Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower, Military Industrial Complex Speech, 1961
A nation’s well-being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by a single, pervasive cultural characteristic: the level of trust inherent in the society.
— Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, 1995
Canada’s Liberal government decided that a truckers’ protest against vaccine mandates was a full-on emergency. As the protests and then the crackdown held Canadians’ full attention, how other countries are dealing with these measures escaped notice. Israel, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and the UK are all at various stages of lifting mandates, including vaccine passports – and many if not all other pandemic-related restrictions as well. In the U.S., many states have been free or nearly free of restrictions for months, while a recent Supreme Court decision retained federally mandated restrictions for health care workers but denied the U.S. government’s attempt to impose them on private companies.
Some countries are going even farther than that. In the UK, according to The Telegraph, MPs have launched an investigation into the use of “grossly unethical tactics to scare the public into Covid compliance…after psychologists criticize[d] totalitarian tactics of ‘deploying fear, shame and scapegoating’” during the pandemic. In the U.S., a recently released study by economists at Johns Hopkins University concluded that “lockdowns have had little to no public health effects.” Indeed, Sweden, which throughout the pandemic avoided lockdowns and school closures and relied on recommendations instead of mandates to influence public behaviour, experienced overall results no worse than those of other western countries.
In Canada, however, the Liberal government’s reflexive responses were to inject further “vaccinate-everyone” boosters into the public conversation, refuse to end mandates, refuse even to engage with the Freedom Convoy’s spokespeople or scientists, demonize their critics and lastly – if briefly – impose the Emergencies Act.
Canada’s public health establishment must be heaving a sigh of relief. What wonderful cover the federal government’s actions have provided them. No longer in the spotlight, and with falling caseloads, official science and its carefully constructed narrative needn’t explain how the vaccine juggernaut is itself starting to sputter. Having placed all its faith in vaccines to quell the Covid-19 pandemic, it also created a gigantic societal comorbidity: an existential crisis of transparency and public trust that reached its apotheosis in the streets of downtown Ottawa on a chilling February weekend. Given diminishing if not collapsing vaccine effectiveness – as discussed in this C2C original research essay – and the need to recalibrate pandemic policies more generally, it didn’t have to be this way.
Booster Busts, and National Vaccine Hesitancy
The poster-child for efficient vaccine rollouts – Israel – began administering its fourth dose in December. Preliminary results from a study undertaken the following month by Israel’s largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center, were shocking in substance despite their low-key delivery. According to the head of the hospital’s Infectious Disease Unit, Gili Regev-Yochay, “What we see with the Pfizer vaccine after two weeks is a pretty nice increase in the number of antibodies – even a little higher than we had after the third dose – yet this is probably not enough for the Omicron.” The study found that the booster provided some benefit, particularly for the elderly. But this was probably not enough, concluded Regev-Yochay, to “support a decision to give it to all of the population.”
The Israeli study appears to have marked a turning point in the previous narrative that people of all ages should be vaccinated as often as might be needed. As the second anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic approaches – the official date is March 11 – countries around the world are growing increasingly discriminating about who should receive further boosters. Sweden and the UK, for example, are currently considering a fourth dose only for the very elderly. One might almost say that some countries are growing vaccine-hesitant.
The EU-wide European Medicines Agency in January issued a remarkable caution about possible adverse effects of repeated vaccination on the immune system – actually advising against frequent boosters. Clive Dix, the former head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, has gone even farther, saying that continued vaccinations are a waste of time. Where it was once believed vaccination could prevent transmission and infection, Dix was now calling for an “immune status study…to understand exactly where everybody’s immunity is…so that by next winter we can really have a policy of vaccination that’s educated, using the right vaccines at the right time for the right people.” Mass vaccination should come to an end, Dix argued, with Covid-19 managed as an endemic disease, like the flu.
We may hope for a state of endemicity in which Covid-19 presents as a mild, seasonal illness, but it remains far from known if that’s realistic. We might even hope that the holy grail of Covid-19 public policy, herd immunity, is at hand. Herd immunity is achieved when sufficient numbers within a population have sufficient antibodies resulting from either infection or vaccination to resist transmission from person to person. Omicron, having overtaken the Delta variant – and with its more transmissible subvariant BA.2 overtaking BA.1 – is clearly weeks past its peak worldwide and in dozens of countries including Canada. Omicron’s high transmissibility and generally low virulence causing mostly mild upper respiratory cold-like infection appears to have provided a leap towards herd immunity.
Yet Omicron swept through society not only in South Africa, where the variant was first identified and which has a low overall rate of vaccination, but in the world’s most highly vaccinated countries, such as Israel and Denmark. With the vaccines having stemmed the tide against the original Alpha (Wuhan) strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is increasingly clear they are no longer working very well. The vaccines appear still to provide protection against severe illness and death. But the returns generated through mass vaccination – including boosters – are clearly diminishing.
Why is this happening? What does all this mean?
It’s not as if we couldn’t see this coming. SARS-CoV-2 was infecting the vaccinated – a phenomenon known as “breakthrough” infections – by mid-summer 2021. It should have been obvious that the Delta variant was changing the nature of the pandemic.
A July outbreak of 100 cases among a fully vaccinated crew on the Royal Navy’s new flagship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, sounded the first warning bell. A second rang loud and clear in August when, following large public events in a Massachusetts town, a Centers for Disease Control study recorded how 74 percent of Covid-19 cases appeared among the fully vaccinated. That month, Israel, too, reported 53 percent of infections occurring among the vaccinated. Similar and worse numbers have been appearing in highly vaccinated populations ever since.
In an attempt to determine the impact of vaccination on Alpha and Delta transmission, a study from the UK available in pre-print form in mid-September reported that “Delta erodes vaccine-associated protection against transmission by both making the infection more common and increasing the likelihood of transmission from vaccinated individuals who become infected.”
And yet official public communication remained fixated on the claim that this was a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Omicron made it clear that this claim was closer to a calumny. The opposite claim is nearer the truth. With 10 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines having been administered, the result couldn’t be more striking as worldwide infection rates began to shoot up in late December.
Canada hasn’t been immune to the startling numbers. Hospitalizations in Ontario (data changes daily) show that on January 29, the vaccinated and partially vaccinated comprised 1,905 of hospitalizations while the unvaccinated numbered 667. Unvaccinated ICU patients numbered 199 while the partial and fully vaccinated numbered 249. As of February 26, vaccinated hospitalized patients still outnumbered the unvaccinated by nearly three to one. (Of course, the vaccinated outnumber the unvaccinated by at least six to one in the overall population, suggesting that vaccination still confers some protection, but clearly much less than once claimed.) According to another report, “January 2022 [was] on track to be among the deadliest months of the entire pandemic in the province, with 1,104 deaths confirmed …”
In a comprehensive review of three months of Ontario data, physicist Jim Mason concludes that because of the vaccine’s declining performance, at this point “Ontario’s entire population is effectively unvaccinated,” a finding with which the Canadian Covid Care Alliance largely concurs.
A Wall Street Journal column in January by Luc Montagnier, a 2008 Nobel Laureate in Medicine (since deceased), and constitutional scholar Jed Rubenfeld noted some of the early Ontario findings on which Mason would subsequently crunch his own numbers. Federal vaccine mandates that might have made sense against Delta no longer applied against Omicron, they argued.
To the contrary, Montagnier and Rubenfeld wrote, “The little data we have suggest the opposite. One preprint (Danish Cohort) study found that after 30 days the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines no longer had any statistically significant positive effect against Omicron infections, and after 90 days, their effect went negative – i.e., vaccinated people were more susceptible to Omicron infection. Confirming this negative efficacy finding, data from Denmark and the Canadian province of Ontario indicate that vaccinated people have higher rates of Omicron infection than unvaccinated people.”
An uncomfortable if not outright stunning reality now loomed: the vaccines had entered “negative efficacy,” though to be sure, not everywhere and not all the time. But no array of confounding factors or mathematical contortions regarding proportions of each group – vaccinated versus unvaccinated – or rates of infection within each group, could detract from the hard data revealing not only huge numbers of infected vaccinated individuals, but that huge numbers were being hospitalized when the vaccines were supposed to prevent at least this outcome.
Why Are So Many Vaccinated People Getting Infected?
To begin, don’t blame the unvaccinated. Once infected, the vaccinated and unvaccinated appear to carry similar viral loads. While it may be that the vaccinated are generally infectious for shorter periods, if overly complacent, either can become a spreader – possibly even a super spreader. The problem is obviously complex and won’t be solved by witch hunts or discriminatory policies.
The key is to find out why things are happening the way they are, and shape polices accordingly. Naturally waning vaccine efficacy over time is one explanation. But if that is the case, it could be handled through boosters, which clearly didn’t work against Omicron. Another possibility is that the current vaccines, encoded to address the now extinct Wuhan/Alpha strain, are less effective against new variants.
A study that followed Omicron transmission in Danish households, published in December, sheds light on this issue. As Omicron was surging in South Africa, the UK and Denmark, the Danish household study unexpectedly revealed that it was being transmitted more rapidly in vaccinated than unvaccinated households. Worse than merely finding greater overall “transmissibility” by Omicron, the data concluded that “immune escape” was now in play. The Wuhan strain for which the vaccines were encoded and for which they were already less effective against Delta were now nearly depleted against Omicron – a highly mutated variant that was apparently finding its way around antibodies created by the vaccine.
Fortunately for Denmark, which was experiencing one of the highest rates of infection in a phenomenon that was affecting all highly vaccinated countries, Omicron soon proved far less deadly than Delta, even if its much higher rates of milder infection produced a greater strain on medical services. A similar pattern soon began to play out in other countries and many Canadian provinces. Today, the question is whether this particular “escapee” is a harbinger of more and worse “escapees” – that is, new and more virulent variants.
The Underlying Problem
While the current vaccines mitigate symptoms and death from Covid-19 at least for a short period of time, these vaccines, sometimes referred to as “leaky” vaccines, do not completely “sterilize” the virus. This isn’t unusual among vaccines. While polio and smallpox vaccines are sterilizing and hence produce long-lasting immunity, influenza vaccines aren’t sterilizing either.
To achieve sterilizing immunity, a vaccine must trigger an immune response, usually in the form of neutralizing antibodies, that specifically targets and neutralizes the actual viruses (and not merely the infected human cells that have been turned into virus-production centres). Unless this happens, the authors of Sterilizing Immunity and Covid 19 Vaccines write, “there is a chance that the virus can be passed to others even if the infected person has no symptoms.” And as the UK’s Professor Sir Andrew Pollard acknowledges, neither for this reason is herd immunity possible through this type of vaccine. Only fully sterilizing vaccines or population-level natural infection could achieve this.
Sterilization also prevents another problem of equal if not even greater magnitude: “immune escape.” Non-sterilizing vaccines appear to facilitate a process of natural selection within infected individuals in which the virus mutates in ways that allow it to “escape” from the antibodies created due to the vaccines. Like antibiotic-resistant bacteria that arise from the overuse of antibiotics, so too it seems can vaccines give rise to vaccine-resistant variants.
Under this theory, deploying vaccines on a population-wide basis at a time when infections are running high makes the situation worse. As the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group observed, “The combination of high prevalence [of infections] and high levels of vaccination creates the condition in which an immune escape variant is most likely to emerge…[presenting] a significant risk both in the UK and internationally.”
Or, as Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, put it, “The more you vaccinate the more you put evolutionary pressure on the virus. As you get up to high levels of vaccination the virus probably will mutate, meaning more vaccinations will be needed. All vaccinations will ultimately put pressure on viral mutations.”
It’s a sentiment the late Montagnier was expressing early in 2021 when he declared the vaccine rollout a “scientific as well as a medical error.” A tweet from Belgian vaccinologist-virologist Geert Vanden Bossche cut to the chase: “With this mass vaccination you are doing exactly the opposite. You are generating a breeding ground for more infectious variants to come.” Moreover, Vanden Bossche asserted, antibodies created by the vaccines in the middle of a pandemic outcompete and therefore compromise innate immunity – the immunity with which we are born. Unlike our adaptive immunity, which is conditioned by exposure to disease and vaccines, our innate immunity is our strongest defence against all manner of disease and infection.
Compromising innate immunity may be what European Regulatory Authorities had in mind when they cautioned against frequent use of boosters. Apart from the implications for population-wide immunological health and the fact vaccines are encoded for the now immaterial if not extinct Alpha (Wuhan) strain, this raises questions about the continuing viability of Canada’s current stockpile of vaccines.
“Negative efficacy,” “immune escape,” “vaccine resistant,” “non-sterilizing”…anything else?! Unfortunately, yes. Another possibility is that frequent vaccination could lead to a phenomenon known as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE).
The ADE paradox occurs when the vaccine helps rather than prevents the virus from doing its worst. Effectively, the vaccine backfires, sickening patients or killing them outright. According to the authors of an October 2021 study subtitled The not so friendly side of antibodies, “The imminent risk that may be triggered by a vaccine-mediated antibody response is that the mechanism of ADE occurs and places vaccinated individuals at greater risk of a more severe disease phenotype compared to unvaccinated individuals.”
While ADE remains highly contested in relation to Covid-19, the phenomenon itself is more than mere conjecture: it has happened in the real world. The vaccines against SARS-1 and dengue fever both had to be withdrawn when ADE occurred. Worryingly, French scientists writing in the Journal of Infection detected signs of ADE as Covid-19 antibodies neutralized the Wuhan strain but showed an affinity for Delta. Now, with high rates of infection among the vaccinated, and with Israeli death rates rising in tandem with high rates of vaccination and infection, Omicron may be setting the stage for ADE.
At a recent panel discussion the co-inventor of the mRNA technology, Robert Malone, spoke to the issue with quiet clarity: “We are truly blessed,” he said, “That Omicron has such low risk for severe disease and death. However, it’s got a warning sign…If we continue to implement this universal vaccination policy…what we risk is driving the virus through basic evolution to a state where it may be more pathogenic and more able to elude immune response…We are [now] clearly seeing the development of escape mutants that are resistant to the vaccine. Omicron is not only resistant to the vaccine but its infectivity seems to be facilitated by the vaccine. And in my opinion this must stop for the sake of the world.” (Emphasis added.)
What To Do?
Suffering the slings and arrows of censorship and attempts at defamation and marginalization, a growing number of independent analysts with unimpeachable credentials like Malone are placing their reputations and careers on the line in contesting the prevailing Covid-19 narrative mandating vaccination as the only option for dealing with the virus. They have detailed life-saving treatment options, recently discussed in C2C, and have monitored vaccine safety and efficacy.
These include Vanden Bossche, whose website, twitter feed and interviews offer education and analysis, including two open appeals to the World Health Organization, about the intricate responses of the innate and adaptive immune systems to pathogens and how Covid-19 vaccines affect them. They also offer compelling arguments against mass indiscriminate vaccination with a non-sterilizing vaccine during a pandemic and its potential for catastrophe. Since little to no efficacy remains in the current vaccines, plans for a new vaccine against Omicron should be discontinued, Vanden Bossche argues, and every effort to achieve herd immunity through natural infection with Omicron should be pursued.
With the accelerating easing of Covid-19 restrictions in numerous countries despite high rates of infection, it is tempting to believe that Vanden Bossche and Malone’s messages are being heard. Tellingly, perhaps, on February 23 Iceland announced the lifting of all restrictions. Citing the need for people to become infected with the virus because “the vaccines are not enough, even though they provide good protection against serious illness,” Iceland’s health ministry stated that “Widespread societal resistance to Covid-19 is the main route out of the epidemic.”
A more restrained approach is offered by Clive Dix’s policy prescription of “using the right vaccines at the right time for the right people,” which seems promising particularly since the vulnerable are easily identified. Indeed, plans to develop an “all-variant,” potentially sterilizing vaccine can’t be discounted.
But with ADE a genuine threat, the question is why the public health establishment, in pursuing a program of universal vaccination, exposed the population to this risk. Universal vaccination may have seemed a reasonable response at the outset but its continued application over two years doesn’t make sense. After all, even 94.5 percent of the single most vulnerable group – institutionalized people over 70 – survive Covid-19, with much higher survival rates for younger groups. Moreover, according to information gleaned from a UK freedom of information request, many fewer deaths can be solely attributable to Covid-19 than previously believed. Many people are dying with Covid-19 but not of Covid-19.
As well, treatment options have been available since the early months of the pandemic. Malone and Vanden Bossche, among many, are calling for the restoration of the traditional physician-patient relationship so early delivery of sequenced multi-drug therapies and repurposed drugs can be made available to newly infected patients.
According to The Great Barrington Declaration, authored by distinguished scholars in infectious diseases and public health, protection of the vulnerable should be the priority. We now know that these include the frail elderly with comorbidities, but also the obese, including obese children, the immunocompromised and the racialized, whose needs for vitamin D are particularly high.
A newly published Israeli retrospective study found a strong link between high levels of vitamin D and avoidance of severe illness or death from Covid-19, a simple and inexpensive protective measure previously dismissed by Canada’s then Health Minister Patty Hajdu as “fake news.” Given Canada’s northerly geography, which limits the average person’s exposure to natural vitamin D in sunlight, vitamin D levels should be made part of a patient’s annual checkup as should factors contributing to obesity.
Possible preventive measures that are simple and inexpensive are also now to hand. Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus replicates in the nose and throat for several days (Omicron incubates in 48 hours) before it descends into the respiratory system, a number of scientists propose that nasal washes could cut it off at the pass, so to speak. One simple treatment option consists of using diluted povidone iodine solution as a nasal wash and gargle (without swallowing). Mouthwashes containing cetylpyridinium also appear to kill the virus in the mouth and throat.
Other issues also need addressing. In deciding on how to manage the pandemic, politicians were constantly pressured to “follow the science” when, as argued by Lieutenant-Colonel David Redman (ret’d) in these pages, the science is only one aspect of public emergency planning. The “science” in any case is something about which politicians too often know little and around which internal scientific disagreement, error or outright group-think and incompetence may be occurring. In addition, many otherwise conscientious physicians and scientists who might offer a new perspective simply toe the party line when they see dissenting colleagues lose their jobs, licences or grants. Not for the first time, and lacking authoritative versions of both sides of the story, citizens are consigned to ferreting information for themselves.
Something similar also occurred, though on a smaller scale, during England’s BSE or “mad cow” crisis of the 1980s and 90s, which involved the destruction of over 4 million cows and sparked fears (ill-founded, as it turned out) that thousands of humans would be infected. The scholarly study BSE: risk, science and governance in 2005 investigated the relationship between science, politics and policy-making and reached conclusions that remain applicable in a Covid-19-riddled world. Authors Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone mounted a case for new structures and processes aimed at achieving greater scientific and democratic legitimacy. Given conflicting scientific evidence, how much risk is acceptable? Who should be trusted to decide, why and how?
Covid-19 revived this problem on a society-altering, economy-crushing global scale. The solution, wrote van Zwanenberg and Millstone, is not to pretend scientists are indifferent to these considerations but instead to make them transparent. Accordingly, governments must invite, investigate and publish the full range of scientific opinion. If the uncertain basis of such science is revealed, then many of the non-scientific considerations that produce disagreements among scientists would also be revealed.
In contrast to the vast majority of western countries, Sweden trusted its citizens to make the right decisions. Canada, despite having among the most highly educated populations on the planet, pursued legally enforceable lockdowns, school and business closures and vaccine rollouts with little thought to economic, social, scientific or political risks. Like the UK, attempts to scare or bribe citizens into vaccine compliance, along with shaming, scapegoating and, now, demonizing truckers, were also evident. Unlike Canada, however, the UK has moved decisively to a new policy of “Living with Covid,” ending vaccine passports, lifting remaining restrictions on February 24 and scrapping plans to require healthcare workers to be vaccinated.
Canada is paying the price. At a cost of some $600 billion to the general economy, these measures purportedly protected overburdened health care systems that might have been addressed for the cost of a few billion dollars or, with early treatment, prevented entirely. Invocation of the Emergencies Act, however briefly, displayed a worrisome political overreach that not merely the protesters themselves but some foreign commentators described as totalitarian.
The politicians responsible for all of this may, eventually, answer for their decisions at the ballot box. As for our scientists and other technological elite, they ought to play a key societal role as contributors to the advancement of scientific enquiry through open discourse and the scientific method. But when these key principles are bent or suppressed, even in the name of preventing “vaccine hesitancy,” or when scientists become party to draconian measures violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or bioethical standards dating back to Hippocrates and the Nuremburg Code, these elites are contributors to a crisis of public trust – of which the Freedom Convoy is likely to be seen as historically emblematic.
Margret Kopala is an author and public policy analyst.
Source of main image: Shutterstock.