PANDA responds to Geffen’s hit-piece on PANDA and its co-founder, Nick Hudson

Two days ago, Nathan Geffen – the editor of GroundUp – published an article titled ‘Nick Hudson and PANDA are wrong. Believing them is deadly’. The headline alone gives away the fact that it is essentially a hit-piece on both PANDA and the organisation’s co-founder, Nick Hudson. Geffen takes it upon himself to address vaccine hesitancy in South Africa – a problem he believes is standing in the way of putting lockdowns behind us and compounded by the ‘anti-vaxxers’. Geffen concludes his article saying; ‘Don’t be fooled by the Nick Hudsons of this world. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please go do it as soon as possible – it could save your life.’ GroundUp published the article without affording PANDA the opportunity to comment and PANDA’s subsequent request for a right of reply – a standard practice of responsible journalism – has been denied. News24 and Business Live have also picked up the article. A disappointing day for South African media, but not all that surprising. As Hudson himself put it recently; certain individuals will never engage as ‘debate would be fatal.’ In light of the condemnatory tone of Geffen’s hit-piece, PANDA’s response thereto is commendable. The organisation addresses each of Geffen’s assertions, exposing them as baseless, ill-intentioned criticisms. ‘The difference between PANDA and GroundUp,’ the response states ‘is not that PANDA is anti and GroundUp pro vaccines – notwithstanding Geffen’s attempt to dumb the topic down in that way. The difference between us is that PANDA believes that favourable public health outcomes are achieved not by assuming that people are idiots, but by giving them accurate information and allowing them to manage their own risk.’ – Nadya Swart

Nathan Geffen and GroundUp – the war on truth continues

BY PANDA

Groundup’s attempts to silence PANDA continued with a hit-piece that was published in News24 on 14 September. In the original article, Groundup’s editor claims that “Believing them is deadly”. Wisely this was deleted from the News24 piece. It is difficult to discern any logic from the writing. The gist of what Geffen says is that information should be hidden and manipulated so as to induce people to be vaccinated because it is a moral imperative to put a vaccine in every arm. By exposing government propaganda, PANDA is endangering dumb citizens who require “experts” to think for them. In essence what PANDA is criticised for pointing out this time is the fact that the government is counting some people who have had one or two jabs as unvaccinated in order to overstate the efficacy of vaccines.

Geffen complains that Nick Hudson is not an expert in a medical field, but merely an actuary. For someone who places enormous value on credentials, is free with his opinions on all things COVID-related and even dispenses medical advice in his article, it is interesting to note that Geffen himself is a computer scientist. His involvement in the war on truth and his conflicts of interest have been covered by PANDA before. Geffen tells us plainly what Groundup’s strategy is – in essence, “Most people don’t have the time to understand the complex details,” so they must do as we say and those who help people to understand the complex details must be silenced.

This is why he adopts a puerile strategy of reducing the entire PANDA organisation and its qualifications to those of one person. The fact is that PANDA is highly regarded globally as one of the pre-eminent sources for information relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. It has hundreds of members from diverse fields including many doctors, scientists and experts in all of the fields that Geffen lists. PANDA is far more qualified on the topic than GroundUp.

PANDA is not anti-vaccination. Our vaccine stance is a matter of public record. PANDA recommends the vaccines for the vulnerable – the old and those with comorbidities. PANDA is of the opinion that vaccination should be contraindicated for the Covid-recoverd and the healthy young. This recommendation would not have been made if PANDA did not believe that the vaccines have a place in a COVID-19 response strategy. Trying to paint us as anti-vaxxers is a tactic that Geffen and others have deployed before, and it has never worked.

However, we also stand for good science and we take a stand against all manipulation of data. Unlike GroundUp, we do not believe that vaccine hesitancy is a problem because we know that informed consent is not only an issue of medical ethics, but also the best strategy for driving public health outcomes. The “vaccine hesitant” are just critical thinkers and you are not going to persuade them by lying to them. Nick Hudson called out the graphic below not because PANDA is against the principle of vaccination, but because the graphic is seriously misleading. 

There are a number of problems with the graphic on the left above.

  1. “Partially vaccinated” (people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine less than 28 days ago and those who received their second Pfizer injection less than 14 days ago) were denoted as unvaccinated, despite the Western Cape government knowing the percentages of the partially vaccinated. The graph above on the right was also produced by the Western Cape government. It shows the percentages partially vaccinated. It would have been simple to reflect the partially vaccinated in a different colour. The propaganda was intended, however, to overstate the unvaccinated population in hospitalisations and deaths.
  2. Vaccinations for over 60’s started on 15 May 2021, second doses started on 1 July 2021, adding another 14 days would take it to 15 July 2021. This begs the question, when were the people who died on the chart infected, and what was the vaccination rate at the time of infection? The infographic mentions that this data pertains to cases diagnosed between 14 and 20 August, which is only 4 weeks after the first person over 60 “qualified” as fully vaccinated in the Western Cape. The number of people unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and fully vaccinated at the time of infection is important and dismissing Hudson’s criticism regarding the “denominator” evidences a disdain for science and a pathological desire to put a jab in every arm.
  3. Vaccine coverage (38%) is an estimate. As noted, given the timing of the vaccination rollout, this estimate could be inaccurate, and it is probably incorrect for the community served by the public hospital system. 
  4. The many individuals who get COVID soon after vaccination are counted as unvaccinated. Immunosuppression was noted at least in the Pfizer trials, where lymphcytopenia was observed, and in the Astra Zeneca trials, where neutropenia was observed in 46% of recipients in the first 14 days. This risk was also cited in this Danish study. This effect places recipients at significantly enhanced risk of contracting Covid immediately after vaccination, a phenomenon that is so pronounced as to be observable in the national Covid death curves of some 90 countries, some of which were substantially free of Covid deaths prior to the inception of mass vaccination programmes. That such deaths are being obscured by public health officials in South Africa and elsewhere, by way of categorising them as Covid deaths among the unvaccinated, instead of as vaccine adverse events, is cynical. This is probably the reason why the government doesn’t reflect partially vaccinated. Sound public health messaging would include a warning that people are at enhanced risk to Covid in the days after injection.

For Geffen to consider that such an analysis could constitute proof of vaccine efficacy in the first place is risible. But to believe so in light of these observations is beyond the pale, betraying staggering statistical illiteracy and gross dishonesty. Geffen compounds this by making a laughable claim that contradicts eminent scientists the world over – namely that data from Israel and England shows “how brilliantly effective vaccines have been.” To back up his point in relation to England, Geffen links not to a scientific paper, but to a press release by the UK government! That press release is from June – an eternity ago in COVID terms. People like Geffen have spent the last 18 months telling us not to look at deaths, but to focus on cases. Now suddenly, we should look at deaths not cases! You can guess why. 

The UK data in fact shows that vaccines have not been effective in reducing transmission of the virus. That is the entire point of mandating vaccines. Vaccine mandates cannot be justified by reductions of deaths in people who choose not to take them. It also cannot be justified by the reduction in load on hospitals because the State has an obligation to provide hospitals, and also because the hospitalisation risk from COVID for most of the country’s population is very low owing to its youth and the fact that the majority are already immune. Vaccine mandates rely on the myth that vaccines make the world a safer place because they reduce transmission. Why must this information be hidden from citizens? Does GroundUp really think that people won’t be vaccinated if they know it won’t stop them from getting or spreading the virus? Sweden tells its citizens this explicitly and 69% of Swedes have so far volunteered to be vaccinated.

In relation to Israel, Geffen doesn’t post a cases or deaths graph and you can also guess why. You see, Israel has a problem that the UK does not have. Their vaccine rollout is ahead of the UK’s and the vaccine efficacy has waned. In Israel, not only are the vaccines not reducing transmission (as in the UK), but because they were mostly administered more than 6 months ago, they are no longer as effective as they once were in reducing deaths. Geffen again cannot find actual science to back up his argument, so he quotes an August 2021 post on the “COVID Datascience” website, essentially the personal blog of a biostatistics professor. This article predates the surge in cases and deaths that has occurred in Israel, which now has the highest number of active cases per million of any country on the planet.

Geffen also criticises statements PANDA has made on masks. There is now “abundant evidence” he claims, but links to only one totally discredited paper from Bangladesh, whose own tables refuted its claims. The study has been described as, “one of the worst studies I’ve ever seen in any field. It proves nothing apart from the credulity of many mask advocates.” Here is a compendium of many scientific studies about masks, and PANDA’s doctors and scientists maintain a similar list of a compendium of studies.

Geffen’s transparent attempt to dodge the question about conflicts of interest is unsurprising given his own conflicts of interest. If you think it is not an issue that Bill Gates and George Soros are funding people like Geffen and Mendelson, ask yourself why they consistently fail to acknowledge that funding and do whatever they can to divert attention from the influence they are under. Instead of facing the question about Mendelson’s conflicts, Geffen diverts by suggesting it would be ludicrous to suggest that government has a conflict of interests. Now isn’t that a question a proper journalist would ask? Why is Geffen not looking into the R80 million donation made to the Western Cape government by Bill Gates recently or the R7 million donation to South Africa’s medicines regulator in September? 

GroundUp has repeated the same myths about PANDA so many times now that it is almost embarrassing to have to set them straight again. Geffen knows enough about maths and modelling that his comments on PANDA’s analysis are just plain dishonest. 

At the outset of the model discussion, it is important to note that the main purpose of the models was to project resource requirements, not deaths. Lives could be saved by ensuring that there were sufficient hospital beds and other public health resources available. In this regard, PANDA’s prediction was extremely accurate and governments modellers were woefully wrong, resulting in gross misallocation of resources. 

That said, when looking at deaths, PANDA predicted approximately 20,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths for a first wave ending around November 2020. That model was by far the most accurate fatality model produced for South Africa’s first wave. Although they initially relied on a model predicting 351,000 confirmed deaths in the first wave, and ignored PANDA’s warning in May 2020 that their models entailed faulty assumptions, by September 2020, government’s fatalities estimate aligned with PANDA’s of around 20,000. Yes, in the early days of the pandemic, Nick Hudson questioned the hyping of the fear by saying that figures over 10,000 required an explanation, but it is simply dishonest to ignore the public record, to ignore the Gompertz curves PANDA produced on a daily basis and to claim that PANDA predicted 10,000 confirmed deaths in the first wave. It is also pointless, since even if PANDA had made that prediction, it would still have been the most accurate prediction produced at the time. 

The fact is that PANDA has produced models for all three waves and these have been robust and accurate. PANDA was candid about what we got right and wrong – unlike government catastrophisers and their many media praise-singers.

Geffen also has enough knowledge of maths and modelling to know that he is grossly misrepresenting the truth when he says that, “Well over 200,000 of these excess deaths are directly due to Covid.” No one knows how many “excess deaths” are directly due to COVID. We know that about 87,000 people are confirmed to have died with COVID-19 over the last 18 months. We will not know the causes of deaths of people who were not confirmed with COVID-19 until those deaths have been processed (which unfortunately in South Africa takes years). In the world Geffen lives in, though, lies that result in people doing what he believes to be right are not lies. In GroundUp land, opining that fewer people have died than the official death tally is misinformation, but grossly overstating the number is virtuous. 

Geffen should also know that, in South Africa, excess deaths is not defined as how many more people have actually died. Excess deaths are calculated off a government prediction of how many people government employees expect to die. During the pandemic, the government has been creative with its prediction as PANDA has explained previously. It makes no sense to say that PANDA’s prediction of confirmed first wave COVID deaths is wrong because it doesn’t agree with the government’s excess deaths estimate. For precisely this reason, all of the models that were produced the world over were of confirmed COVID-19 cases and can only be verified against actual confirmed deaths in separate waves. Geffen is effectively saying that every model was wrong which begs the question why he is singling out PANDA. Moreover, as noted, the real question is not who produced deaths more accurately, but who predicted hospitalisations more accurately?

The difference between PANDA and GroundUp is not that PANDA is anti and GroundUp pro vaccines – notwithstanding Geffen’s attempt to dumb the topic down in that way. The difference between us is that PANDA believes that favourable public health outcomes are achieved not by assuming that people are idiots, but by giving them accurate information and allowing them to manage their own risk. The Western Cape government could reflect partially vaccinated people on their infographic. They purposefully manipulated the data to exaggerate the point they are trying to make. Geffen attacked PANDA for pointing out the propaganda because his approach is to hide information and manipulate data in order to address “vaccine hesitancy”. He believes that he is on a moral quest that justifies any atrocities committed along the way – including slandering anyone who speaks the truth.

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