s the most recent report, where people over 70 are now getting Covid at a slightly lower rate if vaccinated. Data is messy.

One study out of Harvard (if you’re into credentialism) has shown no reduction in cases as vaccination rates increase in a population. This was across a sample of 68 countries and nearly 3,000 US counties.

In fact, the line tends upwards. The authors don’t say this is statistically significant. The eyeball test says it might just be.

McKinsey finds something similar. This time vaccination rates are on the Y-axis and cases on the X-axis. Again, this resembles some sort of multicoloured paintball shotgun scatter.  

Why might higher vaccination rates be correlated with higher Covid rates? Or even cause them? One hypothesis is behaviour. If people think they are safe from getting and passing on the virus, they might well go to a rave one day and then tea indoors with their granny another. Perhaps they have only read evidence from a bubble of journalists in your camp. I argue that the evidence I raise above is at least enough for caution. Probably more than that.

I acknowledge your data showing some preventative power. Science is messy. My sources are also merely puzzle pieces in a difficult process. I raise them not as total and final proof of anything. But I’ll press you on one figure you raise on this: 84.

84%? Not so fast

I’ll challenge you on your use of  the source you summarise as follows: “In the UK, the Pfizer vaccine reduces susceptibility to infection by 84%. Susceptibility is the risk of contracting the virus.”

Below I’ve pasted the full set of results from this paper. I suggest it is poor form for you only to provide the 84%.

“Results We determined that the effectiveness of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in reducing susceptibility to infection is 39% (95% credible interval [34,43]) and 64% (95% credible interval [61,67]) for a single dose and a double dose respectively. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the effectiveness is 20% (95% credible interval [10,28]) and 84% (95% credible interval [82,86]) for a single-dose and a double dose respectively.”

So 84% is part of the answer. Do you agree you’d do a better job to also show the 39% that AstraZeneca achieves?  

Time doesn’t help these wounds, either.

A Lancet pre-print, now often referred to as “the Swedish study”, captured the waning of vaccine effectiveness. Just one of their findings should suffice to show the danger of oversimplifying vaccine effectiveness. The study shows that Pfizer vaccine effectiveness against infection waned from 92% during days 15-30, then down to 47% for days 121-180. And “from day 211 and onwards no effectiveness could be detected”.

They conclude, “Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic Covid-19 infection wanes progressively over time across all subgroups, but at different rate according to type of vaccine”.

A study out of Qatar (now published in New England Journal of Medicine) has demonstrated waning too. As the authors put it, effectiveness against infection “reached its peak at 72.1% (95% CI: 70.9-73.2) in the first five weeks after the second dose. Effectiveness declined gradually thereafter, with the decline accelerating ≥15 weeks after the second dose, reaching diminished levels of protection by the 20th week.”

Do you agree your 84% is misleading on its own, given the waning phenomenon?

You say “their claims kill” regarding PANDA. Do you agree that telling vaccinated people they are far better protected against getting the virus than they really are, depending on which vaccine they have had and when, might kill by encouraging risky behaviour?  

0.14%?

“In a recent article, Hudson wrote: ‘Regarding the influenza-Covid comparison, the global infection fatality rate is approximately 0.14%.”

Good catch. This is an error.

Nick explains: “I accidentally referenced the 14 October 2020 version of Prof John Ioannidis’ study instead of its 14 March 2021 update or the WHO Head of Emergencies’ press briefings. The irony here is that the range of values for the global infection fatality rate (IFR)—0.23%, 0.15% and 0.14%—makes no difference to the validity of my ensuing statement. It’s lost in the rounding! I think his conclusion is therefore unreasonable and overblown.”

Reasonable?

Ask your doctor or nurse

You invite anyone who puts Covid and flu in the same ballpark to ask a doctor or nurse to explain how awful Covid is. This is spurious and a straw man. I don’t know anyone who denies that Covid has a horrific toll on some people.

Would you let, “go ask a medical professional for anecdotal evidence” slide if PANDA used it?

Sources and sources

It has not been published in any academic journal, and the claim has not been peer-reviewed.”

The claim that only peer-reviewed academic papers are valuable sources of data is weak. I’ll point you to the replication crisis in academia. Peer reviewed articles are fallible. Many of the best thinkers can’t replicate the results of other top thinkers in top journals. With time, the scientific process gets us to better and better answers. It tends to take years.

Sure, some sources carry more weight than others. Some should be ignored. Studies by the makers of medicine, who stand to make large sums of money, are among my least trusted sources, right up there with the guys who sold me my last car and my mate who promised to return a DVD in 2005.

The data you dismiss here is from a news article citing a big insurer, Discovery Health. I’d call that a moderate source, depending on the arena. You’d want to plug it into a network that points to an answer over time. But it’s at least worth a look in this context, don’t you think?

Later you rely on Discovery data to show that vaccines are working in South Africa. Later you back a claim using The Economist. And then Wikipedia. And later, Wikipedia. I don’t detect any modulation from you on the weight each deserves.

Later you admonish, “The papers cited by PANDA all involve in vitro, animal or in silico (computer models) studies.” I agree these are all deeply flawed types of study. Computer models have had a particularly bad record of madly overestimating cases and deaths.

Neil Ferguson in particular has been disastrous (and not for the first time), and UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) has not covered itself in glory either. The Spectator gathers and charts evidence (see below). You talk about “fearmongering”, these guys have gone pro.

But here’s a rule of thumb: all models are wrong, some are useful. You imply that they are of zero use and that citing them contributes to the case one be cancelled.

With or from Covid?

“Hudson’s distinction between dying ‘with’ and dying ‘of’ Covid-19 invokes a common but baseless denialist trope: that a significant share, and perhaps a majority, of reported Covid-19 deaths are merely deaths of other causes in people who happen to test positive for Covid-19.”

The universal method of counting deaths as Covid deaths includes treating any death as a Covid death in the following circumstances:

  1. “Natural death within 14 days of discharge from hospital for a COVID-19 admission.
  2. Death in hospital after a person has been admitted to treat COVID-19 disease.
  3. Natural death within 28 days of a positive PCR test in people with no admission during that interval.”

The above three criteria are in my emailed response from Discovery. They refer to their methodology. But these are the norm.

Here are the criteria from the UK:

Do you defend this methodology?

Further, when comparing vaccinated versus unvaccinated deaths, those within two weeks of your last required dose are not counted as deaths of vaccinated people. In other words, if you die “of Covid” within two weeks of your injection, you are an “unvaccinated Covid death”.

Again, it is not hidden. CDC guidelines deem a person fully vaccinated “2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine”. Most studies follow suit.

Why? This dirties the data.

Another study agrees with my claim that, “it is important to consider a person as ‘vaccinated’ if they have received at least one dose since adverse reactions are most likely shortly after the vaccination.” They go on, “simply reporting deaths one week late when a vaccine programme is rolled out will… lead to any vaccine, even a placebo, seemingly reducing mortality. The same statistical illusion will happen if any death of a person occurring in the same week as the person is vaccinated is treated as an unvaccinated, rather than vaccinated, death.”

Do you defend this methodology?

Here’s a study that deconstructs the data that presents vaccination status as a substantial cause of difference in all-cause mortality. They conclude, “Whatever the explanations for the observed data, it is clear that it is both unreliable and misleading.”

They use some ONS data to show an anomaly in the age group 10 to 59. “Comparing mortality rates between vaccinated, curiously, in the ‘youngest’ age group the mortality rate is currently around twice as high for those who have received at least one dose of the  vaccination compared to those who are unvaccinated.”

Here’s a pretty comprehensive exploration of Covid infections in the two weeks after vaccination from HART Health Advisory and Recovery Team, linking to original sources. They look at what is happening in Gibraltar, Denmark, Israel, Brazil and more. This is a wide and deep dive into the evidence.

One important caveat on all of these is the possible explanation that it is those at highest risk who are being targeted for vaccinations first, contributing to higher-than-average infection rates after vaccination. 

You say that elevated deaths by Covid would necessarily “implicate a large majority of South Africa and the world’s doctors in a scam of epic proportions”. I partly agree. It is partly a scam. Given the methodologies outlined above, I reckon much of it is a scam in plain sight. Covid deaths are openly badly recorded, skewing towards higher unvaccinated deaths and higher Covid-caused deaths.

“LITERALLY everyone”?

“So, Bill Gates has literally everyone in his pocket, which is why the entire healthcare industry, from the WHO on down to your local vaccination nurse, is lying to you. That is what Hudson asks us to believe.”

You suggest that “literally everyone” who matters thinks the opposite of PANDA and Nick. You’ve set the bar at a height you can’t defend. “Literally everyone?”

There is cogent data and argument from a variety of sources and people (several cited throughout this piece) that agree with PANDA in many areas. But only one needs to exist to despatch your “literally everyone” claim. I’ll give you just my favourite, Martin Kulldorff. Done.

As for the “Bill Gates controls everyone” thing, I have never found an academic to make findings that contradict what their funders want them to find. Have you? Gates and government fund a huge amount of academia.

Fully, fully?

All Covid-19 vaccines have been through a full complement of trials, prior to approval.

I submit you have defeated yourself again by setting too high a standard. These vaccines have not been tested as fully as other vaccines. That is self-evident.

They certainly have been tested a lot. Perhaps if you had argued they have been “thoroughly” tested we could have a debate. But you can’t defend “fully”. You attempt to shut off debate when you use absolutes like that.

Would you halt all ongoing trials right now? Surely not. If there is nothing more to learn, why not stop today? I can’t imagine we do much research on polio vaccines anymore. That’s been done.

Incomplete testing doesn’t mean they are necessarily dangerous. I’d suggest it is a sensible reason for caution.

You cite Nick’s statement that the Covid vaccine is “not just… some kind of conventional vaccine that’s been tested over years, and for which they have done the full suite of trials that would normally be done to approve a new class of therapies”

You respond: “Let’s stop him there. The idea that Covid-19 vaccines are untested, or insufficiently tested, or are unusually dangerous, are tropes straight from the antivax playbook.”

Nick didn’t say they are untested. You’ve straw manned him.

“Insufficiently tested” is a subjective term. They haven’t gone through the same testing as the vaccines we know and trust. That is defensibly “insufficient”.  

Only recently have some vaccines begun to be given “full approval” from the likes of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Giving something full approval is the clue. You can’t give full approval to something that already has it. Even for those now given such status, they have been used for months under emergency approval. By definition, that means insufficiently tested for full approval.

Adverse reasoning

“Just because someone reported an adverse event to such a database does not mean that the adverse event was caused by the vaccine. The adverse event does not even have to be attested by a doctor.”

Ivo, I agree with you that an adverse event following a vaccination should be vetted by a doctor for likelihood of causation. Will you agree with me that the same applies to a death being classified as a Covid death?

I’ll apply your own wording here, changing “adverse events” for “Covid deaths”: “Anyone… who draws conclusions using raw data from Covid deaths reporting databases is either ignorant or trying to deceive you.”

Easy for you to say

You say myocarditis is an “easily treatable” side-effect of the mRNA vaccines.” Some cases do appear easily treatable. But here are some musing from America’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): “Immediate complications of myocarditis include ventricular dysrhythmias, left ventricular aneurysm, CHF, and dilated cardiomyopathy. The mortality rate is up to 20% at 1 year and 50% at 5 years.  Despite optimal medical management, overall mortality has not changed in the last 30 years.”

The Mayo Clinic’s list of treatments range from corticosteroids to heart transplant.

“Easily treatable” strikes the layman as a casual conclusion. Maybe callous.

Children to the barricades?

“The real benefit of vaccinating children is to slow down transmission”

You want to force hundreds of millions of children to get incompletely tested vaccines, in order to prevent transmission to older people? Despite the woeful ability these drugs have to prevent transmission? And knowing that children are hurt or killed by Covid infinitesimally rarely?

I’m not sure this has precedent. It departs from a sacred principle that an individual human’s health is between that person and his or her doctor, as well as a parent when a kid is involved.

There is a phenomenally high burden of proof to break from this. You claim to do so with a breath-taking confidence and briskness.

Guilt by association?

I’m worried you rely on guilt by association near the end.

You call Joseph Mercola a “superquack”, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr a “notorious anti-vaxxer”.

I’d not heard of Mercola until you mentioned him. Based on a brief perusal of his profile, he is not a fellow I’d place a great deal of trust in. I wonder if PANDA erred in referencing him. Should that contribute to justifying cancelling them? Should it contribute to cancelling you? After all, you once relied on this bunch who have relied on Mercola!  

You argue that RFK is an anti-vaxxer because his family has denounced him. Not good enough. He may be. But what if his family is wrong? What do other families think of him? Ex-girlfriends? Neighbours?

You argue in favour of ignoring PANDA because they have cited the likes of Mike Yeadon and Denis Rancourt. To denounce Rancourt, you refer us to Wikipedia. That’s okay if the sources they use are good. But you need to show us you’ve read and considered those. Otherwise it’s just a Wikipedia reference. Again.  

As for Yeadon, I share your disparagement of some of his claims. You don’t show exactly where or how PANDA has relied on him as a source, though.

Conclusion

Ivo, you make a grave claim. You back it up with some valid points and many more that I refute above.  

My goal is not to argue Nick and PANDA are perfect and always right. Neither is. Neither claims to be. As it happens, I find both to be insightful, consistent and powerful sources. But that is not the standard I aim to meet in this letter.

My argument is that your attempt at cancelling them is unacceptable in an open society.

I’d be much obliged to get your response. Let’s hammer this thing out together.

Regards,

Ian Macleod

Ian Macleod

Ian Macleod

Ian Macleod studied business science at the University of Cape Town, and journalism at Rhodes University. He completed his MBA at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in 2017. Ian's career has spanned from feature writing for magazines to consulting at a big four professional services firm. Currently he divides his time between two consulting roles, one in a quasi-academic capacity and the other to investment firms in the novel field of narrative economics.

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