More COVID Stats, Yet Less Light
I have left the Wuhan virus behind. Truth be told it was never front and centre in my mind. That is, as distinct from the grotesque and damaging measures governments imposed on their populations in attempting to contain its spread. They were front of mind and still are. I have no confidence that governments and their hangers-on aren’t itching for excuses to reimpose onerous restrictions on liberty. Exercising capricious power over others is seductive for those of authoritarian turn of mind. And there’s never been a shortage of would-be despots among the powers that be and their minions.
Hence their clinging to useless mask mandates. Hence their preoccupation with pressing vaccines and boosters onto those at no risk from the virus; including, of course, young children. Boosters brings me to a recent editorial in The Weekend Australian. As you know, the newspaper is paywalled, so I’ll quote liberally.
While Australians have good reason to hope the worst of the pandemic is behind the nation, analysis by this newspaper shows an apparent but clear correlation between booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines and death rates from the virus.
Who knew that the good folk at the newspaper had skills in medical statistics? Well, they don’t, of course, and it shows. Though to be fair, the analysis of COVID stats, wherever you look, is purposefully superficial. And the purpose? To frighten populations into thinking they are at mortal risk, making them easier to control and push around; and to boost the profits of Big Pharma by extoling the life-saving benefits of the vaccines.
By the way, to be clear, I’m not suggesting, at least for the most part, that politicians, journalists or medicos have been swayed by brown-paper bags full of money. Nothing so tawdry. I’m merely suggesting that the lobbying efforts of Big Pharma are more pervasive and persuasive in moulding opinions than we might think; particularly when many billions of dollars are on the line and hyped-up health scares are afoot.
To the stats reported in the newspaper’s editorial. Western Australia is cited as having one of the lowest death rates among the states; at “15 per 100,000 people.” And, lo and behold, “the highest booster rate of 80.2 percent.” Let me leave aside for the moment the other interesting reported stat, which is that Western Australia also “has had the highest number of COVID cases per head of population since February.”
Western Australian, if you recall, took advantage of its geography and Mark McGowan’s secessionist instincts and kingly ways to insulate itself from the rest of the populated world. He crowed while Berejiklian and Andrews wrestled with outbreaks and painfully played second fiddle to their public health gurus at those tortuous daily press briefings. Meanwhile, overtime, the viral strain became less deadly; Omicron evolved.
Perhaps the lower death rate in WA can be accounted for by its obese, unhealthy and frail-aged cohort (the only ones at material risk) meeting Omicron rather than its predecessor, the deadlier Delta. It’s a thought, which didn’t seem to occur to the newspaper’s “medical statisticians.” Neither did the apparent anomaly of having more cases in a highly-boosted population. Nothing to see there.
And to my larger point. Correlations can be insidious when used as the basis for drawing conclusions and for setting policy. They are at best superficial and tenuous evidence of causation. Prime example: the observed simple correlation between the mild warming since the end of the Little Ice Age and man-made emissions of CO2. In Australia, under the tutelage of green zealots, this will inevitably lead to soaring energy prices, blackouts and loss of competitiveness and jobs. But to no cooling whatsoever.
Now, back to COVID and those stats in The Australian’s editorial. It was reported that the three jurisdictions “with the highest booster vaccination rates [WA, the ACT and Tasmania] had the lowest death rates.”
The problem with this kind of analysis is that there is no evidence at all that factors which might bear on the different death rates have been brought into account or even thought about. I’ve mentioned one, the later inroads of the virus into WA. There are many others. The age structure of the population, for example. The ACT has a relatively young population. There are other, even more relevant demographic factors. Migrant populations were disproportionately affected. That might be something to do with lifestyle. It might be something to do with more crowded living. Unless account is taken of demography, the results are useless — worse than useless, misleading.
African-Americans suffered disproportionally from the virus in the US. Among the states, Mississippi has the highest proportion of black residents and the highest COVID death rate. Massachusetts, on the other hand, has one of the lowest proportions of black residents and sits well down among the states when it comes to death rates. How relevant is that? It might be. However, when I look down the list of death rates among US states, I reckon I could get a good positive correlation between the average temperature in each state and the death rate. Then I could editorialise somewhere about that. What a lark.
You simply can’t perform such a naïve piece of statistical analysis and present it to the nation as being meaningful, as The Weekend Australian editors did. Not if you want to retain credibility, you can’t. Do the vaccines work? Do the boosters work? These are serious questions requiring detailed information, expert analysis and scientific integrity before they can be answered with any confidence.
To go close to finding the answers, the people who should form the basis of studies are those who, because of their age-related frailness, obesity and/or co-morbidities, face serious risk from the virus; not the general population, most of whom are at no risk. We know that the overwhelming number of people who’ve succumbed to the virus fit into the narrow cohort as described. So, we also know, if they were vaccinated, as many were, that they weren’t saved. The question is how many were saved who would have otherwise died? That is the question to which an answer is required. Maybe the editors of the aforementioned newspaper will get busy on it. Someone, somewhere, should; in case Big Pharma is having us on.