NBC News in Jacksonville, Florida, has a report about “experts” discussing COVID-19 vaccine passports. New York is already piloting a smartphone app called Excelsior Pass to require proof of vaccination for entry into events at venues like Madison Square Garden. There is a discussion on whether to use these passes for international travel and other purposes. In discussing the New York application, some experts are calling for a national system, according to Gothamist:
The best implementation would involve national leadership because it could ensure that everyone uses a recognizable standard, according to [Bruce Y.] Lee, who is also the executive director of Public Health Informatics, Computational, and Operations Research (PHICOR). Otherwise, the country could end up with a different system in all 50 states—a frustrating pattern in the country’s pandemic response that public health experts have criticized as confusing and chaotic.
There are legitimate concerns about data privacy and what is effectively a two-tier system of citizenship. IBM administers New York’s system and uses blockchain. It functions like a digital boarding pass that venues and businesses can scan. However, even this is not entirely secure, according to experts.
Both reports cite China and Israel as governments that are using a similar verification process. Let’s set China aside, as they monitor pretty much everything their population does on and offline. Beijing is hardly a regime worth emulating. Israel is using a digital or hardcopy vaccination record, as reported. However, there is a twist. Recovered patients are not required to be vaccinated. According to CNN:
Now it’s [Israel is] trying to restore a sense of normalcy by giving those who are fully vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19 a green pass that will grant them access to activities that largely disappeared over the past year as the words “social distancing” and “lockdown” entered the lexicon.
A regular guest on my morning podcast from Israel, Joseph Levine, confirmed this in a Twitter exchange when he shared a picture of him and his wife dining out for the first time in months. Curious, because Dr. Fauci has recommended that recovered patients receive the vaccine, I inquired what Israel’s health experts said about the durability of natural immunity from COVID-19. Joseph responded:
Israeli epidemiologists tested blood samples donated between 2015 and 2018 for natural immunity. They found numerous samples that fought off the virus despite no exposure. They concluded either these people have "cross reactivity with earlier stains, or natural immunity.
— יוסף חיים (@Rabbi224) March 16, 2021
In searching for the source, it appears Israeli authorities reported it, but the study likely occurred in the United States. In a review of the research on preexisting immunity to COVID-19 published in September of 2020 in The British Medical Journal (BMJ):
In a study of donor blood specimens obtained in the US between 2015 and 2018, 50% displayed various forms of T cell reactivity to SARS-CoV-2. A similar study that used specimens from the Netherlands reported T cell reactivity in two of 10 people who had not been exposed to the virus.
In Germany reactive T cells were detected in a third of SARS-CoV-2 seronegative healthy donors (23 of 68). In Singapore a team analysed specimens taken from people with no contact or personal history of SARS or covid-19; 12 of 26 specimens taken before July 2019 showed reactivity to SARS-CoV-2, as did seven of 11 from people who were seronegative against the virus. Reactivity was also discovered in the UK and Sweden.
The passage is annotated with the original studies. While the review acknowledges that these studies were relatively small, they do display a phenomenon that should not have been ignored. It could have provided insight for better modeling of the pandemic. The annotated studies show the reactivity was occurring through several different immune system mechanisms. This immune reaction is a possible explanation for the wide variation in clinical presentations for COVID-19. If well understood, researchers could potentially develop tests to predict disease severity. It could also explain why the 73-year-old wife of a 75-year-old man hospitalized with COVID-19 in my community has antibodies without ever having gotten sick or tested positive. Her doctor told her she doesn’t need to be vaccinated.
Alessandro Sette, an immunologist from La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California and an author of several of the studies, told The BMJ, “At this point there are a number of studies that are seeing this reactivity in different continents, different labs. As a scientist you know that is a hallmark of something that has a very strong footing.”
How strong, should have been the question that health experts were very interested in studying. As several cited studies noted, this finding could be predictive of a durable immune response to COVID-19 following recovery. Studies that have followed patients who recovered from COVID-19 for at least eight months indicate this may well be the case in a November 2020 New York Times article.
As Dr. Beda Stadler, a Swiss biologist, emeritus professor, and former director of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Bern, observed upon hearing the initial findings of these studies in June of 2020, the preexisting immune response is the only rationale for “asymptomatic” COVID-19. Stadler discards the notion of the “healthy sick” altogether and meticulously explains the elegance of our immune response to viruses it recognizes, how it disposes of them, and how these positive tests were turned into “asymptomatic” cases. For the curious, here is an accurate English translation.
In a quick review, the vast majority of the annotated studies in The BMJ and The New York Times article that are optimistic about preexisting or durable immunity to COVID-19 are on PubMed, a website run by a division of the NIH. The only member of the White House advisory staff who tried to talk about them was Dr. Scott Atlas, as he felt it was important to reduce fear and anxiety for the public. For his trouble, he was fact-checked and vilified. The fact check is misleading at best if you read the research.
Civil liberty questions aside, vaccine passports are a premature and uniformed idea. At a minimum, recovered patients should be exempt while the immune response’s durability continues to be studied. For SARS, COVID-19’s first cousin, it lasts at least 17 years. And until our “health experts” examine preexisting immune responses and there is an available test for the same, no one should be forced to get a vaccine to move freely in society. After the year they have put us through, it is the least they can do.