Polityka i szczepienie

A brief summary in English: There are significant economic and social divisions in Poland, with the South-East and East more socially conservative and economically disadvantaged and more attached to their Roman Catholic faith. People there tend to vote for a populist party PiS and are sceptical about vaccination. The maps compare the proportion of voters for PiS in 2019 elections and vaccine uptake as of June 2021; the last map shows the availability of vaccines, demonstrating that it is the uptake not lack of supply that affects the Eastern Wall.

Jak każdy inny kraj, Polska ma głebokie podziały ekonomiczne i socjologiczne, uwarunkowane historią i polityką. Tak zwana Ściana Wschodnia, obejmująca wschód i południowy wschód, ma tendencje do bycia bardziej konserwatywną, jak i słabszą ekonomicznie. W wyborach w 2019 ta część Polski głosowała w większości na PiS.


Podobnie jest też w Polsce centralnej i pólnocnej – obszary w niekorzystnej sytuacji gospodarczej, bardziej socjalnie konserwatywne, wybrały partie populistyczne, związane ściślej z Kościołem.

Socialny konserwatyzm, gorsza sytuacja ekonomiczna jak i sceptycyzm hierarchii Kościelnej do szczepionek powoduje, że bardzo podobnie wygląda mapa powiatowych wskaźników szczepień.


Obszary niebieskie na obu mapach to miejsca gdzie PiS zdobyło większość w 2021 – i gdzie ludzie są bardziej sceptyczni odnośnie szczepienia.

Nota bene, ten nierównomierny rozkład szczepień nie jest spowodowany brakiem szczepionek albo niższym dostępem do świadczeń zdrowotnych, jak pokazuje mapa dostępnych szczepionek.


Tak więc, szczepionki są dostępne mniej więcej równomiernie, ale wskaźnik szczepień nie jest.

Co z tego wynika? Po pierwsze, jest to kolejny dowód na głebokie podziały w polskim społeczeństwie. Po drugie, nierównomierny poziom szczepień może w przyszłości (“czwarta fala”) spowodować kolejny wybuch epidemii.

A po trzecie, wskazuje jak wiele jest jeszcze do zrobienia w zmaganiu się z nierównościami ekonomicznymi, socjalnymi i kulturalnymi.

Juggling vaccination numbers

At today’s press conference, the Vaccine Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has been presenting some numbers:

He says 82% of adults have had a first dose, and 60% have had a second dose.

He says if 85% of all adults are double vaccinated, and the vaccines are 85% effective, then the protection level is 72%. That means 28% of the population would still remain unprotected.

UK Covid live: 16,135 new cases reported – highest total for more than 4 months | Politics | The Guardian

While all these numbers are correct, they need a bit of unpacking and unpicking. While they sound very positive – and, no doubt, the UK vaccination drive is amazing – they are hiding some slightly worrying facts.

Firstly, in the UK there are about 16 million people in the age band 0-19 years and 51 million people 20 years old and above. Assuming 82% applies to those aged 19 and above (and extrapolating England %s to the UK), this means 63% of the whole population. For the double dose, 60% of adults correspond to only 46% of the total population.

It is quite startling that the government is excluding young people and children from the calculations. I think we do have a pretty strong evidence that they also become infected and are capable of infecting. While the symptomatic proportion, hospitalisation and death rates are lower for younger people, it is naive – or dangerous – to exclude them.

Assuming further that the mix of the vaccines is 50% Pfizer/Moderna to 50% AstraZeneca, and the efficacies of 33% both types single dose, and 66% and 98% for two doses, we get 43% effectively protected and 57% effectively unprotected. This also assumes 100% Delta strain (which is not too far).

63%-46%=17% is only jabbed once and with 33% efficacy, it is only 5% population protected.

46% have double dose: 23% with Pfizer (22.5% effectively protected) and 23% with AstraZeneca (15.8% effectively protected).

Together, 5%, 22.5% and 15.8% yields 43.3%.

Adding to it perhaps 25% post-infection immunity and assuming random distribution of those among vaccinated, we get about 60% immunity in the whole population.

This is absolutely fantastic and is certainly already making a lot of impact on the spread of the Delta variant. In other words, Delta would have spread much quicker and possibly reached much further than we expect it to go.

But it also means that we are not yet safe and indeed that there is still quite a lot to do.

Infection fatality ratios, or why SARS-CoV-2 is not flu, continued

Ill sick middle aged woman sneezing blowing running nose holding tissue sit on bed, upset old mature lady caught cold got flu influenza grippe symptoms drink hot tea taking medications at home alone

Even after more than 18 months of COVID-19 outbreak, there are still voices questioning the severity of the virus as compared with, for example, the seasonal flu. Although the evidence for adults has been overwhelming and is rarely questioned these days, there is an ongoing debate about children and young adults.

The impact can be measured by the Infection Fatality Ratio, IFR, the per cent of those infected who die of COVID-19. As the name suggests, it is a ratio of two numbers: fatality (numerator), i.e. the number of those who died from COVID-19, and infection (denominator), i.e. the number of those who became infected.

There is a pretty good definition of who counts as dying from COVID-19, including a doctor diagnosis and time from infection. This procedure attempts to exclude that those who acquired COVID-19 but then die from other causes. We will never know the exact number, but with all procedures, we can be sure that the numerator is quite well determined.

The denominator, in contrast, is a bit tricky. As I described elsewhere, the number of those infected – as opposed to those showing symptoms – is not easy to estimate. There are basically two ways to do this, one using models and one using community testing; preferably the two methods are used together. Thanks to massive testing we are now in a reasonably good position to estimate the numbers of people infected at any given point.

Taking the ratio, we arrive at the following graph:


Red points correspond to results of different studies, using different data sets and methodologies, estimating the IFR for COVID-19. In contrast, blue points are for seasonal influenza, as estimated in different years (2014-2019).

The first thing to note is that both flu and COVID-19 are much more deadly to older patients than to young ones. The scale above is logarithmic, and so the difference is actually quite large. 2 in 1,000 of 80-years-old flu sufferers are expected to die (0.2%) from seasonal flu. In my age class, this drops to 0.02% (2 in 10,000), but it is still quite high (on the flu-related deaths, see my post here).

I was astonished to find that many people seem to be quite relaxed about this level of deaths. In fact, a lot of times, the argument goes like this: We have been OK with the flu deaths so far, and COVID-19 is not much worse, so why do we suddenly do all the lockdowns?

I think this argument is wrong in two ways. Firstly, have we been doing enough to protect these people every winter before COVID-19? Or, have we been accepting that the cost of doing more (economically and socially) to protect the vulnerable people from flu-related deaths, is too high?

Secondly, COVID-19 is not flu, as most red points in the graph above are well above blue points – with a possible exception of 1-year-olds and younger. The COVID-19 IFR is the astonishing 10-30% for 90-year-olds, dropping to 0.2-1% in my age bracket, and to 0.005-0.05% for my children (who are young adults). This is as much as 25 times higher than for the seasonal flu for older individuals, but even for young ones, it is 3-5 times higher.

There are some studies that suggest that COVID-19 and flu have similar values of IFR for children and a couple of studies that suggest it might be less deadly, but these studies are in minority. The Perez-Saez study (with a very low IFR for 10-19-year-olds) is actually quite old (February-June 2019) and based on the data which show no deaths in this age range (and therefore the value is heavily influenced by the assumptions of their statistical model). Their credible range in that age class is 0 to 0·0033 in that category and so would extend well into the blue range in the graph. Similarly, Molenbergh’s paper is also from the first wave, but at least has some data in that age range.

Why is it so important to understand these numbers? Firstly, COVID-19 is much more deadly than the seasonal flu. It is no wonder that the excess deaths records show such an increase at the peaks of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Secondly, while younger people can fight off the virus much better than older ones, they are still more affected by COVID-19 than by the flu. This extends even to very young children. In other words, even if you are young, you have a much higher chance of dying from COVID-19 than you had a chance to die from seasonal flu in other years.

Thirdly, the chances of severe complications from COVID-19 vaccines are not that well understood for children. However, extrapolating from adults, the overall risk of Astra Zeneca blood clots is approximately 4 people in a million, i.e. 0.0004%. The Perez-Saez study estimates 0.0002% risk of death in the 10-20 years bracket, but it is an outlier. Most other studies of the IFR give results in the range of 0.001-0.01% for this age group – between 1 in 100,00o and 1 in 10,000. These values are much higher than the risk of vaccine complications.

Clearly, we do not know the long-term effects of vaccination for both adults and children, but given that the risk of death is high, there is a good argument for extending the vaccination to that group.

Fourthly, I have not even mentioned the “Long COVID”. There is good evidence that a large proportion of those infected by SARS-CoV-2 ends up with long-term complications. There is mounting evidence that this affects young people as well as old ones.

The lasting effects of COVID-19 are going to cause huge problems in the future, both individually – as people continue to suffer for a long time – and socially – as the public health systems will need to cope with these problems potentially for years to come.

The solution? To act quickly and decisively to suppress the spread and to follow this action with implementing strict border controls and testing to detect and stop any small outbreaks before it is too late. And, keep the vaccinating momentum, both nationally and globally.