This article appears in two parts because of its length. Part II will be published tomorrow Wednesday 22 December 2021.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to comment on a video they had found on Facebook, showing Dr. Matt Shelton, making what appeared to be very reasonable arguments against Covid-19 vaccination. This is the result.

At a press conference on 15 November 2021, Dr. Matt Shelton, a general practitioner (GP) in New Zealand, spoke on behalf of a group pointedly calling itself New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out With Science (the acronym for which rolls right off the tongue: NZDSOS). 

When someone has to convince you they’re ‘speaking out with science’, they probably are not, but we’ll put this to the test in what follows.

Shelton’s 18-minute talk was sandwiched between presentations from GP Dr. Alison Goodwin and psychiatrist Dr. Emanuel Garcia. 

The video has since been removed from Facebook. The account that posted it, innocuously called Pandemic Debate, is still active. The group also has a website, populated by a motley crew of anti-vaxxers, up to and including the archbishop of vaccine disinformation, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose latest book PANDA head Nick Hudson has urged me to read.

Never fear, though. Contrary to the paranoid refrain of anti-vaxxers that they are being censored, the fact that private platforms like YouTube or Facebook exercise ‘right of admission reserved’ powers against them does not mean they have been silenced.

They can (and do) rely on their own websites, and on zero-moderation sites like Rumble or BitChute. So it is with Dr. Matt Shelton, whose talk can be found here, or as part of the larger press conference here, starting at 18:38.

What follows is a fisking, that is, a line-by-line commentary. Shelton’s words will be set in bold italics, with my responses in plain text underneath. The transcript of Shelton’s talk alone constitutes 2 500 words. While this length – 18 minutes of video – made it feasible to tackle this talk in a reasonable amount of time (as opposed to a missive of, say, 7 000 words or a video of an hour), the result will of necessity be very long.

My name is Dr. Matt Shelton. I entered medical school 41 years ago. And for most of my professional career I have worked in general practice. 

Being a GP is a wonderful calling, but it doesn’t make Shelton an expert in public health, epidemiology, pulmonology, virology or vaccinology. He may have opinions, but there is no reason to consider his opinions to be authoritative. 

I want to state that my opinions, um, whilst informed and concrete, are not shared by the majority of my colleagues in the New Zealand medical workforce, and I wish to refer people to New Zealand government sources to obtain the wide range of views on COVID-19 and the vaccination. 

At first glance, this seems a generous and humble disclaimer, but since both the other speakers at the press conference offered similar disclaimers, it is more likely to be a ploy to try to evade legal responsibility and professional consequences.

Thank you, Alison, for recounting your professional journey, um, that many of us can relate to. 

As the context suggests, Dr. Alison Goodwin spoke before Shelton. Among her claims, she said she remains ‘open to the possibility’ that Covid-19 vaccines can make people magnetic. 

This surprising claim was made by ‘osteopathic’ doctor Sherri Tenpenny, another of the Disinformation Dozen, in the Ohio State Legislature, which evidently sets very low standards for who may address it. (I’ve made my opinion of osteopathic physicians clear in this article about superquack Joseph Mercola.)

A demonstration before that very same legislature failed in embarrassing fashion, in part because the nurse doing the demonstration did not seem to be aware that aluminium is not affected by magnets. 

This is what happens when ignorant people read, and promptly misinterpret, scientific papers. Tenpenny’s claim has been thoroughly debunked, yet Dr. Goodwin remains ‘open to the possibility’.

But this isn’t about Dr. Goodwin, so let’s get back to Shelton.

We formed NZDSOS precisely because of the commonality of concern around major red flags, particularly dismantling of longstanding ethical structures and agreements.

Note that he doesn’t specify which ‘ethical structures and agreements’ have been dismantled.

We weren’t frightened of COVID-19, but we’re intensely curious to learn as much as we could about the biggest medical story of our careers.

Of course. ‘We’re not antivaxxers; we just have questions. Nothing wrong with asking questions, is there? Isn’t that what science is all about?’

The thing is, science isn’t conducted on public platforms like BitChute. It isn’t pursued in press conferences. Science isn’t prosecuted in the court of public opinion. 

If doctors have questions, they are perfectly free to raise their concerns in letters to medical journals, where their concerns can be addressed by scientists with the subject-matter expertise these doctors evidently lack.

We were eager to learn from the success with safe, well known and understood repurposed and cost-effective therapies that were reported in the medical journals, but then undermined with fake clinical trials.

He is likely referencing ivermectin here, as he does later on. Repurposing drugs is not controversial, and has indeed been a subject of medical research. One of the main antivirals currently in use against Covid-19 is remdesivir, which is itself repurposed, having first been used against Ebola.

The problem with ivermectin is not that it was undermined with fake clinical trials, but that it was supported by fabricated data and scientific fraud. Once that signal had been eliminated, meta-analysis shows no net effect of ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19. (More on the case against ivermectin here.)

We have watched as legitimate questions and observations by experts that were early on derided as conspiracy theory have proven themselves to have been accurate. 

Without specifics, this is hard to question. While there were many statements and predictions that were initially dismissed but turned out to be accurate, I’m hard pressed to recall any that were dismissed as conspiracy theory. That did happen to the lab leak theory, which has since regained some respectability, although there is still no evidence for such claims.

And seeing the initial doomsday scenarios have not come to pass, except in certain parts of the world, for reasons that are now well understood and can be used to our advantage. 

Speculative early projections, on which much of the initial lockdown measures were based, did not come to pass, indeed. The primary fear, that hospitals would be overwhelmed, only happened in a few locations. 

In May 2020, I wrote that Covid-19 was likely less dangerous than the 10 percent-plus case-fatality rates bandied about at the time would suggest. Before I’d even heard of PANDA, I criticised the epidemiological models upon which many alarmist projections were based, quoting professor Shabhir Madhi, former head of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, who said that the models were ‘back of the envelope calculations’ that were ‘flawed and illogical and made wild assumptions’.

So I can go along with Shelton that authorities around the world did not have perfect knowledge early on in the pandemic, and significant mistakes were made.

Although we are frequently derided for being only a small group of doctors, those that have signed our earlier letters to authorities and who have named ourselves represent a tip of the iceberg of more doctors and dentists, medical scientists, pharmacists, vets, economists, business people, and community leaders and high profile new Zealanders. 

We’ll have to take his word for it. To be exact, his claim is that for every member of NZDSOS, there are nine others who agree.

Pro-rata for our population of five million, we would be 1 200 doctors in the UK and about 7 000 in the US. Indeed tens of thousands of doctors around the world are voicing their concerns, joining together and sharing research, clinical experience and tactics. 

That ratio does correspond to the 105 doctors NZDSOS claims to represent on its website. That page is fairly amusing, though, in that it also records that 2 382 ‘allied health practitioners’ (read ‘quacks’) have endorsed the organisation’s position, which wildly outnumbers the actual doctors.

Is 105 a lot, though? For that matter, is 1 200 doctors in the UK and 7 000 in the US a lot? Well, the US has over a million licensed physicians. The UK has a quarter of a million NHS doctors. Twelve hundred is 0.94% of a quarter of a million. Seven thousand is 0.66% of over a million. 

New Zealand has 28 979 doctors registered with its Medical Council. One hundred and five of them represents 0.36%, so that’s an even lower share, representing 1 in 277 doctors. 

Now let’s take the iceberg metaphor literally and suppose that there are nine silent assenters for every signatory. Then NZDSOS would represent a magnificent 3.6% of New Zealand’s doctors. That’s hardly a lot, is it?

And that’s doctors of all kinds. I’ll bet if you asked actual subject-matter experts – the virologists and epidemiologists I mentioned earlier – you’d get far fewer that would go along with NZDSOS’s views.

In the US, 96% of physicians were vaccinated by June 2021, according to the American Medical Association, and of the remainder, half intended to be vaccinated. 

Suggesting that any vaccine-skeptic position involves a substantial number of doctors in the real world is, quite simply, false. They’re noisy, yes, holding press conferences and signing statements and making videos that get published and then banned, and then republished elsewhere, and spread like wildfire across social media, but they are a tiny minority.

The highest profile leaders and eminent experts have been deplatformed, censored, vilified, and in a few cases made to fear for their lives. 

New Zealand authorities have zero tolerance for vaccine-related misinformation spread by doctors, and major social media platforms are also not very tolerant of harmful disinformation, so perhaps Shelton’s persecution complex is understandable. 

Yet it should surely have crossed his mind that all this deplatforming and censoring happens because it involves misinformation that causes unnecessary deaths. One might have a philosophical discussion on whether the fact that misinformation plausibly leads to deaths should be grounds for prohibiting it, but either way, Occam’s Razor says those who find themselves kicked off major platforms are likely wrong, and no amount of Galileo-complex will change that. 

That said, I’m not convinced by the claims of censorship and deplatforming. It isn’t as if, say, the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, have been silenced. On the contrary, they have enjoyed extensive media coverage, as well as influence at the highest levels of power. 

Shelton does not identify the ‘few cases’ of death threats, which is unfortunate. My attempts to find examples instead led me to lots of stories about anti-vaxxers making death threats against their opponents in healthcare, government or the media, including in New Zealand.

Amongst our doctors, we have specialists in surgery, anaesthetics, intensive care, pathology, haematology, neurology, general practice, orthopaedics, integrative medicine, environmental health, epidemiology, public health and psychiatry, research, respiratory medicine, and radiology. In fact, we could probably start our own hospital and the way things are looking, we may have to.

Good line. 

As a group, we do consider ourselves well able to assess data and understand the science.

No doubt they do. Doesn’t everyone?

We understand the biases and the group think that all special interest groups can fall victim to, and we check and consult widely with each other to review new data. And indeed, each other. 

Then they’ll know that consulting ‘widely’ with each other is the very definition of an echo chamber, producing biased group think.

Many of us have been vaccinating our entire careers and fully understand vaccines as well as any industry-funded talking head vaccinologist who have never actually treated a real patient in their entire careers.

Merely vaccinating people doesn’t magically confer expertise in vaccinology upon the vaccinator. The vast majority of doctors or nurses who perform vaccinations have only a very cursory understanding of vaccinology. 

Even low-level healthcare workers with no professional qualifications have been trained to perform vaccinations. Vaccination isn’t some arcane mystery mastered only by the medical elite.

The ‘industry-funded’ slur is gratuitous. It is a common trope among conspiracy theorists, however, that all information contrary to their own beliefs must be tainted by money or influence behind the scenes. 

This is Shelton pre-emptively discrediting any actual experts – actual vaccinologists – who might call him out.

Further, and this is critical, we have between us thousands of years of clinical experience and of interests outside of medical practice, of governance, medical politics, clinical trials, research, and very importantly, we understand history and the human condition. 

True philosophers, they are!

The struggle to resist and overthrow tyranny, greed, and corruption, the instinct of some for control and violence, our susceptibility to the Faustian bargain of alleged safety in exchange for freedom. 

Good of him to cast it in political terms, because the contest about how to respond to a pandemic in general, and whether or not to vaccinate in particular, has become a matter of politics, and not medicine.

Shelton should note, however, that greed and corruption cut both ways

All these elements are on display as what could have been another seasonal respiratory infection plays out. 

This is a very bold claim. Covid-19 has been far, far worse than other seasonal respiratory infections, and it isn’t at all clear that a different response to the pandemic would have led to vastly different outcomes in terms of fatalities and long-term, life-changing complications.

In terms of both raw death toll and the share of the global population it killed, the Covid-19 pandemic has been the worst respiratory disease epidemic in over 100 years. Since the Spanish Flu, its severity has been exceeded only by the HIV epidemic, which has been ongoing for 40 years, and the third plague pandemic, which lasted over a hundred years, ending in 1960. All major pandemic influenzas, including the Asian flu of 1957 to 1958 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968 of 1969, were significantly less severe. 

We have never before locked up healthy people and crucified the economy… 

No, we haven’t, and by October 2020, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19 denounced lockdowns in no uncertain terms as a ‘ghastly global catastrophe’. Many of us denounced them as soon as they were imposed in March 2020.

…nor introduced a rushed vaccine with never before used genetic technology into communities already harbouring the infection. This is a recipe for disaster.

This characterisation of the vaccines needs unpacking.

First, the idea that the speed of Covid-19 vaccine development somehow implies that corners were cut is false. The most modern technique for making vaccines, mRNA technology, was already available and had already been trialled in other contexts. 

The speed with which vaccines were brought to market was a function of unprecedented advance funding, global cooperation, urgency on the part of regulators, and the ability to recruit tens of thousands of trial participants rapidly when there’s a pandemic going on. 

No efficacy or safety trials were omitted. Here’s a more detailed analysis of how vaccine development could happen as quickly as it did. 

This is a tremendous achievement of science. We don’t blink an eye when our computers are a thousand times faster than the ones we used ten years ago. Why should we side-eye new technology that enables faster drug development?

We’ll get back to rather puzzling ‘communities already harbouring the infection’ statement in a bit, but let’s just consider his term ‘genetic technology’.

This is meant to scare people who don’t understand genetic technology, of which Shelton is very likely one. 

The idea that ‘genetic’ mRNA vaccines are somehow more dangerous than other vaccines is entirely misplaced. In fact, one should expect them to be safer, since by introducing mRNA into cells directly, they eliminate the step where a genetically-modified virus (or attenuated live virus) is used to change cellular DNA to produce the necessary mRNA that codes for proteins to which an immune response is desired. 

This principle had been in development since the late 1980s, and in clinical trials, largely related to cancer research, for at least a decade. There’s nothing particularly new or scary about them. By the time Covid-19 came around, scientists knew exactly how to use these techniques to rapidly create a vaccine. 

Some of us and many of our patients have come to New Zealand as refugees from frightening and totalitarian regimes and cry, tears of frustration and pity for the kind but complacent Kiwis that might be sleepwalking into jeopardy. They recognize danger signs in our country, and we all see the harsh and cruel measures used against our Australian friends and hear this week that fully one-third of the Austrian population is confined to house arrest for being unvaccinated. What has happened to our world and what can we do about it? Where is the humanity, the tolerance and kindness, the free speech and debate, and what has happened to the institutions we trusted to guard and maintain our cherished democracy?

Good questions, albeit a over-dramatically phrased. Shelton and his small crew aren’t the vanguard of a glorious liberation struggle against crushing oppression, even if they do like to imagine themselves that way.

Many thousands of Kiwis gave their lives in distant lands so that we would not be stopped and asked for our papers. It is not mere rhetoric to call upon the spirit of the ANZACs. They sacrificed so that we need not. Will we today make it that they have failed? 

Although lockdowns are draconian, and mandating vaccinations is an extreme measure, suggesting that they spell the end of liberal democracy is overwrought.

So here we are in November, 2021, 7 billion doses of vaccine with no justification, for a moderately severe flu, but most diagnosed infections won’t have anywhere near the suffering that the flu causes.

Slow down, mate. ‘No justification’? A ‘moderately severe flu’, causing nowhere ‘near the suffering that the flu causes’? 

All of that is patently false. 

A study of hospital patients in Vienna, Austria, found that Covid-19 is four times more deadly than either influenza A or influenza B. It also causes more complications, even in patients with fewer co-morbidities, so the ‘less suffering’ claim is also false. 

A similar study in Ireland came to similar conclusions. 

The infection-fatality rate of Covid-19 is almost seven times higher than that commonly attributed to influenza, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of published research data on the subject.

An article in the journal Nature Medicine explains that the basic message of the antivax industry (and it is an industry, worth billions) is always the same: ‘Covid-19 isn’t dangerous; vaccines are dangerous; you can’t trust doctors or scientists or the media.’

This is exactly what Shelton is doing here.

Nor is there justification for the masking, lockups, and social distancing, when you look at all the evidence. 

A study covering 44 countries published just five days before Shelton spoke refutes his claim about masking. Average COVID-19 mortality per million was 288.54 in countries without face mask policies and 48.40 in countries with face mask policies.

He’s probably correct about what he calls ‘lockups’. The severity of lockdown policies appears not to be correlated to Covid-19 mortality, in Europe, at least. In South Africa, lockdowns were counter-productive.

However, another study found that early lockdowns, gradually lifted, were effective in containing infection numbers, including in Shelton’s home country of New Zealand. Yet another finds that, well, it’s complicated.

On social distancing, the science also suggests a significant effect in reducing the spread of the virus. 

It could be argued that there isn’t sufficient justification for lockdowns, or that the economic cost of lockdowns do not justify their potential benefits (which is my own position), but baldly stating that there is no justification for masking, social distancing or lockdowns goes against the science.

All so tragic, especially since there is growing evidence on the ground and from peer reviewed science that these vaccines do not prevent infection nor transmission, and do not make any difference in the number of COVID 19 cases. 

Last month, our chief medical officer admitted in a statement to the high court that he did not know if the vaccines prevent transmission and our director general of health and COVID response ministers, both stated that they hoped it would.

Well, we can help them with that. It doesn’t. Research has proved that viral load is the same or higher in vaccinated people. And a just-published Lancet study of UK households showed that the vaccinated were more likely to infect other people. And we must lock away and persecute the unvaccinated, deprive them of their livelihoods, liberty, healthcare, remove them from society, for refusing an experimental jab? For an infection that is not deadly in almost everyone? Why are we not trusting natural immunity and testing for it, as it is proving clearly superior to the temporary and inadequate results of the jab.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and Shelton provides little of it. 

The Lancet study to which he refers is likely this one, and Shelton very selectively (mis-)interprets it. Let’s go through the relevant lines in the abstract and see how.

‘The SAR in household contacts exposed to the delta variant was 25% (95% CI 18–33) for fully vaccinated individuals compared with 38% (24–53) in unvaccinated individuals.’

So vaccines do make a difference, contrary to Shelton’s claim. 

‘SAR among household contacts exposed to fully vaccinated index cases was similar to household contacts exposed to unvaccinated index cases (25% [95% CI 15–35] for vaccinated vs 23% [15–31] for unvaccinated).’

This must be where Shelton gets the claim that ‘the vaccinated were more likely to infect other people’. Well, ‘similar’ does not mean ‘more likely’. 

The key point he ignores here, however, is that the study considers only cases where a vaccinated person who had already contracted a breakthrough infection caused exposure to housemates. Although an infected vaccinated person might be just as infectious as an unvaccinated person (though see below), they are less likely to contract the virus in the first place. So vaccination does, on balance, protect against infection.

‘Although peak viral load did not differ by vaccination status or variant type, it increased modestly with age (difference of 0·39 [95% credible interval –0·03 to 0·79] in peak log10 viral load per mL between those aged 10 years and 50 years).’ 

Shelton notes this finding, without also noting the very next sentence:

‘Fully vaccinated individuals with delta variant infection had a faster (posterior probability >0·84) mean rate of viral load decline (0·95 log10 copies per mL per day) than did unvaccinated individuals with pre-alpha (0·69), alpha (0·82), or delta (0·79) variant infections.’

So while the vaccinated might have equally high peak viral loads, they eliminate the virus much faster, which makes them, on balance, less infectious than unvaccinated patients who contract the virus.

The authors of the study wrote this interpretation: ‘Vaccination reduces the risk of delta variant infection and accelerates viral clearance. Nonetheless, fully vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections have peak viral load similar to unvaccinated cases and can efficiently transmit infection in household settings, including to fully vaccinated contacts. Host-virus interactions early in infection may shape the entire viral trajectory.’

Shelton mentions only the second sentence, without mentioning the first. This is wilful misrepresentation of the science. This casts doubt either on his claim that he is ‘well able to assess data and understand the science’, or on his honesty.

I covered the question of whether vaccines reduce Covid-19 transmission in a previous article, so I’ll just repeat what I wrote then: ‘Very recent research, which includes the highly transmissible delta variant, confirms this in multiple countries. In the UK, the Pfizer vaccine reduces susceptibility to infection by 84%. Susceptibility is the risk of contracting the virus.

‘In the Netherlands, researchers found that fully vaccinated but infected patients were between 40% and 63% less likely to transmit the virus to their housemates. So that’s infectiousness, the chance you’ll transmit the virus to someone else, once you do contract it.

‘In Israel they studied susceptibility and infectiousness in combination, and found an overall effectiveness against transmission of 88.5%.’

That vaccines, despite waning immunity, continue to protect people not only against death and severe disease, but against getting infected in the first place, is patently obvious from an ongoing systematic review of all studies on vaccine effectiveness conducted by the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the World Health Organisation. Sure, there are outliers, which naysayers are wont to cite, but the vast majority of studies report ongoing substantial protective efficacy of vaccines.

Here’s an accessible debunking of the claim that vaccines don’t prevent transmission.

Of course, statements like ‘vaccines do not prevent infection nor transmission’ are of the ‘technically true’ variety. What they gloss over is that that they substantially do reduce infection and transmission, and that nobody ever claimed that vaccines would prevent all infection or transmission.

Oh, and the ‘jab’ is not ‘experimental’. That’s just antivax agitprop lingo. It has been fully trialled and approved. It is no more experimental than any other drug that remains subject to post-marketing surveillance.

The protection early on that the elderly at-risk population seem to have against the original Wuhan coronavirus is fading, just like that virus itself. In fact, it has come and gone. But we are now left with the variants. Wave after wave, in countries that have rolled out their shots. This was predicted when you vaccinate into a pandemic. This is Public Health 101. 

It isn’t Public Health 101, of course. The belief that ‘vaccinating into a pandemic’ is a surefire way to create vaccine-resistant variants, in a fashion analogous to how antibiotics generate antibiotic-resistant bacteria, is largely based on a hysterical open letter to the World Health Organisation written by Geert vanden Bossche, an unemployed virologist.

For someone who proposes to invent an entirely new type of vaccine, it is surprising to find that he has never published anything in the scientific literature on the topic of vaccines. 

Vanden Bossche claims that vaccinating into a pandemic would create an ‘irrepressible monster’ that would gravely threaten global health.

Conflating vaccines and antibiotics (which he does using the nonsense term ‘antiviral antibiotics’) is a schoolboy error. Vaccines and antibiotics do not work in a remotely similar fashion. He also conflates the Covid-19 disease syndrome and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it, which one would not expect from an expert on vaccines.

That virus variants can evolve that can escape existing vaccines is not controversial. However, this evolution is not dependent on the existence of vaccines, nor is it made worse by vaccines. It is, rather, dependent on the rate at which the virus evolves by mutation. That is why influenza vaccines need to be reformulated every season, and an HIV vaccine is so hard to produce. 

Suppressing the rate at which a virus is able to multiply is more likely to suppress dangerous mutations than create them.

Vanden Bossche appears to think that his concern is too urgent to bother with the niceties of producing an academic paper and post it on a pre-print server, for peer review and publication in a reputable journal. No, he thinks the scientific debate ought to be conducted in open letters and on social media.

Vanden Bossche’s claims are entirely speculative. He offers no evidence for them, at all. Some of his claims, and in particular the claim that it is a basic principle in vaccinology that one shouldn’t use a prophylactic vaccine in populations exposed to high infectious pressure, are blatantly incorrect

For a thorough debunking of Vanden Bossche’s claims, see here.

It’s why we give the flu jabs in the autumn. We don’t wait to see if there will be a flu epidemic because we’ve learned what can happen. 

No, that’s not why we give flu jabs in the autumn. We give them in the autumn because we can base them on the variants observed during the winter season in the opposite hemisphere, and very rapidly – in a mere month or two – produce a vaccine that targets those variants. 

But both Dr. Fauci and the world’s most successful vaccine investor have just admitted that the COVID vaccine is failing. Of course, they are talking up the boosters for which there is absolutely zero safety data, even in animals. 

‘Failing’ is a strong word. That immunity wanes after vaccination is not a sign of failure, and no, Fauci did not admit that vaccines weren’t working, but yes, he was talking up booster shots.

A typical childhood vaccine schedule includes one BCG shot, two rotavirus and measles shots, three hepatitis B shots, four against pertussis, and six doses against tetanus, diptheria and polio. 

Vaccines routinely require boosters. That doesn’t mean they don’t work.

And of course there is safety data on vaccines. You don’t avoid a headache pill because it hasn’t been tested for the specific number of times you’ve taken it before, do you?

The views of the writer are not necessarily those of the Daily Friend or the IRR.