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2022-10-14 at 14:21 #2418Nat QuinnKeymaster
The alt-media is awash with a ‘shocking’ revelation: A Pfizer executive ‘admitted’ initial trials did not test whether their Covid vaccine prevented transmission. Are opponents of vaccine requirements owed an apology?
‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!’ – Walter Scott, Marmion.
The campaign against Covid-19 vaccinations has not abated. I recently tweeted about xenophobia and the language that precedes pogroms and genocide, only to have the anti-vax* horde flood my timeline with complaints of my hypocrisy, since I supposedly supported the genocide of the unvaccinated. And here I thought I supported genocide by vaccination.
They’re a hysterical, easily-triggered mob, and they have constructed an impenetrable web of disinformation, complete with their own anointed ‘experts’, which makes it very frustrating to maintain any level of sensible discussion.
It takes a minute to spout a nugget of drivel. It can take hours to debunk it with well-sourced, credible data or research findings. I’ve largely given it up as futile.
Sadly, it is once again necessary to correct a reeking pat of poppycock. It took a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Rob Roos, two minutes and one second to present his case. It will take me several hours to produce this rebuttal.
Roos is the vice-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which is analogous to a political party, except at the European level. They appear to be a good bunch for the most part, seeking a reformed, more limited but more efficient Union, and hewing to mostly classical liberal principles.
Janine Small, a long-serving Pfizer executive standing in for the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, was one of five pharmaceutical industry representatives who testified on 10 October 2022 before the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Covid-19, on lessons learned and recommendations for the future.
Roos asked Small whether the Pfizer Covid vaccine was ‘tested on stopping the transmission of the virus before it entered the market’. Small’s response was that it wasn’t.
‘This is scandalous’, exclaimed Roos in his subsequent video. ‘Millions of people worldwide felt forced to get vaccinated because of the myth that you do it for others. Now this turned out to be a cheap lie. This should be exposed! Please share this video!’
And a-sharing they went, mostly on social media, blogs of dubious repute, quackery and conspiracy websites, and a handful of news outlets, the only two of which I’ve heard of are two conservative newspapers from Australia.
I received a text message: ‘A little embarrassing for us who favoured vaxxing. And the Daily Maverick. Nick Hudson and Panda owed an apology?’
Not so fast. No, they are certainly not owed an apology. This ‘bombshell’ and ‘lie’ and ‘scandal’ and ‘fraud’ as it is variously described, is nothing of the sort.
My own argument that vaccine mandates would not violate classical liberal principles was based on the exact point Roos makes: if indeed vaccines do not protect other people, but only the vaccinees themselves, a mandate, vaccine passport, or other means of excluding the unvaccinated from social settings would not be justifiable.
I stopped short of supporting such mandates, and soon came around to opposing them on the same grounds the World Health Organisation does, the most important of which is that they could undermine public trust and confidence in the scientific community and in vaccination in general.
Roos takes Small’s statement out of context, however, and draws from it conclusions that are insupportable and far too broad.
Read the documents
It is trivially true that Pfizer did not assess transmissibility in their clinical trials prior to bringing their vaccine to market. Nobody who has actually read the relevant documents would have been in the least surprised.
To wit: ‘The primary endpoints of the Covid-19 vaccine study were safety and to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine candidate in preventing Covid-19 disease in participants who had not been infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus before they received the vaccine, and to evaluate potential prevention of Covid-19 disease in participants who had prior exposure to Sars-CoV-2.’
Not a word about transmission. The trials were not designed to empirically prove that the vaccine reduced the infectiousness of an infected person. In all likelihood, they couldn’t have been designed for that, since it would have required deliberately exposing people to Covid-19, which seems ethically untenable (to put it mildly).
Roos’s familiarity with the publicly available literature on the subject of vaccines appears to be cursory, at best. This may also explain why he promptly leapt to the far broader conclusion that it is a ‘lie’ that vaccines reduce transmission of Covid-19 and that they therefore do not protect other people.
This conclusion is incorrect.
For a start, it would have been self-evident to people who are trained to understand viruses, vaccines and epidemics that any vaccine which is effective at limiting a disease will also limit either the maximum viral load or the duration of infectivity, and thereby reduce the opportunity for transmission.
Vaccines are hardly novel. To the best of my knowledge, all vaccines against contagious viral disease have that effect. This is well-established in any number of other vaccines: they not only protect the vaccinee but protect others – and particularly those who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated – from being infected by the vaccinee.
As an aside, by the term ‘protect’, I do not mean to imply a guarantee of 100% effectiveness. It means only that the risk is reduced. Even if a particular clinical trial shows a 100% success rate, that is only an observation about that particular clinical trial.
One generally needs more, larger and more representative samples than any single trial can provide to reach more confident conclusions about effectiveness, or indeed safety.
Sensationalist headlines, tweets and soundbites by politicians rarely allow for such scientific nuances and variability in outcomes. This has misled a lot of people into making over-confident claims, or claiming that over-confident claims were made that – scandal! – were proved to be incorrect.
But back to why Roos’s conclusion was wrong. There is a mountain of subsequent research that confirmed that the initial intuition of experts that vaccines would reduce transmission was indeed correct.
Transmissibility has two components. One is susceptibility, which is how likely someone is to become infected at a certain level of exposure. The other is infectiousness, which is the chance of an infected person passing it on to someone else. Transmission requires both, so to assess whether the vaccine reduces transmissibility, we need either of these, or both, to be lower.
A peer-reviewed study in the UK involving the delta variant, published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, found that the effectiveness in reducing susceptibility of a double dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 84%.
A paper in the journal Nature found that the viral load was substantially reduced for infections occurring 12 to 37 days after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which suggests lower infectiousness.
A study conducted in Israel concluded that the Pfizer vaccination against Covid-19 reduced both infectiousness and susceptibility, reducing transmission by an enormous 91,8%.
Another peer-reviewed study conducted across several advanced countries found a significant negative association between vaccination progress and the transmission of Covid-19.
A case report of an outbreak in a French nursing home found the Pfizer vaccine did not prevent the outbreak, but reduced both disease severity and transmission. Another case report, on a nursing home in Germany, found the Pfizer vaccination reduced the risk for infection, viral load and transmission.
So the evidence suggests the Pfizer vaccine reduced susceptibility, infectiousness, as well as transmission, sometimes quite substantially.
Concluding, therefore, as Roos and the entire anti-vaccine mob promptly did, that Pfizer’s vaccine in particular (and Covid-19 vaccines in general) do not reduce transmission, and therefore do not protect other people from those who get sick, is empirically wrong.
One might reasonably oppose vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and vaccine requirements on several grounds, but one cannot oppose them on the ground that they do not prevent harm to others.
That is, empirically speaking, not true. That is also why vaccine mandates or selective admission to gatherings would not, in and of themselves, be illegitimate in a free society.
So no, an apology is not required, and the anti-vaxxers have not scored the victory they think they did. They didn’t even discover something we didn’t already know. Nobody lied about whether Covid vaccines reduce transmission. They do.
This ‘gotcha’ claim is just another thread in the anti-vaxxers’ tangled web’ of deception.
* I know anti-vaxxers hate to be called anti-vax, but I don’t care. They have blood on their hands, so I’m not particularly interested in coddling their hurt feelings. There are many different kinds of anti-vaxxers, with many different positions on specific vaccines. Some are against all vaccines. Others are against some. Others have a problem with childhood vaccine schedules. Some advance only selective misinformation about Covid vaccines, while admitting that they might work to reduce the severity of disease. Some think only mRNA vaccines are ‘untested’ and ‘experimental’, but do not object to Covid vaccines made using older technology. In my shorthand, anyone promoting baseless skepticism that would have the effect of making others hesitant to be vaccinated are ‘anti-vaxxers’. Deal with it.
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