After July last year, the Oxford Recovery Covid19 vaccine project disappeared behind a Sovyet stage curtain of confusion, before emerging like a startled rabbit from the conjuror’s top hat in late November. In this second part of the Slog’s investigation into vaccine safety, he unearths more suspicions about rushing to market, the moral hazards of Big Pharma funding, political populism, psy-op tactics and overclaimed efficacy. The challenge for ordinary citizens in this context is to weigh Virusecrecy against belief in safety.
What is known in some quarters as the Astrazeneca ‘tripleV’ vaccine began life as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, commencing trials early in March 2020 in a joint venture between the Oxford “Recovery” project and global drug company AstraZeneca. Th product isn’t an m-RNA solution like those from Pfizer and Moderna: it uses a bioengineered version of a harmless common-cold virus found in chimpanzees to instruct human cells to make antigens, by applying the better understood principle of Viral Vector Vaccine – hence Triple V.
As so often with Oxford’s approach to PR, the promises made were bullish, and the UK MSM tipped ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 as a “front runner” in the race to develop a coronavirus jab.
But by May of that year, bull became bear when results showed that TripleV did not stop the virus in rhesus macaque monkeys, raising questions about the vaccine’s development. Some trials were ongoing in the US as part of the project, and US professor Dr William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor declared, “There was no difference in the amount of viral RNA detected from this site in the vaccinated monkeys as compared to the unvaccinated animals. Which is to say, all vaccinated animals were infected”
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said the vaccine data suggested the jab may not be able to prevent the spread of the virus between infected individuals. “That viral loads in the noses of vaccinated and unvaccinated animals were identical is very significant. If the same happened in humans, vaccination would not stop spread”. Bear in mind warnings we’ve been given since about that last aspect since the Astrazeneca launch.
Eleanor Riley, professor of Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Edinburgh, said at the time:
“If similar results were obtained in humans, the vaccine would likely provide partial protection against disease in the vaccine recipient but would be unlikely to reduce transmission in the wider community.”
But oddly enough, UK Health Minister Matt Hancock chose this moment to give Recovery’s runner a huge vote of confidence….agreeing to buy 100 million doses, and providing £90m of additional support support.
“Why?” you might reasonably ask. It was a gamble: the Johnson administration’s reputation on Covid19 strategy was in tatters. But in turn, the Oxford Uni pharma spin-off executive Adrian Hill had another bullish attack: on May 15, he told Reuters the Oxford/AstraZeneca TripleV candidate was “almost certainly the best single dose rapid-response vaccine.”
He dismissed as “total unknowns” and a “wild card” the vaccines using mRNA technology, such as Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, asking:
“Why would you take a vaccine technology that is new, unproven, maybe quick to manufacture, but expensive to manufacture – and has never been scaled up and has never been shown to protect against anything in humans, and prioritise that in a global emergency? It’s very odd.”
This has been my own view since Day1 of the Covid saga. But as it happens, this is precisely what we’re now being asked to believe is “safe science” within mRNA vaccines.
Spookily, what Reuters has called “serendipity” intervened almost immediately: just a week later on June 5th, researchers inside Recovery quietly made a change to a late-stage clinical trial of their COVID-19 vaccine. Many of the United Kingdom trial subjects had – it seemed “inadvertently” – been given only about a half dose of the vaccine. The new volunteers would now receive the correct dose. And by 20th July, the change had caused a change of strategy. Until then, the Oxford team had hoped to produce a vaccine that could be delivered in a single dose: it was clear they now needed two
Giving two doses produced a stronger immune response, but while these early results were promising, at this stage there was still no evidence to show whether the vaccine would actually protect against Covid-19.
So there things sat in late July 2020. Things were not going well, and the critics piled in.
Some experts said the dosing “discrepancy” raised doubts about the robustness of the study’s findings. Further, they noted that the half-dose regimen wasn’t tested on anyone over 55 – the group considered at highest risk from Covid19.
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britain’s University of Reading, said “the plethora of upbeat statements” hadn’t benefited the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, and John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, observed, “When you get corporate and academic scientists saying different things, it doesn’t give you the impression of confidence in what they’re doing – was the dosing thing a mistake or not?”
Moore’s remarks reflected what remains an unsatisfactorily explained episode, during which bickering between Oxford and Astrazeneca began to get out of hand. At first, Oxford’s Italian suppliers were blamed for the dosage mistake, until a Recovery team member suggested that light refraction in the Oxford labs had caused the error. But then, mysteriously, Astrazeneca CEO Pascal Soriot intervened to insist to Bloomberg, “People call it a mistake — it was not a mistake.”
Mr Soriot has never given us the benefit of the evidence (if any) he used to frame that assertion. I suspect that, like all publicly quoted company CEOs, he knows that errors and mistakes don’t play well with the shareholders.
But at this point, the development history of Astrazeneca Triple V entered a black hole of Virusecrecy. A chap already known to The Slog – our old friend Oxford Recovery Professor Peter Horby – produced a much needed distraction within days by declaring to major news agencies and on Twitter (along with his colleague Martin Landray) that the Covid19 management drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) produced “no beneficial effect in patients hospitalised with COVID-19” and thus should be “ditched” as a player in the fight against Sars Cov2. The duo reached this cavalier conclusion in less than 100 days – but it shot round the world and “took out” HCQ as a runner.
It quickly emerged that Horby had ignored the HCQ advice about both dosage and use of Zinc cocktails in HCQ therapy. It also became clear that nobody could replicate the Oxford results. This left a nasty smell in many noses, especially among the French press. On 17th June, France Soir published an excoriating piece about the trial, damning it on many levels.
One of Peter Horby’s biggest donors for research is…..Astrazeneca. His HCQ trial was botched at best, and had hallmarks of a Psy Op at worst. During the trial, 24 patients died, and hundreds of thousands of Covid sufferers were denied access to a powerful management tool used by President Trump (aged 77 and obsese) to recover from Covid19 infection within three days. CDC’s boss Anthony Fauci also stands accused of the “spoiler” element of this caper.
Three months passed, and the vaccine nationalists in Downing Street were turning glum.
But then, suddenly, happy days were here again.
On Nov. 23, Oxford and AstraZeneca delivered positive news. They announced that the regimen of a half dose followed by a full dose booster appeared to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19. Two full doses scored 62%. Oxford researchers said they “weren’t certain why” the half-dose regimen was much more effective. They still aren’t. And we still don’t know whether this “safe vaccine” arrived through sheer luck…or if it actually ‘moved on’ as a concept at all after June 17th 2020.
But we do know this: MHRA, Britain’s medicines regulator, decided to take the Astrazeneca product seriously and, very quickly, gave it an emergency use certificate.
The agency is headed by June Raine, a doctor who trained in general medicine at Oxford. The university’s website shows she has made donations, given talks and performed volunteer work for the University.
Ms Raine vehemently insists that she has declared these things and thus there is no interest conflict. Whether those two things go together must remain a matter for the individual reader’s judgement.
The nagging questions that remain
There is fuddle, muddle, obfuscation, distraction, contradiction and thus confusion in this case history. But the biggest single cause for concern is the late July to late November four month period of Virusecrecy….and to the best of my knowledge, no other site beyond this one has pointed it out.
One lady came close: Marie-Paule Kieny, a vaccine researcher at INSERM, the French national health-research institute in Paris, said she thought vaccine research groups should share more information about clinical-trials held in future. The transparency bar, she believes, should be set much higher: “When ultimately a vaccine will be made available, public trust will be paramount to ensure public-health impact. And trust needs transparency.”
Correct. Throughout Triple V’s development, the lighting was at best dim. After July 17th, it was followed by total darkness. And then there was Light.
Dubious science is bad enough, but unexplained miracles are unacceptable, and clutching at cures is unspeakably dangerous.
That may be an unfair soundbite; but if so, then the challenge is easy enough for Oxford-Astrazeneca to accept: both they and the Hancock > Boris > Whitty > Vallance axis should immediately release everything from the ‘Nixon White House’ erased tapes in this calender of censored conceit.
In the meantime, the thinking person’s conclusion has to be the same: the case for vaccine safety remains Not Proven.
Postscript: Horby has claimed to Reuters that he was in Wuhan in late 2019. What was he doing there?