Following the Science

Do Epidemiological Data Support the Case for Vaccine Mandates?

Jim Mason
February 22, 2022
“Follow the science!” seems to have largely given way to “Vaccinate! Obey! Or else!” the latter threat incorporating everything up to and including martial law. Perhaps there’s no better time, then, to take a look at what the actual data say and where they might lead – if we choose to listen. In this exclusive research-based essay, Jim Mason lays out and meticulously examines the most recent three months’ worth of Ontario government Covid-19 case data. Applying accepted epidemiological formulae in his analysis, Mason vividly charts the vaccines’ increasingly worrisome performance throughout the Omicron wave.
Following the Science

Do Epidemiological Data Support the Case for Vaccine Mandates?

Jim Mason
February 22, 2022
“Follow the science!” seems to have largely given way to “Vaccinate! Obey! Or else!” the latter threat incorporating everything up to and including martial law. Perhaps there’s no better time, then, to take a look at what the actual data say and where they might lead – if we choose to listen. In this exclusive research-based essay, Jim Mason lays out and meticulously examines the most recent three months’ worth of Ontario government Covid-19 case data. Applying accepted epidemiological formulae in his analysis, Mason vividly charts the vaccines’ increasingly worrisome performance throughout the Omicron wave.
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The truckers’ Freedom Convoy 2022 came to Ottawa, packing the downtown core with rigs and Parliament Hill with people. The protesters’ primary demand was that governments immediately terminate compulsory vaccinations, vaccine mandates and vaccine passports. The tens of thousands of pro-freedom demonstrators who have been gathering in cities across Canada every weekend want their freedom restored. Before invoking the Emergencies Act, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to meet with the truckers and continued to assert that more vaccination is essential – even as, himself triple-vaxxed, he claimed to have been exposed to Covid-19 and needed to isolate.

Who is right? There are ethical, legal and political arguments both for and against compulsory vaccination. Where a person comes down on this contentious issue ultimately rests upon their basic beliefs and values (see this C2C discussion). This controversy is unlikely ever to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction based on ethics, law or politics alone. But what about the epidemiological data? Do they tell us anything, possibly even enough to serve as our guide?

If an objective and carefully reviewed evaluation of a credible and representative dataset were to indicate that vaccination does stop or at least severely curtail transmission of the virus and could therefore enable society to overcome the pandemic, then the case for compulsory vaccination remains arguable. If, however, the data were to show little or no such effect – or even a negative effect – then any case for compulsory vaccination (even on pragmatic/utilitarian grounds) collapses, serious argument should come to an end, and vaccine mandates, passports and all the softer forms of coercion should end forthwith.

The Nature of mRNA Vaccines

Protecting ourselves, “saving Grandma” and stopping the pandemic – or so we hoped: Lining up for Covid-19 shots in Toronto, April 2021. (Source of photo: The Canadian Press/Rachel Verbin)

It has become pretty clear that mass vaccination did not have the decisive impact that we were led to believe it would have. It is becoming increasingly questionable whether still-more vaccination is going to substantially eliminate Covid-19, as previous vaccination campaigns have done with, for example, smallpox and polio.

The fundamental reason for this is that the mRNA vaccines do not provide strong and broad immunity against Covid-19 and, as a result, do not stop transmission of the infection. The other stated benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines – reducing disease severity and mortality in those infected – may still offer sound medical reasons for individuals to choose to be vaccinated. But stopping transmission is the primary purpose of vaccination from the perspective of pandemic management. Stopping transmission is why many traditional vaccines proved so effective. And stopping transmission – “protecting grandma” – was the main reason populations were pressured so severely and at such length to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

The mRNA vaccines are a different approach to inoculation than traditional vaccines. Previously developed vaccines (including those used today against other diseases) used actual viruses, either inactivated – killed – or live but weakened or “attenuated” to the point where they do not cause illness. Rather than using actual Covid-19 virus, the mRNA vaccines use segments of ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is single-stranded genetic material that, in this instance, has been genetically engineered to resemble the segment of the viral RNA genome that codes for the protein spike on the surface of the virus. It is the infamous spike protein that enables the virus to gain entry to our cells.

Not a traditional vaccine: Illustration of the theory behind the mRNA-based Covid-19 inoculation. It does appear capable of generating immunity against the virus by inducing cellular production of spike proteins. How has it worked in practice against Omicron? (Source of graphic: Anne Seeger, SCNAT, licensed under CC BY 4.0)

The RNA segments in the vaccine enter some of the vaccinated person’s cells and, once there, are treated by their protein-coding mechanisms like the other segments of messenger RNA that are always there. The RNA from the vaccine partially reprograms the cells to make replicas of the viral spike protein. These synthetic viral spike proteins gather on the cells’ interior surfaces, some breaking through to circulate in our bodies. They are recognized by our immune system as a foreign agent. The immune system then mounts a defence, in this instance primarily by producing specific antibodies to bind and eliminate the foreign agents (the free-swimming spike proteins as well as the reprogrammed human cells themselves). The assumption is that when the real virus invades our bodies, the immune system will recognize its spikes as being the same as the synthetic spikes and will activate its now improved defences to bind and neutralize the real virus.

While the concept appears sound, it is an entirely new approach to vaccines. Covid-19 became the first infectious disease against which such a vaccine was deployed. It is consequently misleading to suggest, as some have, that mRNA vaccines are “just like” other vaccines. To do so appropriates the well-proven, centuries-long track record of traditional vaccines to the yet-to-be-proven and now apparently failing mRNA vaccines. While it is famously difficult to vaccinate effectively against respiratory viruses like the flu, we must also consider whether the new technology of mRNA vaccines could be the main source of the increasingly evident shortcomings of the Covid-19 vaccines.

Do the Covid-19 Vaccines Provide Immunity?

Since, from the perspective of stopping a pandemic, the principal purpose of a vaccine is to stop transmission of the infection in question by providing immunity for the vaccinated, our first objective is to determine whether the Covid-19 vaccines actually do this. The Province of Ontario (population 14.6 million) was selected as the study area and the dataset used was the published data on the Government of Ontario’s (GoO) COVID-19 webpages.

Before we commence our detailed evaluation, it should be noted that even a cursory examination of the GoO data clearly shows that vaccinated people become infected with Covid-19. Moreover, a number of scientific studies (here and here) have concluded that infected vaccinated people have the same peak viral loads as infected unvaccinated people, can be equally infectious and can transmit the infection equally efficiently.

While the research remains mixed regarding the degrees of infectiousness and transmissibility, that vaccinated individuals transmit the virus in large numbers is no longer in dispute. This represents a major change in public communication from the days when people were promised that, once vaccinated, they would not be infectious. The GoO data show that vaccinated people have been getting infected for as long as such data have been reported. These facts have a serious implication with respect to attaining population-wide or so-called “herd” immunity and, thereby, stopping the spread of the virus.

What is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity is attained when a sufficient fraction of the population – called the herd immunity threshold (HIT) – becomes immune to a disease, so its spread is reduced to immaterial numbers – effectively being stopped. The HIT depends on the basic reproduction number, R0, of the virus. R0 is the average number of people to whom an infected person is likely to transmit the infection in an unrestricted society.

For a vaccine that is 100 percent effective at conferring immunity, the relationship is given by:

HIT = 1 – 1/R0

The R0 for the Delta variant is/was 5.08, having increased from around 3 for the initial strain of SARS-CoV-2. Applying the above formula of 1 minus 1 over 5.08 makes the corresponding HIT approximately 0.8 – or 80 percent of the total population. But this applies only if the vaccines provide 100 percent effective immunity. Since the Covid-19 vaccines do not, this limitation must be taken into account. The critical level of vaccination required to achieve herd immunity for such vaccines is increased according to the following formula:

Vc = HIT/E

Vc is the required vaccination level, and E is the effectiveness of the vaccine at preventing infection and transmission. Very importantly, if E is less than the HIT, then the required vaccination level, Vc, becomes greater than 100 percent. In such a case, herd immunity can never be reached through vaccination no matter how many people are vaccinated.

Simplified illustration of how herd immunity should be achieved through mass vaccination – if the vaccine in question is highly effective. (Source of graphic: Courtesy of General Services Administration and National Institutes of Health/Johns Hopkins Medicine)

It must be noted that this analysis omits any effects conferred by natural immunity resulting from Covid-19 infection. This is because the required data are not disaggregated in government statistics. Imputing the effects of natural immunity would require a series of assumptions aimed at estimating the naturally immune ratios in the vaccinated and unvaccinated portions of the population over the study period. This creates too much room for error. Because natural immunity is certain to be present in both population segments (though in unknown proportions), the effects of the naturally immune on the study results are likely to be at least partially offsetting. Moreover, Canadian governments do not recognize natural immunity as conferring vaccination-equivalent status, so any such analysis would be moot.

How Effective are the mRNA Vaccines?

The effectiveness of a vaccine, often referred to as efficacy, is the reduction in the percentage of vaccinated people who become infected relative to the percentage of unvaccinated people who become infected. (Purists reserve “efficacy” for referring to the effectiveness as demonstrated during controlled clinical trials, and use “effectiveness” to refer to the vaccine’s impact in the real world. Since we are well into real-world application, the focus here is on effectiveness.)

Mathematically the effectiveness is given by:

E = (percentage of unvaccinated people who become infected – percentage of vaccinated people who become infected) / (percentage of unvaccinated people who become infected)

So, for example, if 80 percent of the unvaccinated become infected, and 40 percent of the vaccinated do, then E is 0.5, or 50 percent effectiveness. For this study we are defining “vaccinated cases” as anyone with symptoms starting 14 days or more after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine series, or a single-dose vaccine series, as per the Government of Ontario website.

Based on initial clinical results, prevention efficacy of popular Covid-19 vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna was estimated at 90-95 percent. Such high rates of effectiveness are critical to achieving the herd immunity threshold when the targeted virus is highly infectious. (Source of photo: Shutterstock)

During the real-world progress of the infection, with widespread testing, a sensible measure of the percentage of people who become infected in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups is the number of new daily cases appearing per 100,000 population in each group. These numbers, expressed as a seven-day trailing average, are reported daily on the GoO website.

From the initial clinical trials by the manufacturers, the efficacy was reported to be 90-95 percent. This is greater than the HIT for the Delta variant, so should have been sufficient to achieve a population-wide HIT once the overall vaccination level reached 84-89 percent. Clearly, however, herd immunity was not reached. Recent, real-world experiential data suggest that the actually realizable effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines is considerably less than what was initially asserted, and decreases over time. So let’s look at the recent data.

Before the End of November 2021 

During the five weeks ending November 28, the Delta variant comprised essentially 100 percent of Ontario’s recorded cases. At the beginning of this period, Ontario reported an overall level of vaccination of either 81.7 percent (if using the 5+ aged population) or 88.5 percent  (12+ population). At the end of the period, the respective levels were 83.2 percent and 90.2 percent. All vaccination levels were in the range that should have produced a steady decline in infections if the vaccines were as effective as the 90-95 percent originally claimed.

As Figure 1 shows, however, infections per 100,000 population increased markedly during this period (which as we know predated the Omicron wave). Clearly, the vaccines were not preventing the spread of the Covid-19 virus and transmission was occurring in large numbers among the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated populations.

Figure 1. The incidence of Covid-19 infections, as measured by new daily cases per 100,000, increased for both fully vaccinated (FV) and unvaccinated (UV) people in Ontario in the five-week period from late October to the end of November 2021. Based on these daily incidence numbers, the vaccine effectiveness (VE) gradually decreased, becoming insufficient to achieve herd immunity on about November 1. (Note: VE reflects total FV and UV populations, which were not adjusted/weighted for potential differences in average age, health or prior infection, as such data were not reported by the Government of Ontario beyond October 24, 2021. Chart created by Jim Mason, PhD, using Government of Ontario case data)

At the start of this period, the effectiveness of the vaccine, calculated using new daily infections per 100,000 as the measure of percentage infected, was 81.8 percent (versus the 90-95 percent originally reported) (without adjusting or weighting for potential differences in age, health or prior infection between the fully vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, which was not possible using the study dataset as this granularity in the data does not extend beyond October 24). At this level of effectiveness, in order to achieve the HIT of 80 percent, the vaccination level would need to be 97.8 percent. But since the actual vaccination level was less than this, cases continued to grow.

At the end of the period, the vaccine effectiveness, calculated in the same manner, had sagged to about 75 percent. This was less than the HIT, so the critical vaccination level now was greater than 100 percent – 106.7 percent in fact – becoming unattainable. On about November 1, the vaccine effectiveness became less than that required to achieve herd immunity in Ontario.

After the End of November 2021

While that seems bad enough, something even more dramatic happened between the end of November and the present time that has serious implications for the utility of the entire vaccination campaign.

Figure 2 plots the number of new daily cases among the unvaccinated and fully vaccinated, in absolute terms and as cases per 100,000 population, relative to the value recorded on October 25 (which should be read as “1”). Figure 3 plots the cumulative number of new cases since October 25 among the fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Figure 3 also charts the vaccinated-to-unvaccinated ratio in new daily cases.

Figure 2. New daily cases among the fully vaccinated (FV) in Ontario exploded around the middle of December, increasing to over 100 times the number recorded on October 25. This caused the incidence of infection per 100,000 population among the FV to increase by a factor of over 30 relative to October 25. New daily cases and new daily cases per 100,000 among the unvaccinated (UV) showed a much smaller increase during the study period. (Chart created by Jim Mason, PhD, using Government of Ontario case data)

Until about mid-December, both groups experienced similar sorts of changes relative to October 25. In mid-December new daily cases among the vaccinated began to soar, reaching a peak on January 1 over 100 times the number of new daily cases at the start. This drove cases per 100,000 up as well, reaching a peak on January 4 almost 32 times the value on October 25. Case numbers and cases per 100,000 among the unvaccinated also peaked around this same time, but both were only about 13 times the values on October 25. Since by this time the vaccinated represented the vast majority of the population, the absolute numbers were also overwhelmingly among the vaccinated.

Figure 3 shows that while the total number of new cases among the unvaccinated grew to 402 times the number on October 25 (73,495 versus 183), among the vaccinated this figure shot up by a factor of 3,284 (311,947 versus 95). Whereas on October 25 there were half as many cases among the vaccinated as the unvaccinated, by January 8 there were more than six times as many (10,865 versus 1,714). By January 27 the total accumulated cases among the vaccinated (311,947) was over four times the number among the unvaccinated (73,495). Throughout this period, the vaccinated were dominating all the metrics.

Figure 3. Since October 25 the total number of new Covid-19 cases among the fully vaccinated (FV) reached 3,284 times the starting figure by January 26. This total was also more than four times the total among the unvaccinated (UV). New daily cases among the FV grew from about half as many as among the UV to over six times as many. (Chart created by Jim Mason, PhD, using Government of Ontario case data)

Clearly, something happened that caused the vaccinated to become far more vulnerable than the unvaccinated. What might that have been? 

Omicron Appears and Vaccinated Cases Soar More than 3,000-Fold

The Delta variant accounted for essentially 100 percent of the cases up to the end of November 2021, with Omicron then appearing, increasing to almost 100 percent of new cases by the end of December. This is indicated by the coloured band at the top of the charts. No matter how you look at the data, since the appearance of Omicron, the vaccinated have dominated the metrics: more new daily cases, more new daily cases per 100,000 population, and more total cases since October 25. This indicates a vaccine with collapsing effectiveness.

This process is illustrated graphically in Figure 4 which plots the new daily cases per 100,000 (percentage of group infected) for both the fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated, overlaid by the corresponding vaccine effectiveness determined in the same manner as described above. Also indicated are the HITs for both Delta and Omicron. Omicron is estimated to have an R0 3.19 times that of Delta, or 16.2, which puts the corresponding HIT amidst Omicron at 93.8 percent.
Figure 4. Incidence of infection among the fully vaccinated (FV) and unvaccinated (UV) as measured by new daily cases per 100,000 over the period late October 2021 to the end of January 2022, together with the vaccine effectiveness derived from these numbers. According to these data, the mRNA vaccines are completely ineffective against Omicron, making it impossible to achieve the herd immunity threshold even with 100 percent vaccination. (Chart created by Jim Mason, PhD, using Government of Ontario case data)

As can be seen, since about November 1 the real-word effectiveness of the vaccine has been insufficient to achieve herd immunity even if 100 percent of the population were vaccinated. With the advent of Omicron, the gradual degradation in effectiveness that was occurring with Delta became a precipitous collapse.

Treating the period between October 25, 2021 and January 27, 2022 as a “clinical trial” involving nearly 15 million subjects, and using the total number of new daily cases and the average population sizes inferred from the new daily cases per 100,000 for each of the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, reveals a vaccine effectiveness of basically zero. The green and blue lines in Figure 4 show that essentially the same fraction of each population has become infected during this period.

These results are consistent with the findings of a recent paper by a team of 13 scientists, Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron or Delta infection, which concluded that two doses of mRNA vaccine provide zero effectiveness against Omicron, with three doses providing 37 percent effectiveness during the study period.  A VE of just 37 percent would only be useful for containing a virus with a basic reproduction number of 1.6 or less. The Covid-19 ancestral strain’s R0 was 2.9, which corresponds to a HIT of 65 percent and, therefore, requires a vaccine with at least this effectiveness. With Omicron’s R0 of 16.2, 37 percent effectiveness is all-but immaterial, requiring a theoretical vaccination rate of 253 percent to achieve the HIT.

Everyone is now, in effect, unvaccinated. That is, the mRNA vaccines are completely ineffective at preventing transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Omicron (and possibly Delta) appears to be a vaccine-resistant strain. How did this happen?

Basic Biology Provides an Explanation

Any time during a virus’s genomic replication, random undirected mutations – copying mistakes – occur. It has been well-established that the vast majority of these have either no effect or a harmful effect on the survivability of the organism in the environment in which it finds itself. Very occasionally a mutation will happen that provides a survival advantage in this environment. This strain – or variant – of the organism will, as a result, thrive and fairly quickly come to dominate the population in this environment. This is classic mutation and natural selection.

Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria occur as the result of random mutations that confer a survival advantage – in this case resilience against an antibiotic. The same principles of natural selection and survival apply to the coronaviruses, including Covid-19, which through multiple series of mutations appears to have become able to evade or resist the previously developed vaccines.

In the case of the Covid-19 virus, since the vaccines do not prevent an individual from becoming infected, the virus will quite frequently find itself faced with an immune response that was induced by the vaccine. If one or more mutations occur that provide a survival advantage in this environment, this mutated strain of the virus will soon dominate the population in the infected (though vaccinated) host and will be the strain that the host will shed and transmit to others. Since other vaccinated people will have a similar immune response, they will be particularly susceptible to this variant which will, therefore, spread easily throughout the vaccinated population. This is similar to how antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria arise.

But why would this happen with the Covid-19 virus?

Suboptimal Immune System Training

The mRNA vaccines “train” our immune system using only a synthetic replica of the spike portion of the virus. This has the advantage that the training occurs without any real virus being present, so the chance of viral infection through vaccination is zero. It is like a military training exercise that does not use live ammunition. No one is going to get wounded or killed by the ammunition. 

A significant disadvantage, however, is that the immune system is working with less than a complete picture. Traditional vaccines use the entire virus, providing the immune system with much more information to be used in its process of recognition and in developing its defence. The Covid-19 vaccines are limited to the information contained in the synthetic spike protein. If one or more mutations occur that change the real spike protein sufficiently, the immune system might no longer recognize it. Rather than mounting an already-learned defence, it will need to build a new defence. In effect, the vaccinated person has become unvaccinated because the virus has changed. 

By analogy, consider training a facial recognition system using only an artist’s rendering of the left eyebrow of the person being sought, versus using a high-resolution photograph of the entire face. A relatively small difference in the shape of the eyebrow might render the first system ineffective, whereas the second system, having much more information to use, would not likely be fooled.

This is certainly consistent with the evidence regarding Omicron. The recent suggestion by Pfizer that a new, Omicron-specific version of the vaccine needs to be developed tacitly confirms this. Retraining our immune systems in another suboptimal manner, however, would seem to simply restart the same process.

What are the implications for compulsory vaccinations, vaccine mandates and vaccine passports?

Discrimination on the Basis of Vaccination Status is Unjustifiable

The vaccines do not provide strong and lasting immunity and, consequently, do not stop transmission of the virus. 

This allows vaccine-resistant variants to arise and incubate in infected vaccinated people as a result of the inevitable processes of mutation and natural selection. Because infected vaccinated people have peak viral loads that some research has shown to be equal to those of infected unvaccinated people, they transmit the virus efficiently. Because other vaccinated people have similar immune system environments, the vaccine-resistant or -evading variants arising in infected vaccinated people spread easily to other vaccinated people.

Omicron appears to be such a vaccine-resistant or -evading strain. Based on the information from Ontario, the effectiveness of the current vaccines against this variant is, for all intents and purposes, zero. Ontario’s entire population is now effectively unvaccinated. Moreover, it has become impossible to reach herd immunity even with 100 percent vaccination.

If the vaccines aren’t stopping transmission of Covid-19, then how can vaccine mandates and other coercive measures be justified under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Perhaps the Freedom Convoy truckers and all those who supported them around the world – like these protesters in Australia – got it right. (Source of photo: Sky News)

Switching to a vaccine that is updated based on the Omicron spike, as suggested by Pfizer, will simply start the same cycle over again unless this new vaccine actually provides lasting immunity.

There may still be some benefits that accrue to the individual from being vaccinated as a result of decreased severity of symptoms and reduced probability of hospitalization and/or ICU admission. The inference of these benefits comes from the pre-Omicron era, however, and would need to be revisited with a focus on Omicron. The recent surge in cases among the vaccinated in Ontario has resulted in the vaccinated requiring more frequent hospitalization and ICU admission, to the point where, as of February 19, there were 2.9 times as many vaccinated in hospital (non-ICU) as unvaccinated and 1.1 times as many in ICU. The mantra that the unvaccinated are “overwhelming the healthcare system” is no longer accurate or defensible…if it ever was.

The segregation and discrimination based on vaccination status that have been widely imposed by governments are generally recognized as violations of several enumerated protected areas in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have nonetheless been widely rationalized as falling under Section 1’s “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The empirical evidence and the relevant science do not support the contention that these violations can be “demonstrably justified.” They cannot be rationally sustained and need to be ended immediately.

The truckers had it right.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this essay was submitted to three independent reviewers, two of whom have a scientific and/or mathematics background, and the third of whom has worked in health care throughout his career. A number of changes were made in response to their comments. C2C Journal and the author thank them for their kind assistance.

Jim Mason earned a BSc in engineering physics and a PhD in experimental nuclear physics. His doctoral research and much of his career involved extensive analysis of “noisy” data to extract useful information, which was then further analyzed to identify meaningful relationships indicative of underlying causes. He is currently retired and living near Lakefield, Ontario.

Source of main image: Shutterstock.

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