Oz for Dummies: Week 48, 2021

(November 29–December 5) My body, my choice — xactly / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz / No federal ICAC any time soon

Last week’s missive triggered another reaction: “Scarier and scarier stuff from you about people’s basic right to bodily autonomy, Andreas. I’d advise you to watch where you are heading intellectually and morally. As a friend I don’t want you to look back on what you were saying during this period and feel aghast.”

/ My body, my choice — xactly

The concerned friend also sent me a link to a piece by Bhattacharya & Kulldorf (B&K) on their publisher’s website. That duo claims that vaccine mandates are unethical and have “no scientific justification.” Someone tell the Germs who are headed straight in that direction!

Good to hear then from B&K that “the evidence to date shows conclusively that the covid vaccines — even six months after full vaccination — protect well against severe covid disease, including hospitalization and death.” I hope my concerned friend is listening carefully.

B&K go on to argue that “four lines of scientific evidence imply that not everyone needs to be vaccinated.”

First, “as for most other viruses, those who have recovered from Covid have natural immunity” and this immunity “is stronger and longer lasting than vaccine-induced immunity.” All right. Unfortunately, to get there you have to be infected which entails a non-zero chance of dying or contracting long covid, weighted by age and co-morbidities. Maybe best avoid this strategy? No Covid party for me, that’s for sure.

Second, while anyone can get infected, “there is more than a thousand-fold difference in Covid mortality between the oldest and the youngest.” True that and true that the risks for children (of dying) are lower than from the annual influenza.

Also true that, thirdly, “as with any drug or vaccine, there are some risks with the Covid vaccine, including myocarditis in children and young adults. … The same is true for the Covid recovered.” Yes, but the risks seem fairly negligible.

Fourth, “unlike the polio and measles vaccines, the covid vaccines do not stop the transmission of infection. They are excellent at reducing the risk of severe disease and death, but their ability to prevent infection wanes after a few months. Therefore, even if you are vaccinated, you will eventually be infected.” Lest of course you get a booster shot which you should given the comparatively minimal risk for most.

B&K also argue (but provide no reference) that “with milder symptoms, it could even be that the vaccinated are more likely to spread it to others, compared to the unvaccinated, who are more likely to be bedridden at home. Hence, when we urge people to get vaccinated, we do it mainly for their own sake, not for protecting others.

Pulling their facts together, B&K argue that “older people who have not had Covid should immediately get the vaccine.” Glad we agree on that one. I do not agree with their conclusion that “persuading this group to be vaccinated should be the focus of our vaccination efforts.”

B&K clearly do not understand externalities, as central to economic reasoning conceptually as incentives and trade-offs. The current (fourth) waves have become to a major extent, here and elsewhere, pandemics of the unvaccinated. In Germany (where about one-third of the population remains unvaccinated and where effectiveness has gone down since the mass of vaccinations happened about half a year ago already), the authors of a recent study estimate that unvaccinated individuals are expected to be involved in 8–9 of 10 new infections. (The study has not been refereed yet, so make sure to read the critical commentary, and the study.) Liam Mannix has a good piece here, with very useful illustrations, that comes to somewhat similar conclusions with other evidence. Unvaccinated individuals, so much is clear, create massive externalities. Some of the unvaccinated internalize the costs of contracting the virus (and the only thing that makes me angry about this fact is that these idiots endanger health-care staff and most likely prevent urgently needed competing interventions) but by no means all.

Smoking was prohibited in Europe many years ago in restaurants and other places were people would have to inhale second-hand smoke otherwise. The decision was based on the same my-body-my-choice logic that applies here. The truly unethical and immoral behavior is the one by those that really have no good reason not to get vaccinated. And, yes, the qualification “for no good reason” is important but cannot possibly apply to one third of the population. Because externalities are a thing, the argument that “it is unethical to use vaccines on those who do not need them, … “ is simply wrong.

That said, I agree with B&K that the issue as such has highlighted the important issue of vaccine inequality; there are many who need vaccines urgently and “(t)his includes millions of poor, high-risk older people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where there is still a vaccine shortage.”

Is unethical to fire people who choose not to get vaccinated? Argue B&K, “Many of the vaccine-hesitant were the heroes of last year — nurses, policemen, firefighters, truckers, and others who kept our society functioning while the laptop class stayed home during the lockdowns. They worked unvaccinated and got COVID as a result.” True that to some extent only— certainly in New South Wales these groups had prioritized access to vaccines — and deplorably so. But the vaccination drives in NSW have taught us, if anything, how to address this issue.

Since we are at it, that recent decision by Fairwork Australia was not about vaxx mandates being unethical, it was about procedural issues: “Had the respondent consulted the employees in accordance with its consultation obligations — such that we could have been satisfied that the decision to introduce the site access requirement was the outcome of a meaningful consultation process — the above considerations would have provided a strong case in favour of a conclusion that the site access requirement was a reasonable direction.” Too much nuance for the usual nitwits of course. But good to know that Matt Canavan now appreciates the #CMFEU.

/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

There is not much to add to what I wrote last week. The key numbers in New NSW and Victoria have not changed substantially. A couple of hundred new cases in the former and stubbornly four-digit numbers in the latter. The latter is particularly surprising — the numbers continue to move sideways at about five times the level of NSW’s. It is still not clear why that is. The ongoing protests seem an insufficient explanation. The pattern is surprising given that Victoria is remains only a couple of percentage points behind in its vaccination rates (e.g., 91% vs 93% of those above 15 fully vaxxed), and way ahead of the laggards like Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland (all about 78%), and South Australia (now at 82%). How these states want to transition into “living with covid” remains as unclear as the modelling their decisions are allegedly based on.

Omicron gave the scare-mongerers among Labor premiers yet another chance to shine. Suddenly daily pressers are back in the picture. I wish Labor premiers would bring to their mostly failing health-care systems the same determination that they parade in their pressers. I am glad that right now I live in NSW.

Omicron caused the federal government to pause the border opening for the vaccinated for a couple of weeks, at considerable costs to students and travellers that thought they finally could escape the idiocy that is travel bans. It seems more posturing when in fact bringing booster shots forward would have been a better strategy. Yes, the new variant seems easier to transmit and it seems also more prone to trigger reinfections than previous variants although vaccines remain an effective defense strategy, which is aided by the Omicron variant inducing milder symptoms. Or so indications are.

/ No federal ICAC any time soon

Bridget Archer, Liberal MP from Tasmania, crossed the floor Thursday before last and seconded a motion by independent Helen Haines for a national commission against corruption, i.e., a federal integrity commission that Morrison promised before the last election: “I take this decision very seriously…and it’s a difficult decision to make,” she told the House of Representatives. “This is one of the most important things that we come to this place to do…we need a robust Federal Integrity Commission, that people should have trust and confidence in us, in the people they elect.”

While the vote ultimately failed, Archer was swiftly ushered into Morrison’s office and undoubtedly taken to task. Niki Savva’s version of what happened there makes for a disturbing read even though Morrison’s winning ways are well established. Parnell Palme McGuinness has a different take on the situation and does not see Archer as a victim. Worth a read. Several of the commentators on her piece make interesting points about what made Archer do it.

Whatever really transpired, Morrison saw it as another opportunity to slam the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption as a “kangaroo court” which in his view mounted a “most shameful attack” on former premier Gladys Berejiklian. It takes a particular kind of dangerous demagogue to mount such an attack on that particular institution. But make no mistake: Morrison knows what he is doing. It was not just an outburst but a well-calculated gamble to mask his own “failure” to establish an integrity commission, and to free-ride on the sympathies that Berejiklian still carries with significant parts of the NSW electorate. Morrison’s failure to establish an integrity commission with bite is hardly surprising, given that a genuine federal Independent Commission Against Corruption would likely land a number of federal politicians in jail.

And that’s the wrap for week 48 of 2021. Feel free to share and consider following me here,

on twitter [@aortmannphd], or

on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/ImpartialSpectator/]

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Andreas Ortmann

Andreas Ortmann

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EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …