On Knowing What We Know We Don’t Know

Crazy Chart

Writing about temptation, C.S. Lewis observed that “you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.”

Lewis was debunking the stupid but popular notion that good people don’t know how powerful temptation can be: he was making the point that they actually know best, since they’re the ones who’ve fought it the hardest. Any idiot can succumb to temptation without understanding it at all, but conquering temptation requires an understanding of what one’s up against.

In a similar way, we learn much more about ourselves and our civilization in times of stress and conflict than we do in times of ease.

One of the things everyone ought to have learned over the past two years is that we invest our governments with unconditional trust at our peril—it is something we simply ought never to do.

New graph shows health authorities were wrong: “I’m sitting with a sneaky little smile”
Philip Sune Dam, Berlingske.dk, Dec. 14

Yes, it’s an old article, but it could hardly be more relevant in light of the recent revelations of the misleading numbers published by Statens Serum Institut (SSI) throughout the pandemic—revelations that are still making headlines.

Let’s start with a look at the eponymous “new graph” from the Berlingske article:

Credit: screenshot from Berlingske.dk

That chart comes from an SSI study published in week 49 of 2021 (that’d be early December, for you kids in the back row). You can see the whole report here.

It shows the effectiveness against infection over time: the higher the value, the better protection. The x-axis represents days since vaccination or prior infection.

The orange line represents subjects with a prior infection and vaccination.

The red line represents subjects with a prior infection but no vaccination.

The blue line represents subjects with vaccination but no prior infection.

The results are not ambiguous: subjects with vaccination and prior infection have 90% effective immunity against the virus for at least 240 days. (The data goes no further because vaccines hadn’t been around longer than that when the study was conducted.)

Vaccinated subjects who’d never had covid have less than 50% effective immunity within about 150 days.

Unvaccinated subjects who had already been infected with the virus have better than 70% effective immunity even after one full year—and are at no point less resistant to the virus than the vaccinated who’d never been infected.

Long story short: in Denmark at least, natural immunity is more effective than the vaccines.

Period.

If you said so on social media, you probably would have been censored for spreading misinformation.

A November 2021 article in U.S. News & World Report offers a pretty good example of the conventional thinking on the subject from the very recent past (my emphasis):

GOP Embraces Natural Immunity as Substitute for Vaccines
Anthony Izaguirre, Associated Press / USN&WR, 21 Nov 2021

Republicans fighting President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandates are wielding a new weapon against the White House rules: natural immunity.

They contend that people who have recovered from the virus have enough immunity and antibodies to not need COVID-19 vaccines, and the concept has been invoked by Republicans as a sort of stand-in for vaccines.

Florida wrote natural immunity into state law this week as GOP lawmakers elsewhere are pushing similar measures to sidestep vaccine mandates. Lawsuits over the mandates have also begun leaning on the idea. Conservative federal lawmakers have implored regulators to consider it when formulating mandates.

Scientists acknowledge that people previously infected with COVID-19 have some level of immunity but that vaccines offer a more consistent level of protection. Natural immunity is also far from a one-size-fits-all scenario, making it complicated to enact sweeping exemptions to vaccines.

As always, the story is framed as an attack on Republicans: those monsters are wielding their stupid beliefs as a weapon!

And note the sleight of hand: it’s scientists saying one thing, and Republicans saying the other.

There’s no suggestion that the idea of natural immunity as a viable defense against the virus could have real merit, or that there are actual scientists supporting that notion. The article merely notes that “scientists acknowledge” that prior infections offer “some level of immunity” and apparently believe that “vaccines offer a more consistent level of protection.”

Which they don’t. (Take another look at that chart.)

This is in fact something that scientists have in fact been wondering about for a long time—but apparently only the wrong sort of scientists. The kind that doesn’t understand how science is really about taking a hypothesis, declaring it true, and attempting to silence anyone who disagrees with the dogma hypothesis.

The SSI study shows that being vaccinated is better than not being vaccinated, true. It is therefore not “anti-vax.” (Read: “heresy.”)

But it shows with absolute crystal clarity that natural immunity offers a more consistent level of protection than the vaccines.

If you disagree, kindly share your math with the class.

But let’s keep rolling with the USN&WR article:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that COVID-19 survivors who ignored advice to get vaccinated were more than twice as likely to get infected again. A more recent study from the CDC, looking at data from nearly 190 hospitals in nine states, determined that unvaccinated people who had been infected months earlier were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people who didn’t have a prior infection.

“Infection with this virus, if you survive, you do have some level of protection against getting infected in the future and particularly against getting serious infection in the future,” said Dr. David Dowdy of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s important to note though that even those who have been infected in the past get additional protection from being vaccinated.”

Studies also show that COVID-19 survivors who get vaccinated develop extra-strong protection, what’s called “hybrid immunity.” When previously infected person (sic) gets a coronavirus vaccine, the shot acts like a booster and revs virus-fighting antibodies to high levels. The combination also strengthens another defensive layer of the immune system, helping create new antibodies that are more likely to withstand future variants.

That’s interesting: the findings seem to be completely contradict the SSI findings.

(Although the framing is a little too biased for my taste: note they say “COVID-19 survivors who ignored advice to get vaccinated” rather than “survivors who did not get vaccinated.” I’d like to know how US News & World Report confirmed that all those covid survivors received and ignored advice—how they confirmed that not a single one of them missed out on the advice, or received it but then made an informed decision not to get vaccinated.)

The CDC’s “more recent study” is here. (You can jump right to the table of data underlying its findings here.) The fact that it covers 187 hospitals in nine states seems to overstate the size of its dataset: in fact it’s looking at fewer than 21,000 subjects, it’s limited to a 180-day period, and the “five times more likely” figure comes from a very particular subset of the data (the period before the Delta variant emerged as dominant).

The August CDC study is here. It’s a very limited study of a very limited population, and although it does show the findings claimed, its results need to be taken with more than a grain of salt:

The findings in this report are subject to at least five limitations. First, reinfection was not confirmed through whole genome sequencing, which would be necessary to definitively prove that the reinfection was caused from a distinct virus relative to the first infection. Although in some cases the repeat positive test could be indicative of prolonged viral shedding or failure to clear the initial viral infection (9), given the time between initial and subsequent positive molecular tests among participants in this study, reinfection is the most likely explanation. Second, persons who have been vaccinated are possibly less likely to get tested. Therefore, the association of reinfection and lack of vaccination might be overestimated. Third, vaccine doses administered at federal or out-of-state sites are not typically entered in KYIR, so vaccination data are possibly missing for some persons in these analyses. In addition, inconsistencies in name and date of birth between KYIR and NEDSS might limit ability to match the two databases. Because case investigations include questions regarding vaccination, and KYIR might be updated during the case investigation process, vaccination data might be more likely to be missing for controls. Thus, the OR might be even more favorable for vaccination. Fourth, although case-patients and controls were matched based on age, sex, and date of initial infection, other unknown confounders might be present. Finally, this is a retrospective study design using data from a single state during a 2-month period; therefore, these findings cannot be used to infer causation. Additional prospective studies with larger populations are warranted to support these findings.

The Danish study covers more than 123,000 subjects for nearly an entire year.

The August 2021 study from the CDC covers a few hundred subjects in Kentucky over a two month period.

The October 2021 study from the CDC covers about 21,000 subjects over a six-month period.

You can make your own inferences with respect to what it all means, but I would humbly submit that one thing it definitely means is that the dismissal or censorship of anyone questioning the need to vaccinate people who’ve already had covid is unjustified.

Consider a headline like this one from May 2021 on BusinessInsider.com: “Dr. Fauci explains why COVID-19 vaccines work much better than natural immunity to protect you from the coronavirus.”

That’s a lie.

It’s not what Dr. Fauci explained. What America’s national Rasputin explained was, as anyone reading that article can see, is that the vaccines enhanced the natural immunity acquired by infection.

That’s also what the SSI study shows.

From the moment the vaccines were developed and Joe Biden was inaugurated, the conventional wisdom has been that vaccines are better than acquired immunity and if you disagree shut up because fuck you, science denier.

While Denmark has always wisely allowed for previous infection with the virus to count as immunity as far as its “corona passports” were concerned, most American vaccine mandates refused to recognize natural immunity at all. As the USN&WR article makes clear, in fact, getting those mandates to include natural immunity required Republicans to “push” and “fight” for that inclusion. They were “wielding” natural immunity “as a weapon.”

That’s how silly and stupid the American establishment has become. How silly and stupid most of the global establishment has become.

But fair enough: take note, Danes, that it’s been American Republicans fighting to get American “corona passport” standards in line with the more commonsensical Danish standards.

Please also note that I’m not claiming the SSI study settles the science. Science is never settled. That’s my whole point. With respect to the current pandemic, that’s almost been my only point all along.

Vaccinations are helpful.

Natural acquired immunity is helpful.

The evidence suggests they’re even more helpful together.

There is evidence to suggest that, in the short term, in American populations, vaccinations provide stronger resistance to the virus than natural immunity does.

There is evidence to suggest that, on a longer term, in Danish populations, natural immunity provides stronger resistance to the virus than vaccination does, and that the difference in effectiveness only increases over time for at least a year.

There is no evidence anywhere to suggest that anyone can state with certainty, at this point in time, how to protect anyone from the virus with 100% certainty.

And that’s all the evidence that should be required to have all our political, healthcare, and scientific establishments show some humility in their pronouncements, and to have our governments exercise extreme caution in curtailing civil liberties—and some allowance by everyone for contrary opinions.

Speaking of which, if you didn’t click through to the link at the top of the post (“revelations that are still making headlines“), it leads to this:

So much has the chasm grown: SSI’s hospitalization figures show a doubling in the capital. The region’s own figures tell a different story
Philip Sune Dam, Berlingske.dk, Jan 4

Long story short, the gap between the official count of (Copenhagen) capital region inpatients reported by SSI and the counts reported by the hospitals themselves have increased dramatically from the beginning of December through this past Monday, as illustrated by the following Berlingske chart:

Credit: screenshot from Berlingske.dk

The thick crimson line at top (I think it’s crimson: I’m color blind, bear with me) represents SSI’s reported count of covid inpatients in the capital region.

The thick blue line below it represents the number of patients with covid as a primary or accompanying diagnosis as counted by the hospitals in the region.

The thin blue line under that is a subset of that thick blue line, corresponding to the hospital counts of inpatients admitted for covid; the thin green line on the bottom is the other subset of the thick blue line and represents the hospital counts of those admitted for other reasons but who also (eventually) tested positive for covid.

Without getting hung up on the details, the chart makes three important points abundantly clear:

ONE: SSI is overreporting the number of actual covid inpatients by roughly 100%.

TWO: SSI is overreporting the rate at which that number is growing (the article points out that SSI shows 96% growth in the number of covid inpatients in this one month period, while the Region reports only 44% growth).

THREE: Despite record-shattering infection daily new case counts (not shown, but trumpted throughout the Danish media: there were over 28,000 new cases today, another all-time record), the count of actual inpatient admissions is, at worst, only gradually creeping up—whether you look at admissions due to covid or admissions for other reasons that that end up also having covid.

I don’t believe SSI is deliberately attempting to mislead the public—but that’s what they’re doing.

They should stop.

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