This is the first of a two-part in-depth account by a New Zealand scientist of how he saw his country’s government roll out its Covid vaccination programme, brushing aside all concerns about its effectiveness and disregarding other possible treatments.
A SHORT while ago, I woke up to some unwelcome news. My best friend from university days had passed away.
He was an active, fit man, looking forward to enjoying retirement. Early on, he had a mild stroke, his heart became inflamed and the valves were damaged. Unfortunately, his immune system was too depleted to respond to treatment.
His story is familiar in these Covid times and shared by millions, yet nevertheless a deeply personal tragedy for his family. He was doubly vaccinated. Feeling very sad, I decided to write a short history of the political and scientific decision-making that brought New Zealand to where we are today.
I am fortunate in having some access to such information. Firstly, my training in physics, logic, statistics, and the scientific method enables me to understand the principles that must be used to uncover truth from a science perspective. Secondly, I have enjoyed an email conversation with a few of the key players.
It seemed clear that Covid was an unusual illness and the creation of an effective vaccine was a gold standard to be aimed at.
Having worked at Genetic ID, a safety testing and certification company, I had a healthy suspicion of genetically engineered creations.
So I wrote to a colleague who works in gene therapy to ask whether the move to mRNA vaccines posed any unintended risks. The essence of his reply was: ‘I do not believe they are more invasive (than traditional vaccines) because they introduce into the body a short-lived molecule.’
At the time, it appeared there were good theoretical reasons to suppose that mRNA vaccines were relatively harmless. These reasons have since been destroyed by the inexorable march of science. As a result, my colleague has revised his opinions.
In January 2021, I was invited to correspond with some government advisers. I had an open mind and entered into the conversation with enthusiasm. I admired the caution and competence that prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s government had already shown in trace and tracking, and in controlling our borders.
I was already alert to the main risk factors for severe Covid – comorbidities and age.
My first contribution to the debate in January was to suggest:
1. The government can take a lead in encouraging other countries to recognise the need for a global elimination strategy to be put in place quickly.
2. We must step up research to locate which historical health, diet, behavioural, and lifestyle factors correlate with severity of symptoms.
It was clear that 99+ per cent of people would recover from Covid. Somewhere around 75 per cent would do so rapidly, without any lasting symptoms. It was vital to understand what it was about these people that kept them so healthy.
Neither of these thoughts greatly energised my correspondents, who were naturally absorbed in the possibilities of the vaccination campaign that was just getting going. But by July, I was well aware from Israeli data – as were my correspondents – that the Pfizer vaccine waned in effectiveness quite rapidly,
There were obvious uncertainties in what approaches would work. I considered that vaccination could not be a stand-alone solution – at the very least, it had to be paired with early treatment options.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker concurred and wrote to me on August 2: ‘I agree about the importance of trying to keep an open, evidence-informed debate about future options’ and ‘I agree with you about caution’.
At this point, a member of the David Skegg committee, the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group, was drawn into the conversation.
He too struck a cautious note, writing: ‘It is important to realise that the vaccines are only in their first iteration. Israel is effectively Pfizer’s real-life laboratory … a protective immune signature is often elusive and vaccines are actually quite primitive in design … I think you are right that studies have also shown that high vaccine coverage will not alone contain outbreaks … the recommendations in the Skegg Report should be considered in the light of their recommendation for frequent review, i.e. the possibility that what we know in November might lead to a significant change of timing or content of the response in 2022.’
The Skegg Committee has eight members. Four are epidemiologists with a focus on public health measures such as vaccination. Three are statistical modellers and one is an immunologist—an expert on vaccines. One member has an interest in respiratory diseases.
It goes without saying that, given the make-up of the committee, it was designed to make recommendations about how to roll out and monitor vaccination.
Distinguished and experienced though the membership was, it was not designed to evaluate questions and evidence about the physiological and genetic effects of mRNA vaccines. Nor did it have enough of a knowledge base to consider questions about Covid treatment options.
In essence, a decision had been taken early on that vaccination was going to trump early treatment in designing NZ’s response to the pandemic.
From my correspondence it was clear that in the beginning the committee members were satisfied that the Pfizer vaccine was highly effective and that they expected improved, even more effective, vaccines to become available with time.
In hindsight this was a naive view, mediated by the rosy picture of 95 per cent effectiveness that Pfizer was projecting. A cursory glance at the history of attempts to control influenza through vaccination should have alerted them and everyone to the fact that treatment protocols were going to play a major part in our efforts to control the pandemic and reduce mortality. The aura of invincibility surrounding the word ‘vaccine’ was leading everyone to underestimate the challenges ahead.
I became convinced that, given the uncertainties around vaccine effectiveness and the overwhelming contribution of comorbidities to outcomes, rather than just dividing the population into vaccinated and unvaccinated, a useful division might be healthy versus unhealthy.
I suggested that an effective preventive answer to the severity and longevity of the pandemic is not just a shot in the arm, but also a massive effort to improve the general health of our population naturally through education about improved diet, exercise, nutrition, reduced stress, and sufficient rest.
Remove GST (Goods and Services Tax) from fresh fruit and vegetables; improve education in schools a la Jamie Oliver; regulate known disease vectors like excess sugar, hard fats, and pollutants; inform the public more fully; investigate and promote verified approaches to health like organic food, meditation, and yoga.
I knew that governments would be reluctant, but thought naively that the serious nature of the challenge, the uncertain vaccine effectiveness, and the overwhelming contribution of comorbidities would strengthen minds and seed political bravery.
My Skegg Committee correspondent had an initially positive response, saying: ‘I think you may be right – in that opportunities should be taken to promote preventive health measures now and at all times.’
But the correspondent added a rider: ‘The chances of other “interventions” having anything like the protective effect (of vaccination) is remote in my view.’
This last sentence revealed the bias governing Skegg Committee decisions. As a result, the committee was going to miss key signals.
These include a study published in June by the British Medical Journal, which found that severity of Covid symptoms is reduced by 73 per cent in those following a plant-based diet. There were other vital indicators like this one, missed early on.
For example, a UK study found that shift workers are three times more likely to be hospitalised. Fifteen per cent of people exposed to Covid never develop the illness. Why is that? This is a vital question that got forgotten in the rush to push vaccination as a stand-alone answer.
On August 7, the Delta variant escaped quarantine in Auckland and the long lockdown began. By late August I had become aware that a number of my friends and friends of friends had suffered illness at some point following vaccination. My best friend at university was one of these. He never did have Covid, but he was doubly vaccinated.
I exchanged a number of emails with my government advisor correspondents on this topic. I provided details of specific serious events, including death proximate to vaccination, and quoted studies documenting vaccine adverse effects such as myocarditis.
I was met with a vigorous defence of the safety of vaccination. One of my correspondents wrote of social media reports (often the last resort of people injured by vaccination): ‘I have learnt the hard way, that the vast majority prove to be fictitious, and as such will have no bearing on my perspective.’
This was misguided prejudice, pure and simple. Another conceded: ‘There is certainly well-documented clotting association with the vector-based vaccines,’ but maintained this was not common enough to cause concern. Did the Skegg Committee have the myopathy associated with narrow disciplines?
Michael Baker however shared my concerns and responded: ‘I am hoping that the intense surveillance of adverse events following immunisation will give us a good steer about the risk of these events.’
I researched the NZ reporting procedures to which he referred (known as the CARM – Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring – system) and found to my dismay that these were voluntary.
Under normal circumstances, a new vaccine would have already undergone rigorous long-term testing. As a consequence, adverse events following vaccination have never been significant and the relevance of the CARM system has been largely academic and of little concern to GPs, hospital staff, and Medsafe (the ultimate NZ authority).
Vaccines are assumed to be safe. Such is the reassurance and power of the word ‘vaccine’ that mRNA Covid vaccine adverse events have been grossly unreported. Many people suffering adverse reactions have been sent home with the advice that they may be overly anxious.
Some reactions are readily dismissed as unrelated coincidences. Moreover, hospitals and GPs are often at a loss to suggest treatment options. On August 19, vaccination was made available to 12-15 year-olds. This again resulted from a vaccination bias.
People under 30 are at minuscule risk from Covid, but they are at risk from vaccination. The point of vaccinating the young is not to protect them. They will be better served by the strong immunity gained after recovering from the illness, rather than the very short-term protection from vaccination. The point of vaccinating the young is to protect their parents in case they bring the illness back from school.
There is an argument here that vaccination will expose children to a greater risk than Covid. The research data is equivocal on this point and not in any way conclusive of benefit.
Despite this, the government Covid messaging took a new turn. Young people were appearing in adverts to assure the public the vaccine was safe and beneficial. No mention was made of the high risk of myocarditis (a serious heart muscle inflammation) among especially vulnerable young men and boys.
On September 21, Jacinda Ardern emphatically claimed that those who refused vaccination would face no penalties at all. Curiously, she added: ‘Anyone who doesn’t take up an effective and trusted and safe vaccine when it becomes available, that will come at a risk to them.’
Clearly at this point, since it was available, Ardern knew that the Pfizer vaccine did not fit all the criteria: Effective, safe, and tested.
We were to find out soon enough that it does not fit any of these criteria. On October 3, realising that productive dialogue with my private correspondents was at an end, I wrote an open letter to Ardern. This was widely read and shared.
In this, I discussed the uncertainties around vaccine outcomes and safety. I urged the government to adjust its message that vaccination would enable personal freedoms to be restored,and to broaden its message to include preventive approaches to improve health.
I received no reply and my correspondents among government advisors ceased responding altogether. I had overstepped an unwritten rule – that no doubts about Covid vaccine safety were to be raised in public.
On October 11, Cabinet announced sweeping vaccination mandates for staff in the education and health sectors. From this point on, vaccine mandates were floated as the way ahead to the lifting of lockdowns and ‘freedom’.
Clearly, between September 21 and October 11, something happened to radically change Ardern’s mind about mandates. She must have started to either believe that the Pfizer vaccine was both safe and effective,or decided to ignore these criteria – her own preconditions for mandates.