Fact-Checking the Fact Checkers
18 August 2021

An op-ed that appeared in Daily Maverick recently again highlights the points PANDA made in a previous article on messaging around COVID-19. It also highlights the need to fact check those who call themselves fact-checkers.

PANDA is not here to tell you how to manage your risk or to tell you whether or not to get vaccinated. PANDA believes that every individual has the right to make decisions about their own health. What we wish to point out, as we have previously, is the extent to which you are being manipulated. PANDA wants you to think about why your health care provider feels it has to lie to you about vaccine deaths and why life insurance companies may threaten to charge you higher premiums if you don’t take the vaccine. If COVID-19 is such a serious disease and the vaccines a panacea, why are vaccine passports actually necessary to persuade people, why is big Pharma funding fact-checkers”, and why do people have to be rewarded with guns other incentives to persuade them to get jabbed? If you think this is not happening in South Africa, think again.

We wish to examine some of the most glaring issues we encountered when reading the Daily Maverick’s piece.

You can trust academics implicitly.

The authors of the Daily Maverick op-ed are academics employed, or previously employed, at Wits University. They have not disclosed any conflicts of interest. For example, they do not mention that The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has made grants to Wits University’s “Health Consortium” of more than R1.4 billion. The foundation makes no bones about its ardent support for vaccines into which it has invested more than $10 billion.

One of the authors, Shabir Madhi, is also a director of the South African Medical Research Council, a government institution to which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made grants of over R330 million.

Academia delights in the newfound influence it derives from the post-COVID veneration of academia that Rupert Sheldrake described as a “messianic salvation cult” and Lord Sumption referred to as the “tyranny of the ‘COVID experts’”. The truth is that academia is not a monolithic source of certainty. Science is the process of error correction – testing hypotheses and making mistakes. Science is also not the solution to all of the world’s problems, particularly when that science is being paid for by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest. Academics are essentially immune to lockdowns. They can work just as effectively from home and none of them have had their salaries cut as a result of lockdowns.

Science is apolitical.

In our previous article, we noted the desire of the Press (and academics published in the Press) to describe more and more things without any ambiguity and to judge more and more claims preemptively. The Daily Maverick piece attempts to tell the reader exactly what to think lest any ambiguity in the messaging provide fertile ground in which ideas academia rejects might take root. It is not enough to simply report the facts. These academics believe they must leave no doubt in the vulnerable reader’s mind by referring to alternative views as “debunked” or “misinformation”. That is the antithesis of what a truth-seeking profession like academia is supposed to do. In this op-ed, you see phrases like “near-complete protection” and “extensive trials” – constant attempts to misstate grey areas as black-and-white. Data suggests that the vaccines are probably efficacious, but no one can yet know that for sure. There is no data regarding the long-term effects of these vaccines, and a massive number of short-term adverse events have been reported that are not being investigated with the urgency one would expect, making the safety of the vaccines another grey area.

Statements like, “When you are with people who are not fully vaccinated,” imply that only unvaccinated people can make you sick. This is playground-style peer pressure that stigmatises those who choose not to get it. It is unethical for medical professionals to behave in this way.

Scientists back up their statements.

It is striking to compare the op-ed with any article written by PANDA. Whereas, for fear of being cancelled, we are forced to link every claim we make to a credible scientific source, Daily Maverick is happy to publish a paper that makes extraordinary claims that are unreferenced. The claims that “we now know that fully vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus” and that “This is an extremely safe intervention,” are examples of questionable claims that are totally unreferenced. They are also vague to the point of being nonsensical.

The article includes statements like “we do not yet know”, “we are still learning” and “stay posted”. These statements, in and of themselves, are not problematic, but when considering a novel medical intervention, more certainty would be expected. Moreover, these statements clash with the fist-pounding certainty with which the vaccines are pushed by the authors.

Scientists don’t sell products.

The op-ed says that the J&J and Pfizer vaccines are “excellent choices”. They tell you that the vaccines “keep you out of hospital and off a ventilator.” This is not only medical advice but it also amounts to an advertisement for a specific drug. This appears to be a breach of South African law, which prohibits the advertisement of any drugs without complying with specific prescribed requirements for the advertisement and which allows vaccines only to be promoted to medical professionals not the public.

COVID is one of the worst pandemics.

Fear is a favoured tool to get people to stop thinking for themselves and defer to authority. No reference is offered in the op-ed for the statement that COVID-19 is one of the worst pandemics. It is unclear what metric could have been used to come to this fear-inducing conclusion. With around four million deaths, COVID-19 is placed as the eighth worst pandemic on record by fatalities. However, the number of deaths pales in comparison to the most serious pandemics the world has faced. As many as 200 million people died during the bubonic plague in 1346. It wiped out about one quarter of the global population at the time – the equivalent of 2 billion people today. The 1918  Flu Pandemic claimed 50-100 million victims (426 million equivalent in today’s terms). AIDS has claimed more than 35 million victims.

The fact is that 99% of people infected with COVID-19 recover. Of course COVID-19 is a serious health issue and a dangerous disease, but people are capable of understanding the risks when they are presented with accurate information. We do not believe that hyperbole is necessary to get people to take appropriate risk mitigation steps.

Other examples of hyperbole or exaggerated statements  in the op-ed are:

  • The references to excess deaths in South Africa. Whilst excess Covid deaths are a certainty, experts are yet to agree on what the numbers are or what the causes of death actually were. PANDA has debunked these claims before. Of course, Daily Maverick does not apply this exaggerated approach consistently. In an article on vaccines, there isn’t a single reference to the numbers of adverse events that have been reported. It would appear that those scary numbers cannot be admitted.
  • The reference to “Long-Covid”. The statement reads as though COVID-19 is the only disease that has long-term impacts. Again, note the inconsistency in the reference to vaccine adverse events being mild and treatable, but no such admission is made in relation to “Long-Covid” side effects being just as easily treatable.
  • The statement that all adults must be immune before the virus will attenuate, followed by a statement that “our only hope” is to vaccinate as many people as possible, is contrary to basic immunology. It ignores the fact that (a) the vaccine does not prevent infection or transmission; (b) people who have recovered from COVID do not need to be vaccinated; and (c) all viruses attenuate over time so as to become more transmissible and less virulent.

History proves that the COVID Vaccines are Safe.

It is true that as a general statement vaccines are safe despite there having been some aberrations. In 1976, 20% of the US population was jabbed against swine flu before 32 deaths caused by the vaccine brought an end to the campaign. Overall, however, most vaccines have proven to be safe and effective. 

The mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, provide instructions to enable the body to produce synthetic versions of the spike proteins that are characteristic of SARS-CoV2. The presence of these spike proteins in your system then causes an immune response to counter the spike proteins. While the vaccines were supposed to produce spike proteins only in the injected  muscle, it has been shown that spike proteins are produced all over your body. The mRNA vaccines are fundamentally different to prior vaccines and it is misleading to rely on the safety record of prior vaccines to sell this novel technology.

Everyone should get vaccinated.

The authors’ definitive advice that everyone should get vaccinated is deeply problematic. There are certain categories of people who the manufacturers specifically say should not take the vaccine, including children and immune-compromised persons. The World Health Organisation also recommends against children being vaccinated. The vaccine has not been tested on pregnant women. People who have recovered from COVID-19 do not need the vaccines and they have also not been tested on recovered individuals. The answer to the question of who benefits from the vaccine is not nearly as clear-cut as the authors make out. Individuals should consult the information provided by the manufacturer and their doctor before getting the jab.

The Delta Variant is more dangerous.

Data from around the world and here in South Africa does not show an increase in the infection fatality rate of the disease during the time in which the Delta variant has been dominant.

It is also untrue that children are falling victim to the Delta variant more than they did to initial strains of the virus. Whilst it appears to be true that more children have been infected with the current strain, the proportion of hospitalisations and deaths in younger people remains largely unchanged.

There are no serious side effects from the vaccines.

The vaccine manufacturers, despite having no liability for adverse reactions, have produced detailed analyses of serious and mild side effects. In the op-ed, these are all brushed aside. Again, not a single reference is provided for the statements about the adverse events. It would appear that the only source cited by  the authors is the claims made by  the manufacturers themselves. One might get the impression that there are no other sources of  information on the side effects being experienced. Not once do the authors mention that most countries have formal vaccine adverse event reporting systems that collect data on the side effects from all vaccines, specifically to provide independent data.

Why do the authors not mention this? Possibly because they wish to hide the fact that we have never seen this many reports of adverse events following vaccination. Whenever it is pointed out that thousands of vaccine-related deaths have been reported and that in the US, more than half of all the vaccine-related death reports over the last 31 years are from the COVID vaccines administered in the last 6 months, the response from those with vested interests is that the reporting systems are not definitive. This is true. However, the fact that these events are significantly higher for COVID vaccines than say flu vaccines (for a comparable number of doses administered), indicates a major difference in safety between the COVID vaccines and previous vaccines. These systems are designed to be early warning systems. They have been operating in the same way for decades. Research into the efficacy of these systems has shown that they capture about 1% of all adverse events and about 10% of all deaths. There is no valid reason to believe that the system that has worked for decades for all other vaccines is suddenly failing with the advent of COVID vaccines.

To be clear, PANDA is not suggesting that the vaccines are unsafe. Rather we are suggesting that their safety is being overstated, and the adverse events and risks swept under the carpet in an effort to coerce people into taking the vaccines.

Herd immunity is a myth.

The authors completely misstate the concept of herd immunity in the article even though this is a basic principle of immunology. Herd immunity is a fact. Most of the diseases mankind has faced have been overcome when most of the population was immune to the disease. Herd immunity has never been an “aspirational goal”. Herd immunity is not the point at which a “microorganism stops being able to circulate at all”. It is the point at which an infectious disease stops being a cause for concern because most of the population is immune to it. Someone who is not susceptible today may be susceptible in future (because they are older or have contracted a comorbidity) and consequently herd immunity is not a threshold that is crossed once and never again. The herd immunity level fluctuates on a seasonal basis and with other changes such as population health and behaviour.

The WHO removed natural immunity from their definition  of herd immunity during the pandemic and limited herd immunity to that reached via vaccination only. After this meddling caused an uproar, they went back again and included both forms of immunity as contributing to herd immunity. The op-ed’s insistence that the aim of vaccination is not to achieve herd immunity contradicts basic science and the WHO. Generally, contradicting the WHO gets you cancelled, except when the vaccine agenda is being pushed.

People who have recovered from Covid-19 should still have the vaccine.

A recovered person is someone who has been infected with SARS-CoV2, contracted COVID-19 and recovered. A vaccinated person has primed their immune system to respond to the spikes on SARS-CoV-2 if they are infected with the virus. It is easy to understand why the recovered person has a broader immunity than the vaccinated person. The vaccines are designed to provoke part of the same response of the  immune system that a recovered person has already gone through. Thus the  immune system of a recovered individual already has the immune memory to respond the virus. Furthermore, the vaccines have not been tested on recovered people.

Publisher’s note: The opinions and findings expressed in articles, reports and interviews on this website are not necessarily the opinions of PANDA, its directors or associates.

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