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Myers versus Bridgen: Round 2

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HOSTILITIES continue between Fraser Myers of spiked and Andrew Bridgen MP in their dispute about Covid-19 vaccines. Myers has written again in the internet magazine saying that it is his ‘final word on the conspiracy-theorist MP – and his shameful smears about spiked’.

Confidently addressing the home crowd, he opens with: ‘When I agreed to do a live TV debate with Andrew Bridgen, now an MP for the Reclaim Party, I had no idea how quickly he would prove the point that I wanted to draw out – namely, that he has been spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.’ But did he do that? You can listen to the debate or read the full transcript and judge for yourself.

I think Myers, clearly angered by the response to his GB News debate with Bridgen, such as one in these pages, merely exposed his own unwillingness to engage with the issues raised by Bridgen. Two of his comments in the debate emphasise this: ‘You could send me as many papers as you like’ and in closing, with reference to excess deaths, ‘we absolutely should have a debate, but I think you know the truth is not going to come out that vaccines are causing it’. There’s nothing like a closed mind to help reach a consensus on what is causing a major current health problem.

Myers’s unwillingness directly to address any of the issues raised by Bridgen, who has only ever sought to have the issues of Covid-19 vaccine-related deaths and excess post-Covid mortality properly debated in Parliament, did not cast him in a good light. However, he mounts a very good defence of his position in the most recent article, much better than his performance on the TV debate. At least, here, he has learned that mudslinging ‘anti-vaxxer’ tropes alone are insufficient to make his case and he does address most of Bridgen’s points.

In response to one of these, which is common among the Covid-19 vaccine sceptics, that the vaccines were not subjected to phase III clinical trials, Myers links a study from the New England Journal of Medicine which was published before the vaccine rollout. The study reports minimal and mild vaccine side-effects and reports that the vaccines are 95 per cent effective. But this is the relative risk reduction (RRR), not the absolute risk reduction (ARR), which is not presented. To decide what the risk or benefit to an individual of taking a vaccine is against not taking it, the ARR is considered ‘the most useful way of presenting research results to help your decision-making’.

It is notable that, especially where the risk of death is very low as it is with Covid-19, that ARRs are much lower than RRRs and, therefore, much less impressive. The ARR for Covid-19 vaccines with infection as an outcome is approximately 1 per cent. For death the ARR is orders of magnitude lower. It is interesting to note an article in the BMJ which recommended the use of relative risk ratios (RRRs) as opposed to ARRs precisely because they were more impressive and would ‘sensitise’ the public to taking the Covid vaccines. If Covid-19 was so deadly and the vaccines were such a success, why would people need to be sensitised?

Notwithstanding that Myers appeared to trump Bridgen over the lack of phase III trials, it does not address the deficiencies of any trials which were published. As consultant Ahmad K Malik asks in these pages ‘Were any biodistribution studies carried out? Was the safety profile of the lipid nanoparticles, their biodistribution and toxicity levels ever tested? Were animal tests done specifically looking at this? These questions have not been answered, suggesting either that none were or they were never published – both equally reprehensible.’ Myers, in his debate with Bridgen, was pushed on the experimental nature of the vaccines by Andrew Doyle to which he replied: ‘No, they’re not experimental.’ But according to Ahmad Malik: ‘It is safe to say the world had never seen vaccines like these before. Both the use of lipid nanoparticles and mRNA are novel and experimental.’ Malik also points to the misuse of RRRs instead of ARRs in reporting vaccine efficacy.

Myers makes reasonable points regarding the Covid-19 vaccines not being ‘gene therapy’ because they do not alter our DNA. Strictly true, but they do make use of part of the pathway, called the Central Dogma, which describes the flow of genetic information from the genes into proteins. Regarding numbers needed to treat to prevent hospitalisation, Bridgen may have been referring to more recent figures and Myers may be correct in terms of the virus attenuating; nevertheless, the respective figures were not very good at the start of the vaccine rollout and it does not explain why, now, we are continuing to roll out the vaccine and persisting with the policy that it should be available to children.

In the interval following Myers’s original article, Bridgen and others have raised the spectre of Pfizer having funded surveys by spiked but these were long before Myers was associated with the magazine (he is deputy editor). Nevertheless, while it detracts somewhat from the arguments about vaccine harms as indicated by Nick Dixon in the Daily Sceptic, it does raise the possibility that spiked is, independently of the Covid-19 vaccine issue, very reluctant to criticise Pfizer specifically or Big Pharma generally. A search for ‘big pharma’ on the spiked website reveals only one reasonably critical article published ten years ago. What has been notable is the absolute support shown by his spiked colleagues for Myers speaking out about the issue. That they should defend his right to do this is laudable, but it is noticeable that they also fully support his views and appear to support the manner of his attack on Andrew Bridgen.

It was disappointing that Myers did not support his bold claim in the debate with Bridgen that ‘when the rollout was getting under way you could see how these vaccines completely severed the link between Covid cases and Covid deaths’ as the evidence for this would have been very useful. Moreover, could virus attenuation not have accounted for the decreasing lethality of the virus? That and the fact that, as explained in these pages, critical care clinicians were learning from their mistakes in the early days of Covid-19 in realising that the use of ventilators, almost ubiquitous for Covid-19 patients who developed pneumonia, was most probably killing as many as it cured.

However, his latest piece does descend towards the end in to the tu quoque appeal to hypocrisy (‘whataboutery’). The Health Advisory & Recovery Team (HART), composed of genuine experts including two eminent pathologists and a children’s doctor amongst others, has been at the forefront of issuing warnings about the likely dangers of the Covid-19 vaccines. They have produced a series of relevant working papers and articles to support their claims. Naturally, they have come in for some criticism and there was an unfortunate set of correspondence, referred to and linked by Myers, where Dr Clare Craig, a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists and one of their leading lights, spoke about ‘seeding’ the idea of vaccine harms prior to providing further data. However, beyond trying to make some mud stick to Dr Craig, the arguments put forward by HART are not addressed.

On the other hand, HART easily addressed the points raised by Myers claiming that his claims were ‘incorrect.’ Raising the fact that spiked inexcusably supported the sacking of unvaccinated care workers, HART pointed to how a Pfizer executive agreed about the experimental nature of the Covid-19 vaccines, how the phase III trials, which were described as ‘continuing’ in the New England Journal of Medicine, were not designed to conclude until the end of this year but had been compromised by making the Covid-19 vaccine available to the control participants. Moderna described the mRNA vaccines as ‘gene therapy’ and Bridgen’s claims about the level of vaccine adverse reactions (1:800) was correct as was his claim regarding the numbers needed to treat to save one life with the Covid-19 vaccines.

Myers’s second article, while more constructive, is still liberally peppered with vicious anti-vaxxer tropes. In his closing salvo he accuses anti-vaxxers (within which group he appears unable to discriminate expert from charlatan or shrill fanatic from anyone with genuine concerns) of replacing ‘the mindless dogmas of the establishment with the mindless talking points of a weird online subculture’. In the face of the quasi-religious zeal of the pro-Covid-19 vaccine lobby, given the facts that the Covid-19 vaccines were largely unnecessary, barely effective and demonstrably harmful to some individuals, I think the final word should go to Robert Burns: ‘O, wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An’ foolish notion.’  

This post was updated at 13.18, May 16th 2023

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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