How the Oxford trial pause challenges anti-vaccine conspiracies

Recently the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial was paused due to a possible case of transverse myelitis in one of the subjects. Today (Saturday UK time) it was announced that the trial would resume following advice from from safety experts.

Confirmation Update: Transverse myelitis has not been diagnosed in the subject [1], [2], [3], [4].

The news of the pause had the anti-vaccine lobby reacting with as much composure as dozing picnickers who have awoken to find they are laying atop a large nest of very active fire ants.

There is the urge to proclaim we told you so. Yet this includes the realisation that forfeiture of key pegs in anti-vaccine conspiracy is required. What has followed as we see below appears to be confusion, the inability to comprehend events, fabrication of fallacy and bogus reinforcement of elements of the Big Pharma conspiracy.

It’s important not to underestimate how disturbing genuine challenges to an individuals world view can be. In the case of the Oxford trial announcement, the anti-vaccine conspiratorial view of the world is threatened by a distressing reality. For the dedicated anti-vaxxer this leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. In fact anti-vaccine conspiracies must exist in the first place to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises when scientific evidence and epidemiology overwhelmingly refute the myth of dangerous vaccines and manufactured claims of vaccine injury and death.

In this case there are three main challenges to current anti-vaccine beliefs.

  1. The MSM (mainstream media) presented a transparent account of the Oxford trial pause.
  2. The pause in the trial itself shows that the safety aspect of Phase III clinical trials is working well.
  3. Cursory reading of the situation confirms the efficacy component of Phase III clinical trials and the use of a placebo.

The anti-vaccine lobby contend that mainstream media are biased against the “truth” of vaccine horror because what is reported is not anti-vaccine. If the mistake of giving anti-vaccine identities air-time to push unsubstantiated disinformation is made, criticism swiftly follows. Yet primarily it is the industry requirement to fact check that keeps anti-vaccination views from being presented unchallenged.

It’s more likely that their antics make tabloid or news segments because they are dishonest and at times vindictive. This attracts regular criticism of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. A scheme by anti-vaxxer Kyia Clayton to interview AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister on ABC Hobart was met with outrage. It was justly criticised on Media Watch which yet again led to Meryl Dorey urging members to bombard the ABC and ACMA with complaints.

Rather than rise to the occasion and present evidence that meets the standard of scientific consensus the AVN has instead accused the media of being part of the larger conspiracy. Attacking mainstream media and articles that are based on vaccine fact is a substantial activity for Australian anti-vaxxers.

A constant claim of anti-vaxxers is that vaccines are never tested adequately for safety. This is partly due to the erroneous belief that vaccines are so full of dangerous chemicals and biological matter that they cannot possibly be safe. Ergo, any genuine monitoring for adverse reactions in large samples would reveal that a high percentage present with such reactions. As this is not the case their only conclusion is the biased testing conspiracy.

Another claim is that vaccines are never tested for efficacy. They don’t work and we have all been deceived. Herd immunity is a fake concept. Vaccines were introduced after improved sanitation and hygiene eliminated most disease and thus deserve no credit. This claim is made with the help of deceitfully crafted graphs plotting mortality, not morbidity, in such small numbers it appears that vaccines had no impact. The two claims specific to Phase III clinical trials are often made together.

This was clear when the AVN responded to an August 2019 SMH article by Liam Mannix, Anti-vaxxers live in an online bubble this scientist wants to burst. Their response is a strange collection of “propositions” the author angrily contends must exist, whilst citing pseudoscience and articles relating to medication, not vaccines.

The AVN piece included this under “Proposition 4”;

…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced.

Oh my. This persists despite accessible evidence to the contrary and available WHO recommendations. More so, in line with all anti-vaxxers the AVN argue their definition of a placebo (such as saline) is what should be used in vaccine trials. In fact it is used in many trials but the AVN choose to ignore this. This may include shifting the goal posts. Virology Down Under discuss this no true Scotsman anti-vax fallacy related to placebos.

In some vaccine trials a saline placebo is not ethically suitable and the placebo used is not inert. With respect to the urgency COVID-19 presents this article argues that placebos aren’t needed for vaccine challenge trials. In the Oxford trial a non-saline placebo functions as a more effective control as Dr. Norman Swan explains below. The AVN have always objected to Gardasil studies which used AAHS (the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant) as a placebo.

Without citing any reference the AVN offer their definition of a vaccine trial placebo;

By definition, a placebo must be a totally inert substance which will never provoke a response.

In a recent Coronacast episodeThe Oxford vaccine’s troubles. Why it’s not doomed (yet) Norman Swan talked about efficacy and safety in this vaccine trial. Whilst the USA are using a saline placebo, the other participant countries are not. Swan explains;

A few weeks ago, phase 2, phase 3 studies, that’s dose finding and whether or not the vaccine works in large numbers of people and whether it safe, started in Brazil, South Africa and the UK, and they were aiming to recruit 17,000 people. There was also a phase 3 study just beginning in the United States in about 80 sites, trying to recruit about 30,000-odd people. The aim is to have a trial of about 50,000 people.

And interestingly it’s a placebo-controlled trial but the placebo is not saline. It is in the United States, but in Brazil, South Africa and the UK it’s actually not a dummy drug, it’s not saline, it’s a meningococcal vaccine, and they are doing that so that people don’t recognise whether or not they’ve had a placebo. It’s very important in a placebo-controlled trial that you don’t know that you are in the placebo arm. And if you get a shot in your arm and nothing happens and it’s pretty mild you think, well, maybe I’m in the placebo group.

The presenters talk about the seriousness of transverse myelitis and Norman Swan offers this context;

However, there was a study not so long ago which looked at 64 million vaccine doses and really found very little evidence, if any, that transverse myelitis is caused by immunisation. Out of 64 million doses they found seven cases or eight cases that may be associated with it. And they look really widely. They didn’t just look at the week after you’ve had the immunisation or the month after, they looked at almost any time after you’ve had the immunisation, and they conclude that transverse myelitis, unless in very rare circumstances, is not caused by a vaccine. […]

So what they’ve got to find out with this person is are they in the placebo arm, are they in the active arm, is it really transverse myelitis, what are the antibodies that have actually been shown? Are there any other symptoms? And did the person actually get infected with real COVID-19 after the trial had started…

I recommend reading the transcript or listening to this episode of Coronacast. Tegan Taylor and Swan talk more on Phase III trials and discuss the specifics of the Oxford vaccine. It’s an adenovirus carrying genetic material into cells to instruct the cells to produce fragments of COVID-19 virus. It is these fragments that induce an immune response. With respect to the use of placebos in vaccine trials a July 27th episode examines the ethics associated with the fact that subjects in the placebo arm of Phase III trials are not receiving a vaccine.

By the time the Oxford podcast was published on Thursday the AVN was already suggesting on Facebook that there may be more adverse reactions hidden from the public.

AVN Facebook post

Dubious message on AVN Facebook

“It does raise questions”? The problem with the above post is the apparent interpretation by an AVN Facebook administrator that one of the “close friend daughters” who took part in the Oxford trial “is in the Royal” [London Hospital], “diagnosed with Transverse Mylytis” (sic). There is an unverified claim that, “they have asked to keep this quite (sic) as they don’t want the public to know”. The AVN admit the information may not be true.

Yet is this really evidence of a covert case of transverse myelitis? Perhaps Karen McNab is referring to a) her friend’s daughter and also b) the “volunteer” mentioned in the WhatsApp message. The trial subject who had the presumed adverse reaction is a woman who is in hospital.

Of course my interpretation could be wrong. There is however no clear statement that one of the friend’s daughters has transverse myelitis.

Some AVN members were justifiably suspicious.

AVN FB members question source

Rixta Francis, a long term AVN member prone to simply inventing disinformation published her predictably outrageous fallacy of the Oxford trial. This is an excellent example of an immediate, and  feverish attempt to slap at the fire ants of cognitive dissonance. Fellow members are supportive.

Facebook: Rixta Francis misleads over Oxford COVID vaccine trial
Self published author of The Fiction of Science Rixta is prone to reinterpret reality in the manner above. To appreciate this we need to explore her approach more fully. In an interesting example of how things come round in circles Francis is infamous for her abuse of the memory and parents of baby Riley Hughes, who featured in the SMH article I mentioned above.

Riley died from pertussis in March 2015 before he was old enough to be vaccinated. Feeling a need to educate parents about immunisation Catherine Hughes began the Light For Riley campaign. She now runs the Immunisation Foundation of Australia. Ten months after the death of Riley, Francis falsely claimed Catherine was a member of Stop the AVN, suggested Riley and his pertussis had never existed or that the parents killed infant Riley themselves.

The post below suggests the Oxford adverse reaction has been staged. It includes dismissal of genuine media intention, dismissal of safety and dismissal of efficacy helped by quoting Australia’s CSIRO. Again this is textbook management and minimisation of cognitive dissonance.

AVN Facebook post

Other comments in the thread follow a similar theme and manage to reveal quite ridiculous thought processes. The reason people placed themselves at such risk is because they were offered “a small fortune… it all comes down to money”. Vaccines always cause “horrific injuries”. We “can’t cure cancer but we can make a vaccine in six months for a disease we don’t understand?”.

It will be interesting, but not surprising, to see how this group reacts to the news that the trial has resumed.


Further reading:

Oxford Vaccine Group

Oxford vaccine trial – University of Oxford

How Vaccine hesitancy could undermine Australia’s COVID response – The Guardian, September 12th 2020

Fact Check: Mastercard partnership on vaccination records is unrelated to finances – USA Today, September 9th 2020

Halting the Oxford vaccine trial doesn’t mean it’s not safe – The Conversation, September 9th 2020

Vaccine testing and approval process – CDC

 

 

Wearing masks does not cause staphylococcus infection or CO2 toxicity

On August 20th I was passing through AVN Facebook territory and noticed the image below had been posted in the comments section of a post citing a Daily Telegraph news article. The article was about the likelihood of a free COVID-19 vaccine in Australia.

It included this shin kick for anti-vaxxers;

Can there be anything more satisfying than the dangerous, hypocritical and unspeakably cruel anti-vaxxer mob in full self-combust mode at news that the rest of us — the sensible Australians — are delighted to hear?
The only national glimmer of hope in this coronavirus war on our bodies, livelihoods and mental health has been the promise of a free vaccine available eventually to all Australians, writes Louise Roberts

The post urged readers to include their thoughts. One of which was this image;

image falsely linking skin conditions to mask wearing

Fake “Mask Induced Staphylococcus” scam

Firstly the claim of lung infections and loss of consciousness due to restricted airflow from masks has been debunked. This claim as pushed on social media relies on the belief that masks cause CO2 toxicity, known as hypercapnia.

In very, very rare cases with an open wound and a dirty mask contaminated with staph bacteria one may develop a staphylococcus infection from masks. Nonetheless, what’s important is dealing with the claim in the context of the images above. Simply put the claim is that these are examples of “staphylococcus from masks”.

This claim of staphylococcus infection from masks is as offensive as it is bogus. It is a textbook example of what goes wrong when one trusts social media as a source of news or facts. Particularly social media outlets of groups that use the term “fake news” to describe genuine media presenting facts they disagree with. Yes indeed, verily this describes the Australian Vaccination-risks Network.

Staphylococcus infection is described by the Mayo Clinic in these opening paragraphs as follows;

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections.

The article continues to list symptoms, types of infections, causes, invasive devices and treatment.

Merck Manual also has an excellent article by Larry Bush M.D. which was updated just over a year ago. The important point here is that consulting articles on staph infection reveals facts specific to the diseases that result and the lack of any information confirming that the wearing of surgical masks is responsible. So this nonsense is predetermined disinformation designed to sabotage public health measures.

When it comes to challenging an image “collage” like the above taking a screenshot of each image and doing a reverse image search via Google or TinEye yields ample insight into the mind of COVID-19 conspiracy promoters. Taking the middle right image we find pages of results devoted to articles on exhausted doctors wearing PPE and working long hours during the height of Italy’s struggle with COVID-19. The initial post of Italian nurse Valeria Zedde was made by her on Instagram. Other photos capturing the impact of long term PPE use can be found online including these on Twitter.
italian doctor after long shift with covid patients

Italian nurse after hours wearing PPE

The face above the hard working nurse is from a Wikipedia post on Eczema herpeticum. This infection may be caused by a herpes simplex virus, coxsackievirus or vaccinia virus. The image file was uploaded on April 11th 2018 as is clear on this Wikimedia commons page. The image is cropped in the scam staphylococcus collage above to give the appearance of a mask infliction but more importantly to hide the eyes which help confirm this child is certainly under five years of age.

The WHO have published a Q&A on children and mask wearing due to COVID-19. They clearly state;

In general, children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks.

Ah well, nice try. Still, no amount of cropping can hide the fact this image was uploaded 18 months before the first case of COVID-19 in Wuhan in December 2019.

Eczema herpeticum on childs face

Eczema Herpeticum

On the subject of cropped images we can trace the image at bottom right to an article in Medical News Today describing Malar rash. In the case of this subject the rash is caused by a condition known as rosacea. More so the lady appears in a large number of Alamy stock photos with a caption plainly stating her condition is rosacea characterised by facial redness, small and superficial dilated blood vessels.

Whilst determining the exact origin of Malar rash is difficult due to a large number of candidate causes, turning into a strange looking case of staphylococcus due to wearing a surgical mask is not one.

case of malar rash

Malar Rash – Source Medical News Today

The condition in the image at bottom left may well have been determined by you as the case of varicella (chicken pox) that it is. The Getty images iStock photo also appears on Pinterest with no watermark where anyone with an account can take a screenshot of the image at not cost.

It’s interesting that with this image the cropped version used in the scam collage also removes any helpful identifying features to help one conclude this is a young child.

child with chicken pox pimples/varicella

Chicken Pox / Varicella pimples on female child

The final image is the one at top left. In fact this image is the only one that may have substance. The French teenager in the image claims to have had an allergic reaction to wearing a sheet mask for a prolonged period of time.

With help from Google Translate we see that Le Monde newspaper reported;

According to the mother, the 12-year-old wore a sheet mask for several hours on vacation: “This is the first time she has worn this mask provided by her college for so long. We went on a camping holiday for a week, and the mask was mandatory in closed areas, so she had to put it on every day”. […]

Beware of hasty conclusions, however. “There may be intolerance reactions to the mask that are not allergic reactions. The mere fact that it is red is not enough to say that a mask contains an allergenic substance”, tempers Brigitte Milpied, dermatologist at Bordeaux University Hospital and member of the French Dermatology Society (SFD). “Whenever something goes wrong, people tend to call it an allergy. However, the allergy remains exceptional. To be sure, you have to do a test” she adds.

Doctor Hervé Masson, allergist in Bordeaux, shares this opinion: “In the image, it looks more like a burn than an allergic reaction, but as long as the child has not been examined, we cannot tell”. […]

allergic reaction to wearing the same surgical mask for extended time

Claimed allergic reaction – prolonged mask wearing

The importance of wearing a proper, clean mask and discarding of disposable masks when they are moist or soiled can’t be understated. If a genuine allergic reaction, the image above raises questions about just how well informed this teenager and her parents were about hygienic mask wearing, maintenance and disposal.

It’s important to wash cotton masks before wearing them and to not exceed recommended duration of wear. Individuals prone to allergies may have to test materials and take extra precautions. Information as to how to avoid allergic reactions from wearing masks should be clearly conveyed by health authorities in all languages used in the release of other COVID-19 information.

The good news is that this particular effort to scare the unsuspecting into believing masks cause staph infections or CO2 toxicity has been thoroughly debunked. Either through sourcing the images or combining this with facts about CO2 toxicity and mask wearing. Please check the excellent sources below

No doubt COVID-19 related scams and disinformation will continue in the foreseen future.


True colours: Australian Vaccination-risks Network ponder the rights of others

A Current Affair recently reported on the Australian Vaccination-risks Network after they used the cover of late night to sneak their Vaxxed bus into the BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park.

This bus is used to film anti-vaccine testimonials, sow fear about any possible COVID-19 vaccine and promote COVID-19 disinformation and COVID conspiracies. The CEO of the park Angus Booker quite rightly asked the group to leave. His reason was that he has a policy of not allowing anyone to “conduct their business in our park, especially without our consent”. He explained that this would apply to a political party, to activists or a radio station.

However Meryl Dorey states;

They really don’t care whether your children are killed or injured by vaccines.

This is an unverified claim in an attempt to imply callousness. As there have been no fatalities attributed to vaccines in Australia this is dangerously misleading and highly offensive. The facts help explain why the group, despite advertising for fans to give on-camera accounts of “vaccine deaths” for weeks, still haven’t produced an evidenced backed testimonial. The harm done by this group is seen in the video as a young man contends that his father recently passed away “as a result of a flu vaccination”.

Yet there are no recorded cases of anyone dying as a result of a flu vaccination. It is a bizarre alternative reality they inhabit. One in which according to Meryl Dorey, Italian COVID-19 fatalities were apparently all people who “were going to die anyway” and vaccines, not illness or disease, kill.

In actual reality modern medicine employs a vast arsenal of medication and procedures when managing disease and keeping very ill patients alive. The influenza vaccine is one such tool. It may be given to a patient who is very ill and who later dies from an existing condition or a condition of comorbidity. The vaccine may be given to someone who at a later time passes away from a chronic or acute condition. In both cases however, the flu vaccine has not caused a death. That the AVN revel in this tragic deception, promote it and profit from it is very telling indeed.

Asked to leave the park, Meryl, who raves day and night about the erosion of her rights, reacted in her standard fashion to someone else exercising their rights. She urged Facebook followers to leave “reviews” on the park’s Facebook page. The flying monkeys complied and dutifully threw dirt on both Angus Booker and the BIG4 Holiday park in question. This included the defacing of Angus’ profile picture and reposting it back onto the Big4 business Facebook page. AVN Facebook comments show that others called the caravan park to complain. One loyal devotee to Dorey’s cult urged members to repost the attacks that were removed.

Again, this is tragic. A number of these angry members wrongly believe they have a vaccine-injured child after digesting disinformation peddled for profit by this group. Or believe vaccines can only harm and actively reject life saving interventions for their children and themselves.

So how would the AVN profit from this? Knowing full well that the CEO is within his rights Dorey and AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister still teased that they had “spoken with a lawyer… and are considering taking action… about the discrimination”. Below are just a couple of eager responses.


Fortunately I haven’t seen an active attempt to raise funds for legal costs but the tone of these comments is concerning. In the past there have been donation campaigns for similar costs in which no action eventuates.

In any case asking Facebook flying monkeys to now focus on the press council with complaints about A Current Affair was a predictable response from the AVN.

Presently the Vaxxed bus is in hiatus with the AVN assuring they will be back on the road in due course.

 


14/08/2020: Updated to add ‘complain to press council’ screenshot.