Maryanne Demasi is an investigative journalist with a PhD in Rheumatology. I have stolen this from her blog, dated yesterday.
COVID-19 vaccine passports are being rolled out across the world in various countries, states and regions. It’s a simple concept – no jab, no entry.
The promise? Freedom of movement and a way of reopening the economy. But only for the fully vaccinated.
The unvaccinated are banned from pubs, restaurants, gyms, hair salons, cinemas, concerts and international flights – the list goes on.
The Prime Minister of Australia says, “If you’re not vaccinated, you represent a greater public health risk to yourself, to your family, and to your community.“
Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews says, “There’s going to be a vaccinated economy and you get to participate if you are vaccinated,” recently confirming the rules would be in place until at least 2023.
Advocates say it preserves public safety. Those who comply should be rewarded with freedoms and those who don’t, should have their privileges revoked. They deny it’s coercion, they say people can ‘choose’ to participate, and that it’s akin to showing your passport at customs.
Others say it’s a form of institutionalised segregation. It inhibits free choice (my body, my choice) and unfairly subjects law-abiding citizens to punitive measures. Many fear it signals a demoralising slide into discrimination, medical apartheid, fascism, or totalitarianism.
There is punishment for non-compliance – sometimes severe. In France for example, unvaccinated people entering non-essential venues (cafes, cinemas, restaurants) without a passport, will face six months in prison or $16,000 fine.
Hence, the debate over vaccine passports rages on and protests continue in the streets with a heavily armed police presence.
There has been a lot written about vaccine passports since they were first proposed, including a rapid response in the BMJ that I co-authored with my colleague Prof Peter Gøtzsche, earlier this year.
Since then, more data has poured in from around the world and it reveals that the push for vaccine passports is underpinned by baseless scientific claims and persistent disinformation.
Jabs don’t stop transmission
We were promised vaccines with 90% efficacy, but when the highly transmissible delta variant became prevalent, it changed the game.
While maintaining the ability to lower the risk of hospitalisations and deaths, the vaccines have failed in the most important outcome required for an effective passport system – i.e. they cannot prevent people from contracting the virus, nor can they prevent transmission.
When fully vaccinated people first began experiencing ‘breakthrough infections,’ public health authorities were quick to dismiss them as ‘rare’ cases. But now it’s a different story.
The data coming out of the UK, Israel and Singapore show these are some of the most highly vaccinated countries, and yet, they are experiencing some of the highest rates of breakthrough infections in the world.
Some of the most concerning data has come out of Israel’s Ministry of Health. As delta ripped through the population mid-year, Pfizer’s vaccine was reported to be only 39% effective at preventing infections and 41% effective at preventing symptomatic disease, down from earlier estimates of 64% just two weeks prior.
Despite the concerning evidence rendering vaccine passports highly questionable, some Governments have forged ahead with legislation.
Not even the W.H.O endorses digital vaccine passports. “WHO does not support the requirement of proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to travel”, it stated recently.
In September, Denmark became the first European country to abolish vaccine passports. The UK’s Prime Minister also flirted with the idea of scrapping vaccine passports, but now as COVID-19 cases are rising among fully vaccinated people, the government is wavering again.
System is fatally flawed
As lockdown restrictions ease in two of Australia’s most populous cities (Melbourne and Sydney), the state Premiers have now rolled out the digital passport scheme.
But the rules that underpin the function of these digital passports are fatally flawed.
For example, fully vaccinated people and those with a medical exemption (see examples) are allowed entry into non-essential venues (pubs, restaurants, gyms etc), whereas unvaccinated people are banned.
It is scientifically baseless to suggest that unvaccinated people with a medical exemption pose less risk to others than unvaccinated people without a medical exemption.
Meanwhile, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are allowed to grocery shop at the same supermarket or catch public transport, with no segregation.
Also, anyone travelling to and from Australia must show proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 48 -72 hours of boarding the flight, even if they are double vaccinated, to avoid the potential spread to other passengers – itself an admission that fully vaccinated people can still transmit to others.
Advocates push back
Advocates have pushed back saying that the vaccines may not “stop” transmission but at least they “reduce” it. They argue that if less people acquire the infection, then less people can pass it on. On the surface, it makes sense – the only problem is that real world data suggests the opposite.
The most recent report from the UK government website clearly shows that, despite reduced hospitalisations and deaths, vaccinated people over the age over 30 years are twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 than unvaccinated people (see graph)
Another complication that may be overlooked by advocates is that vaccine-induced immunity against delta wanes quickly.
A recent study found that three months after being fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, people showed “no evidence of difference in transmission compared to that seen in unvaccinated individuals.”
This has motivated authorities to push for booster shots. Brits over 50 and other vulnerable groups are already being offered a third dose of the vaccine to ride out the pandemic over the winter months and Israel is already preparing to offer a fourth dose of the vaccine.
Victorians were told by Premier Dan Andrews that people should expect “booster vaccine passports” by 2022 and residents of Sydney were told by the state’s Chief Health Officer that they would have to get used to booster shots indefinitely.
So, why are vaccinated people twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, according to UK data?
Many explanations are plausible, but one circulating theory is that the vaccines can reduce the severity of disease and dampen symptoms, leading to more asymptomatic infections. Because vaccinated people feel protected by the vaccine, they may also take fewer preventative measures.
Therefore, if vaccine passports permit vaccinated people (possibly unaware they are infectious) to mingle, to travel, visit nursing homes, restaurants, gyms etc, they might unknowingly become ‘silent spreaders.’
Ron Law, a risk and policy advisor wrote a rapid response in the BMJ describing this as “killing the canary in the coal mine.”
He wrote, “Clinical trials have shown that Covid-19 vaccines suppress symptoms including cough. If the vaccines stop symptoms, but don’t stop transmission then we’ve lost our warning. No staying at home ‘just in case.’ No testing to find out our COVID-19 status. No self-isolation to protect others…Vaccinated but infected people just going about their daily activities infecting others.”
Long lasting natural immunity
Vaccine passports do not consider “long-lasting” immunity from natural infections. It is estimated that almost 220 million people have contracted COVID-19 and recovered, meaning that they have developed a robust ‘natural immunity’.
Some countries allow people who have been previously infected with COVID-19 to receive a ‘temporary’ passport – up to 6 months in Israel, Australia and the UK – after which the person’s immunity status is assumed to have expired or waned like vaccine-induced immunity.
A recent pre-print study however, found that natural immunity conferred longer lasting and stronger protection against delta infection, compared to people with a two-dose Pfizer vaccine-induced immunity.
Also, a study published in The Lancet Microbe suggested that natural immunity could last for a median duration of 16 months.
Some have even argued that there is another aspect of the immune system called “cell-mediated immunity” which is known to be more durable. After the 2003 SARS outbreak for example, researchers detected T-cells primed in response to the SARS virus for up to 17 years.
Plan may have backfired
Initially, the goal of vaccine passports was to pave the way for economic recovery and restore people’s freedoms while maintaining a safe community.
However, they have only worked to force vaccine compliance and create a two-tiered system which is likely to have a significant, negative impact on vaccine confidence. As authors of a recent article published in the journal Vaccines wrote:
“Control measures, such as domestic vaccine passports, may have detrimental effects on people’s autonomy, motivation, and willingness to get vaccinated” wrote the authors.
“Policies should strive to achieve a highly vaccinated population by supporting individuals’ autonomous motivation to get vaccinated and using messages of autonomy and relatedness, rather than applying pressure and external controls.”
Politicians fight for their people
Last week, in an unprecedented move, several Members of European Parliament (MEPs) spoke publicly about their strong objections to the disproportionate enforcement of Europe’s Digital Covid Certificate.
“Today we all stand for the defence of human rights in Europe. We must do it together, and we must do it now. We cannot wait any longer because a lot of people are suffering, losing their jobs, a lot of families are losing their right to have money to live,” said Italian MEP Francesca Donato.
The group of MEPs from a spectrum of political parties and from countries such as Germany, Croatia, Italy and Romania broke ranks to condemn the ongoing violation of human rights.
German Minister Christine Anderson MEP seemed incredulous that democratic governments would pursue this path.
“What I am worried about is the kinds of Governments that exploit this crisis in order to curb civic freedoms and to grant certain privileges or not,” said Anderson, questioning why anyone would support the idea of compulsory mandates and passports.
One reason she proposed is that many are privileged to have never lived under a communist regime (especially true of Australians) and therefore, democracy and rule of law is taken for granted.
“We have to do more to fight for this right for freedom and that is why these fundamental principles, which are anchored in the basic law of the constitution in Germany, should not be viewed as privileges that are given by the Government and then can be withdrawn,” said Anderson.
Croatian MEP Ivan Sinčić described the digital passport “as a license to spread and infect” that gives “a false sense of security” since it is not protecting the person from getting or spreading the virus.
Sinčić concluded by saying that vaccine passports are completely “illogical”, “not scientific” and “must be abandoned.”
In closing the press conference, Romanian MEP Cristian Terheş gave an impassioned speech about why we needed to curtail the ongoing violation of individual rights.
As someone who came from a former communist country with an oppressed people Terheş said, “we have not had a protest for liberty since the fall of communism…. now, we see people everywhere in Europe, Italy, France, Spain – once again, fighting for liberty. Not for higher wages, just the simple need for freedom and liberty.”