A Bad Number in A Good Cause: A Scientist’s Plea About COVID Vaccine Numbers

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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26 Responses

  1. Michael Cain
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    says:

    My own guess at this point is that Fox (and some other conservative media) have heard from the FTC. And the FTC pointed out to them that there are now civil and criminal penalties for saying untrue or misleading things about treatment and prevention of Covid-19. That puts Fox in a tough place. They have to tell their viewers that the vaccines are amazing, because they are. To some extent they have to put up numbers to demonstrate just how amazing because numbers are easily quotable. But their viewers are not statisticians or epidemiologists. So they run a story about ICUs filling up with unvaccinated people in Missouri, and they put up a graphic with numbers that say vaccinated have a hospitalization rate from Covid of 0.003%, and they hope the FTC will accept that.

    Edit to add: Suddenly, Fox is all over illegal immigrants as a meaningful disease vector, because that’s the one right-wing talking point that the CDC hasn’t put out numbers about.Report

    • Bill Blake in reply to Michael Cain
      Ignored
      says:

      Last I checked, there were no such penalties, and the First Amendment would make such penalties unconstitutional.

      Cite statute or federal regulation, please.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Bill Blake
        Ignored
        says:

        COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, FTC page here. Chase down the cross-references for the civil and/or criminal penalties.Report

        • Slade the Leveller in reply to Michael Cain
          Ignored
          says:

          “affecting commerce”

          As we know from past Supreme Court judgements, this phrase can be made to mean many things.Report

        • Bill Blake in reply to Michael Cain
          Ignored
          says:

          (Somehow my reply to this message disappeared. Ye Moderators have a problem and I’m very close to abandoning OT because of it. This is a new reply, somewhat expanded.)

          The law referenced therein does not apply to Fox or to any other media; it applies only to “commercial speech”, speech (as advertising) in furtherance of a commercial transaction. Were it otherwise, it would forbid you and me from expressing what the government decides is deceptive speech. Which would be outright censorship and forbidden by the First Amendment.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Bill Blake
            Ignored
            says:

            Bill, sorry about that. We’ve had a problem in the last week or so with a particular commenter who jumps between names as easily as one changes socks. This has put some of the moderators to have a higher internal filter than they might otherwise have.

            Anyway. Welcome! Great to have you here! Just please stick to the commenting policy and try to assume that the person you’re speaking to is wrong and can be reasoned out of their position rather than that they’re evil and can be shamed out of it.

            Thanks! And stick around!Report

            • Bill Blake in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Apology not accepted. Shall I explain in detail or do you want to try to figure out on your own the several ways your apology is inadequate and offensive?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Bill Blake
                Ignored
                says:

                Golly. I can normally be a *LOT* more offensive than that. I mean, I wasn’t even *TRYING*.

                Anyway, seriously. I’m sorry if some of your stuff got flagged unnecessarily. I now have you mentally in a different bucket than the person who has been jumping from name to name.

                As for community expectations, there are a handful of fundamental assumptions that we have in our commenting policy that you can enjoy reading here.

                Thanks for commenting and I look forward to disagreeing with you in the future!Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and I hope you find other places that will be receptive to your arguments that the government can’t or won’t apply laws in ways that you think would be unconstitutional.

                Edit: Wait… was that M.A.? If so, it’s family reunion week.Report

  2. Bill Blake
    Ignored
    says:

    “And while the vaccinated are far less likely to get the disease, if they do get it, they are just as likely to spread it as the unvaccinated.”

    From the document you cited, “Early evidence in health care providers that vaccination may reduce transmission and attenuate illness”.

    We *do not know* whether the vaccinated are as likely to spread the disease as the unvaccinated.Report

  3. PD Shaw
    Ignored
    says:

    While I mostly agree with this post, I don’t agree “that Delta is far more infectious.” Unknown and unproven. From the author of a virology textbook:

    “Just because a variant displaces another does not necessarily mean it is more infectious or more deadly to the people who become infected with it. As has been true for the past year and a half, human behavior is far more important in shaping the course of the pandemic than variant”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/27/opinion/covid-vaccine-variants.html

    The only significant human behavior at this point is whether people are going to get vaccinated and/or get infected.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to PD Shaw
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      says:

      That article is a month old. The data out of CDC, Israel, UK and Singapore clearly show it’s more infectious.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Michael Siegel
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        says:

        He’s still repeating it:

        “The delta variant is NOT in itself causing cases to surge in the US. That is being driven by unvaccinated people, failure to mask, and a return to physical interactions. ANY SARS-CoV-2 variant would behave in the same way.”

        July 29, 2021Report

        • JS in reply to PD Shaw
          Ignored
          says:

          Why are you placing all authority on this one guy, and not…all the other virologists who are saying delta IS more infectious?

          Is he the Viral Pope, speaking from his office, dictating truth to reality?

          I mean he may be right, but when the experts are titled heavily one way — why would you imbue the dissenting voice with so much more authority than everyone else combined?Report

        • PD Shaw in reply to PD Shaw
          Ignored
          says:

          Haven’t listened to the entire podcast yet, but skipping to where they discuss the Delta variant on the This Week in Virology podcast,the panel agreed that there is no data, and it will take months to get that data. The CDC should have simply recommend masking because of increased cases and hospitalizations, but don’t blame it on any variant or use CT values.

          My extrapolations: Public health officials have been hyping “mutant” variants since at least Christmas and are losing credibility, and it was completely unnecessary to risk further erosion of credibility here.

          CT values identify the presence of RNA, but a virus can enter a fully vaccinated person, and though the virus is completely prevented from reproducing, the presence of RNA will still be detected. This type of test cannot inform us whether the vaccine is working.Report

  4. PD Shaw
    Ignored
    says:

    While I mostly agree with this post, I don’t agree “that Delta is far more infectious.” Unknown and unproven. From the author of a virology textbook:

    “Just because a variant displaces another does not necessarily mean it is more infectious or more deadly to the people who become infected with it. As has been true for the past year and a half, human behavior is far more important in shaping the course of the pandemic than variant”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/27/opinion/covid-vaccine-variants.html

    The only significant human behavior at this point is whether people are going to get vaccinated or get infected.Report

  5. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    I went grocery shopping.

    I got two of the big packs of the good toilet paper. The *BIG* big packs.

    I’m sure that everything will be okay, given how Delta ripped through Israel and Europe.

    But still.Report

  6. Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    I just got a call from a guy I was supposed to meet today, in person.
    He (fully vaccinated) caught Covid last week at a family function. Whether it was from an unvaccinated person or not will probably never be known.

    But the takeaway for me is that this is very real, and still with us and that I should stay masked, vaccinated or not.Report

  7. Veritea
    Ignored
    says:

    Is Delta more infectious? Hard to compare to the original strain in an virgin population, but the numbers show that it is certainly more infectious in our current population then the original strain right now.

    Is Delta more deadly? Again, we don’t have a virgin population, but the with universal testing available we can clearly see that the rate of infection is rising much more then the hospitalization rates did vs. earlier strains – meaning that in our current population it is creating far fewer serious cases.

    Do the vaccines prevent infection? The data has been changing rapidly as Delta becomes more prominent – beware datasets that have a large component of pre-Delta numbers as they show a significantly different result. The CDC data from Provincetown shows that vaccinated people only saw about 7-9% decrease in infection rates vs. unvaccinated. Many have pointed out that this is a small study capturing somewhat extreme mixing behavior that might represent a worse-case scenario. Unfortunately it is eerily consistent with some of the latest data from Israel. I can’t find the link now but I saw a breakdown of vaccination rates by age group vs. new cases by age group. Similar to the Provincetown CDC data the blended average of reduced cases among the vaccinated (relative to their proportion of the population) was under 9%. As the Delta variant becomes more dominate or is replaced by Lambda this number can be expected to drop even further.

    These developments don’t change the fact that the data is still consistently showing substantial risk reduction of hospitalization (still above 60% in every dataset I have seen). It does however dramatically undermine the argument that vaccination protects anyone other then the person being vaccinated. The vaccinated are nearly as much of a risk of passing the virus as the unvaccinated at this point.

    Still not receiving much press however is that those who have had a prior COVID infection are protected from infection at a rates well over 90%. So much for the high antibody production rates from the vaccine being an indicator of greater protection than natural immunity. It looks like we will be going through this until the virus burns its way through most of the population, vaccinated or not.Report

  8. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    It looks like there’s more and more reason to believe in a lab leak.

    Report

    • Chris in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Ordinarily I’d note that this is some Republican dude’s report, not the committee’s, that this is not a committee with expertise in virology or epidemiology or, you know, anything related to diseases, and that the dude who headed the committee and the dude whose tweet you posted are, er, not reliable sources on this (or any) topic, or even that actual experts don’t appear to be taking this report at all seriously, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        But he has a blue check!

        As for the actual experts taking this report seriously, it’s dated August 2021? And I’m guessing that it wasn’t released yesterday because yesterday was Sunday?Report

        • Chris in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Yeah, I’m sure the responses I’ve seen have been as much related to the sources as the positive ones.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Pielke has a blue check because he’s been verified, which just means Twitter is reasonably certain of his identity. And he is a scientist, though way out of his discipline lane with this one.

          He’s also dodging a statement right above the one he highlights that’s of some importance:

          Since the publication of the September 21, 2020 Final Report new questions have been raised pertaining to the origins of COVID-19. The PRC’s continued lack of transparency resulted in President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s May 26, 2021, order to the United States Intelligence Community to prepare a report in 90 days on the origins of COVID-19, “including whether it emerged from human
          contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”

          Which means in a month or so we will have the IC report – and Republican politicians have an interest in making hay of this before that report comes out.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Preponderance of evidence is a low legal threshold.

      Preponderance of the evidence is one type of evidentiary standard used in a burden of proof analysis. Under the preponderance standard, the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true.

      https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/preponderance_of_the_evidence#:~:text=Preponderance%20of%20the%20evidence%20is,that%20the%20claim%20is%20true.

      Its great and all in civil lawsuits, but even there it doesn’t prevail all the time. And most scientists (regardless of discipline) would find it so statistically suspect as to be almost meaningless.

      Are Chinese officials obstructing the investigation – most assuredly. Does that mean there’s anything nefarious going on here? Hardly.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      “It is the opinion of Committee Minority Staff, based on the preponderance of available
      information….”

      send tweet.Report

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