The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Along with death and economic destruction, Covid-19 has brought with it the ability to divide and create strife within society. Dormant mistrust in global organisations and governments was only exaggerated with Covid-19, lockdowns and unusual decisions from those in charge. A number of people stood up against this, enraged at the extended lockdowns, loss of jobs and economic ruin. PANDA, a global advocacy group, spoke out against the overstated forecasts of Covid-19 modellers and opposed the peculiar lockdown rules. Along the way, they have racked up enormous support, but not without collecting a few adversaries along the way. One such fan, Ivo Vegter, writes that he thought the group did “excellent work” and notes he was largely in agreement with PANDA over several issues surrounding Covid-19. What’s more, Vegter even came to PANDA’s rescue, defending the organisation against attacks in the media. But, as you’ll read below, the freelance journalist believes PANDA can no longer be taken seriously. “By persistently peddling dishonest alarmism about vaccines, they have forfeited their right to be taken seriously.” This article was first published on the Daily Friend.
Why PANDA cannot be taken seriously
By Ivo Vegter*
When a source repeatedly proves to be mistaken, dishonest or both, they are not what we in the industry call ‘reliable’. Quoting them does not shed light on issues, it clouds them. And in PANDA’s case, their claims kill.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, during the first wave, I was a big fan of Pandemics Data and Analytics (PANDA), the global advocacy group led by local actuary and private equity guy, Nick Hudson.
I thought they did excellent work challenging the exaggerated forecasts of government modellers, and in opposing many of the crazy lockdown rules.
I argued that we were marching, meekly and fearfully, into totalitarianism, as governments around the world exploited the pandemic to severely curtail civil liberties and advance authoritarian rule. Nowhere was this more evident than in South Africa’s ominously-named National Coronavirus Command Council, which I at one point declared to be not fit to rule.
Scientists advising the government were speaking out against lockdown, saying even after the initial three weeks that extending the lockdown wouldn’t help much. They called the government’s regulations ‘unscientific and nonsensical’, and I agreed entirely.
I shared the view of Dr Glenda Gray, who said the lockdown should be lifted completely, in favour of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as handwashing, wearing masks, social distancing, and prohibitions on gatherings. I still hold this view.
Until this point, I was largely in agreement with PANDA.
As it grew, it attracted a number of people with dubious views, and became increasingly shrill about the theory that the whole pandemic was a ‘narrative’, based on lies and deceit. When vaccines became available, PANDA began to advocate strongly against widespread vaccination, and continues to do so.
‘If anyone thinks this is about a virus, they are stark-raving mad,’ is how Hudson opened his comments on this week’s episode of the Big Daddy Liberty Show on the prospect of mandatory vaccination in South Africa.
What else does he think vaccination achieves? Government control? Big Pharma profits?
How do vaccinations establish government control over people? Hint: they don’t. They don’t give governments an inch of power they do not already have.
Why would South Africa, which is trying to expropriate the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies, and has denounced them as greedy profiteers for years, be complicit in boosting vaccine profits?
Why would the South African government spend billions trying to vaccinate everyone, if it doesn’t think that vaccinations work to reduce the risk of severe disease and death, and reduce the risk of transmission?
If libertarians-of-convenience have a problem with government control, they should agitate against the fact that the government requires every South African to have an ID book or card, and keeps photographs, fingerprints, home addresses, telephone numbers and other identifying characteristics of every citizen in a big surveillance database.
If government wanted to tighten control on citizens, or steer towards a Chinese Communist Party-style social credit system, this could be achieved using smart ID cards, or requiring a cell-phone app to access government services. A vaccination campaign serves no purpose in furthering this aim.
I must, then, be stark-raving mad, to think that the government’s actions, however mistaken at times, are indeed about a virus.
In the same interview, Hudson says: ‘This is a disease that affects a vulnerable minority and for the rest of us there’s negligible risk posed by this disease.’
Yet data out of the US shows that Covid-19 was the leading cause of death for people aged 35 to 54 in the most recent wave, and was the first or second leading cause of death for everyone over 25 in the wave at the start of the year. Even among children aged 5 to 14, it was the sixth-largest cause of death during both the last two waves.
That does not suggest ‘negligible risk’.
Note that in the most recent wave, it is no longer the leading cause of death among the elderly, as they have become the most-vaccinated population.
Besides, if you’re dismissive of the risk to a vulnerable minority, you’re pretty callous. Consider that you too, might one day, and perhaps soon, be part of that vulnerable minority. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a good article in this: No, Covid 19 is not an old person problem.
In a recent article, Hudson wrote: ‘Regarding the influenza-Covid comparison, the global infection fatality rate is approximately 0.14%. For healthy under-70s, the IFR is less than 0.01%. This puts it squarely in the flu ballpark – probably presenting lower risk than flu for the median risk individual.’
Yet the study to which he links doesn’t support these claims. It says, right up front, that the median Covid-19 infection fatality rate (IFR) was 0.23%. More importantly, the infection-fatality rate varies dramatically across different locations. For locations with more than 500 deaths per million (South Africa is close to 1 500 per million by now), infection-fatality rates ranged from 0.20% to 1.63%, with a median of 0.71%.
That is seven times worse than a typical flu fatality rate, and almost five times higher than Hudson’s claim.
A crude average for under-70s across all locations in the study is over 0.08%, and not 0.01%, as Hudson claimed the paper said.
So, Hudson is outright fabricating data, citing studies but lying about their contents.
If you think this is just a bad flu, you’ve been listening to the wrong people. If you think this is just a bad flu, I would invite you to go speak to your local emergency room doctor or Covid-ward nurse. They will paint you a harrowing picture of scenes they have never seen before in their lives. And they’d do so not because they have been ordered to stick to a narrative, but because their trauma and exhaustion is very real.
C’est la vie
Hudson goes on: ‘Then off we go and 80% of our population gets infected with the virus.’
The 80% claim comes from a news article which cites an actuary at Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurer. It has not been published in any academic journal, and the claim has not been peer-reviewed.
Yet Hudson states it as proven fact and builds on that the conclusion that a mandatory vaccine is unjustified and that the South African population ‘has nothing to fear’.
That, unfortunately, is entirely divorced from reality.
A few people. Ninety thousand South Africans died in less than two years, and Hudson blithely waves them all away as ‘a few people’.
The official global death toll is 5.2 million people. Yet The Economist’s best estimate is 17.5 million, with a 95% confidence range of between 11 million and 20.5 million. C’est la vie, Hudson says.
Let’s get some perspective on this pandemic, shall we?
Wikipedia maintains a list of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history. By raw death toll, Covid-19 is the sixth worst of all time, the fourth worst since the year 1900, and the second-worst short-duration pandemic after the Spanish Flu. It is several times deadlier than any respiratory virus other than the Spanish Flu.
By crude mortality, which is the share of the global population killed, Covid-19 drops to 14th place, as several ancient pandemics overtake it, but it remains more severe than all other influenza pandemics except the Spanish Flu.
It should probably be noted that the Spanish Flu was made a great deal more deadly by the fact that it broke out during a World War, when public health facilities were primitive or non-existent, and before penicillin was discovered to treat secondary infections. If something like the Spanish Flu broke out again today, it probably would be far less severe than the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we’ve seen, Covid-19 has been a leading cause of death in the last two years, among all age groups. But even lesser causes of death are causes that we take very seriously, and which we treat or try to prevent with everything science puts at our disposal. We don’t just ignore diseases because, well, we have ‘nothing to fear’ and ‘always have had respiratory viruses’.
Hudson’s distinction between dying ‘with’ and dying ‘of’ Covid-19 invokes a common but baseless denialist trope: that a significant share, and perhaps a majority, of reported Covid-19 deaths are merely deaths of other causes in people who happen to test positive for Covid-19. This would implicate a large majority of South Africa and the world’s doctors in a scam of epic proportions, and attributes to them no agency or independence in how they report causes of death. And everyone just goes along with it!
Hudson denies that he is a conspiracy theorist, of course, but in a previous interview said: ‘I think it’s almost impossible for anybody in these institutions [like the South African Health Product Regulatory Agency, SAHPRA] to stand up and contradict the mantras of the World Health Organisation and the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation. I think it’s almost impossible. And they are heavily funded. There isn’t an institution or university in the country that does not earn an amount of money that they could not afford to lose through the patronage of these organisations. They are not free to speak their minds.’
So, Bill Gates has literally everyone in his pocket, which is why the entire healthcare industry, from the WHO on down to your local vaccination nurse, is lying to you. That is what Hudson asks us to believe.
Says Hudson: ‘We now hear that we need to mandate a vaccine for everybody. And not just as some kind of conventional vaccine that’s been tested over years, and for which they have done the full suite of trials that would normally be done to approve a new class of therapies, but one which has caused an unprecedented level of adverse events, not just in America where the famous VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] database produced this outcome, but in the Yellow Book in the UK, and in EuroVigilance in the European Union, and in countries all over the world. So we have the most dangerous vaccine ever to be launched en masse…’
Let’s stop him there. The idea that Covid-19 vaccines are untested, or insufficiently tested, or are unusually dangerous, are tropes straight from the antivax playbook.
All Covid-19 vaccines have been through a full complement of trials, prior to approval.
There are three reasons why they were developed so quickly. The first is new technology, which literally allows scientists to create a vaccine in a day. The second is billions of dollars thrown at the industry, and high priority being given to the trials by regulating agencies. The third is that populating trials goes super quickly in the middle of a pandemic when millions of people are getting sick and dying of the disease you’re studying a vaccine for.
Hudson bases his claims of vaccine harm on raw data from the various adverse event reporting systems around the world. However, one cannot draw the conclusions he does from that data.
Just because someone reported an adverse event to such a database does not mean that the adverse event was caused by the vaccine. The adverse event does not even have to be attested by a doctor, and medical professionals are required to log all adverse events that happen within a few weeks after vaccination, whether or not those events are related.
You need to do a lot more homework on each reported adverse event to determine whether it even happened, and if so, whether it was caused by the vaccine or was purely coincidental – after all, people don’t stop having heart attacks or strokes just because they got vaccinated against Covid-19.
Let’s take just one example: the Yellow Card system in the UK. Between 9 December 2020 and 8 September 2021 it recorded 1 645 deaths. That seems high, even though it pales into insignificance when compared to the UK’s 142 000 Covid-19 deaths.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency investigated all these reports. They have reported that there were nine deaths in the UK that involved the vaccine, of which five had the vaccine as the underlying cause. Only nine, out of 1 645, proved to be valid after investigation.
A similar argument holds true for VAERS reports, Europe’s EuroVigilance system, and the MedSafety system the South African Health Products Regulatory Agency uses.
Anyone – like Hudson – who draws conclusions using raw data from adverse events reporting databases is either ignorant or trying to deceive you.
More than eight billion vaccine shots have been given around the world. You’d think that if vaccines were so dangerous, we’d have noticed by now. After all, even low-frequency side-effects, like blood clots or cardiomyopathy, have caused entire vaccine programmes to grind to an immediate halt, while they were investigated.
Let’s talk about these side-effects. Here’s a paragraph fairly randomly culled from the vast and hard-to-search archive of material produced by PANDA: ‘Children more at risk: The Covid-19 vaccines seem to be more harmful to children and teens, notably with a growing number of myocarditis events. The fact that vaccine doses are not adjusted for body weight is a cause for concern given the discovery of circulating nanoparticles and spike toxicity.’
Let’s start from the top. Myocarditis is a rare, but easily treatable, side-effect of the mRNA vaccines. In people between the ages of 12 and 24, the CDC estimates it occurs in about 32 out of a million cases. Those million vaccines, however, prevent 10 050 Covid-19 cases, 514 of which would end up in hospital, 82 of which would end up in ICU, and 4.75 of which (to be precise) would result in death.
So, we have nearly five deaths per million, and 82 ICU cases, ranged against a non-fatal side-effect in 32 people per million. So just going on the effects on the vaccinated children themselves, the benefits outweigh the risks, which is what health safety regulators the world over also concluded.
Of course, the real benefit of vaccinating children is to slow down transmission, thereby reducing the risk to the entire population. But we’ll get to transmission in a minute.
The notion that ‘circulating nanoparticles’ pose a threat appears to be entirely speculative. Lipid nanoparticles are cleverly structured fat cells in which mRNA is enveloped for delivery into the body.
The claim that they are dangerous is sourced to a disembodied, context-free chart on the blog of an anti-vaxxer who is a technical manager at a bank, a paper on how lipid nanoparticles distribute to various organs that doesn’t mention anything about risk, and a speculative paper on adverse effects due to general nanoparticles when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, which doesn’t mention lipid nanoparticles or injection at all.
None of them say anything about the supposed dangers of the lipid nanoparticles surrounding the mRNA in the Covid-19 vaccines, the safety of which has been the subject of extensive trials, even predating the pandemic.
Yet here’s PANDA, fear-mongering fearlessly, based on studies they either haven’t read, or are misrepresenting if they have.
Finally, ‘spike toxicity’ is mentioned as if we should just accept that this is a grave danger. The research on spike toxicity involves the spike protein of the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus, and not the proteins produced as a consequence of vaccination. The papers cited by PANDA all involve in vitro, animal or in silico (computer models) studies.
The consequence of this toxicity is enhanced thrombosis, or blood clots. Now we know that the spike-protein-studded virus very commonly causes blood clots, which is why Covid patients so often suffer organ damage.
With vaccines, blood clots are exceedingly rare, but they have been observed, mostly in women. And here’s how that cost-benefit calculation works out:
So the scary-sounding ‘spike toxicity’, turns out to be hardly any danger at all. That doesn’t stop the anti-vaxxers from calling it a ‘clot-shot’, though.
Again, he contradicts the data. Very recent research, which includes the highly transmissible delta variant, confirms this in multiple countries. In the UK, the Pfizer vaccine reduces susceptibility to infection by 84%. Susceptibility is the risk of contracting the virus.
In the Netherlands, researchers found that fully vaccinated but infected patients were between 40% and 63% less likely to transmit the virus to their housemates. So that’s infectiousness, the chance you’ll transmit the virus to someone else, once you do contract it.
In Israel they studied susceptibility and infectiousness in combination, and found an overall effectiveness against transmission of 88.5%.
Hudson, I repeat, says transmission effectiveness ‘is not improved in the slightest’.
I could go on. Heard news that data out of Israel proves that vaccination doesn’t work? It turns out to be a case of Simpson’s Paradox. How to correctly interpret the data is explained in this article. In short, once you stratify by the aggregate numbers by age, the data show that far more people per 100 000 unvaccinated people contract severe disease, compared to vaccinated people, in every age bracket.
If the Israeli data is interpreted correctly, it is perfectly consistent with the data from other countries. That’s why it is unwise to listen to those who are quick to draw conclusions from surprising, anomalous data, or claim that cherry-picked data are generalisable.
Hudson denies he’s an anti-vaxxer, on the grounds that he doesn’t oppose other vaccines, and advocates vaccines for vulnerable people, ‘to the extent that they work’.
As if that is controversial. They do work. We know that from local data. In a week when 38% of the population of the Western Cape was vaccinated, the vaccinated represented only 8% of Covid-19 cases, 4% of Covid-19 hospital admissions, and 1.7% of Covid-19 deaths.
Hudson’s lack of faith in their effectiveness reflects poorly on his view that vulnerable people ought to get vaccinated anyway.
He insists PANDA is not antivax, but they spend an inordinate amount of time exaggerating the harm allegedly caused by vaccines and downplaying their effectiveness. That, to my mind, is an anti-vax strategy. It falsely sows fear, uncertainty and doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Moreover, not only can we not trust Hudson, but we cannot trust PANDA’s sources, either. Some of them rank among the world’s most infamous antivaxxers.
In a recent discussion, Hudson took issue with some clauses in a vaccine procurement contract between Pfizer and Albania. What could have been an interesting point about who should carry liability was marred by the fact that he referenced an article written by superquack Joseph Mercola, published on the website of notorious anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
This pair occupies the top two slots on the ‘disinformation dozen’ ranking produced by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Mercola is a serial fraud, alternative medicine quack, and snake-oil salesman I have denounced before, and RFK Jr. is so beyond the pale that his own family have publicly renounced him over his anti-vax conspiracy theories.
PANDA has relied heavily on the work of a Dr. Michael Yeadon, who confidently stated that in 2020, there were no unusual excess deaths attributable to any respiratory virus, that herd immunity had already been achieved in 2020, that ‘viruses don’t do waves’, and that the pandemic was ‘all but over’. In 2020.
He claimed that deaths attributed to Covid-19 were actually caused by the treatment for Covid-19. He convinced nobody, except maybe Nick Hudson.
Early in 2021, PANDA posted an analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic by a physicist best-known for his academic misconduct, Denis Rancourt, Ph.D. It has vanished from their site, although Rancourt is still listed as a PANDA member.
Like Yeadon, he claims that in 2020, no respiratory disease virus caused any anomaly in all-cause mortality. He also claims SARS-CoV-2 has not been proven to exist. His analysis included a chapter stating vaccines are ‘inherently dangerous’.
Well, here is a list of over 1700 studies, not written by disgraced physicists, that prove vaccines are safe.
Hudson once said that PANDA published Rancourt’s report because nobody else was prepared to do so. That is the worst reason I’ve ever heard for publishing anything. Airing patent nonsense doesn’t make you a bastion of free speech.
Lack of trust
When I object to claims made by discredited people like this, Hudson tells me that it’s ad hominem, and that I should evaluate the claims on their merits.
The problem is that it takes a great deal more time and research to debunk a false claim that it does to make it. If Yeadon, or Rancourt, or RFK Jr, or Mercola make a claim, I have to verify it, because their record is one of lies and fraud. If they say water is wet, I’d need a second opinion.
Sources are only reliable if one can trust they will make a bona fide attempt to convey the truth, and there is a reasonable likelihood that they are correct. This is no longer true of Nick Hudson and PANDA, I’m afraid.
An article in the journal Nature Medicine explains that the basic message of the antivax industry (and it is an industry, worth billions) is always the same: ‘Covid-19 isn’t dangerous; vaccines are dangerous; you can’t trust doctors or scientists or the media.’
PANDA says all of that, over and over again. They have gone down the alt-right anti-vax conspiracy rabbit hole, from which they can never emerge. This is not just unfortunate, it is dangerous. The Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation they spread kills people. PANDA is hazardous to people’s health and well being.
By persistently peddling dishonest alarmism about vaccines, they have forfeited their right to be taken seriously.
- Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. As an independent researcher, he is the author of the recent report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – South Africa’s Minibus Taxi Industry, Resistance to Formalisation and Innovation – which assesses the potential for innovation and modernisation in this vital transport sector.
- The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR. If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend.
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