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Vaccine Passport Pioneer Israel to Curb Use of ‘Green Pass’

Israel, one of the first nations to implement a vaccine pass, is to curtail its use in most places, authorities said Wednesday, despite tens of thousands of daily coronavirus infections.

The government’s coronavirus task force decided only “high-risk” events such as parties will require a “green pass” that certifies a person has been vaccinated or recovered from the virus, according to an announcement released by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.

The new rules are to take effect Sunday, pending approval from a parliamentary committee.

Facilities that have typically demanded proof of vaccination — including restaurants, bars, gyms and hotels — will likely drop the requirement if the measures are passed.

The government will soon publish a complete list of places were the pass is still needed, a task force spokesperson confirmed to AFP.

The change comes as cases of Covid-19 continue to remain at all-time highs, with more than 60,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday and 2,618 Covid patients in hospital.

Epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch, who sits on an expert panel advising the government on Covid, said the changes in the green pass made sense because vaccinated people were still being re-infected.

“To continue the green pass in the same way can create false assurances,” he said.

“It’s not reducing infections in closed spaces like theatres. It needs to be used mainly for high-risk places like hospitals, elderly care homes, or events when you are eating and singing and dancing.”

Still, he said it would be “a mistake” to do away with the green pass altogether as Israel did in June 2021, only to reinstate it when cases surged again.

The new rules would also shorten the validity of the green pass to four months for people who received two vaccine shots. Those who received a third or fourth booster would see their green pass last indefinitely.

The task force further recommended that even unvaccinated people would be able to board a flight from Israel without a coronavirus test, provided their destination country did not require one.

Bennett has vowed to avoid the strict closures Israelis endured earlier in the pandemic, before the vaccine rollout was complete.

Coronavirus cases are also surging in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority announced it would close schools for 10 days from Thursday due to the virus.

Source : France 24

Like COVID-19, Digital Passports Could be With Us Forever

Caylan Ford wrote . . . . . . . . .

When a government radically alters the way we live and relate to one another, it should be able to explain, at a minimum, why it is doing so. And when their plans involve extraordinary new powers to surveil, coerce, and control the population, we might also hope for an account of how and when those powers will be rescinded, and what limiting principle will constrain their use.

Proponents of digital health passports have failed to clear even the most basic of these hurdles. Instead, they have offered conflicting, unrealistic, and sometimes incoherent explanations of what the new digital passport regime is meant to achieve.

Are vaccine passports supposed to let us “finish the fight” against SARS-CoV-2, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised? Of course not. There is no “finishing the fight” against an endemic virus.

Will the passports end transmission of the disease? No. The vaccines are not designed to stop transmission, and the virus can be spread by vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike. Is the point to ensure that hospitals and ICUs are not overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients? That is a legitimate goal, but it’s undermined when vaccine mandates result in the firing or suspensions of thousands of front-line healthcare workers, many of whom already have natural immunity.

Maybe the passports are just a psychosomatic measure, meant to help vaccinated people feel safer and less anxious as they go about their lives. Or are they a blunt instrument to drive up vaccination rates in hopes of achieving herd immunity? If so, how high does the rate need to be? 80 percent? 90 percent? 100 percent? What will we do when the vaccine’s efficacy fades, or if new variants emerge with mutated spike proteins that escape vaccine-induced immunity? No one seems to know.

Lacking clear or realistic objectives, there is no way to evaluate the success of these new public health measures. And if success or failure cannot be measured, neither can they be declared.

This should worry us, because the elected leaders currently enacting vaccine passports have not committed to any limits—either practical or temporal—on these new powers.

We should not be overturning our most taken-for-granted social norms without first considering the risks and probable long-term consequences. Because once we go down this road, we may ruefully discover that there is no off-ramp.

If you believe that unvaccinated people are uniquely responsible for spreading SARS-CoV-2 and prolonging the pandemic, then you might not see the problem with mandates and digital health passports. You may even agree that unvaccinated peoples’ movements and liberties should be severely restricted, and their reticence and selfishness punished until they do their part and act responsibly. This attitude is reflected in President Joe Biden’s statement that “our patience is wearing thin” with the unvaccinated, or remarks by Prime Minister Trudeau to the effect that “those people” are endangering “our children.”

But the assumption that unvaccinated people are a significant public health risk is at best overstated and reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the virus and the purpose of the vaccines.

Covid-19 vaccines are not designed to stop transmission of the disease or eradicate the virus. Unlike vaccines for diseases like smallpox or polio, they do not provide sterilizing immunity. They are “leaky,” and allow for frequent breakthrough infections. Fully vaccinated people infected with the delta variant have been found to carry just as much viral load as unvaccinated infected people, meaning they can transmit the disease just as easily. In the United Kingdom, which relied heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the rate of Covid-19 infections is now higher in fully vaccinated people than in unvaccinated people in almost every age category.

The vaccines also have a limited window of efficacy: after just five to six months, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing infection declines below 50 percent. One Israeli study found that its effectiveness at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 cases dropped to just 16 percent after six months, while a new pre-print study from Sweden found that by seven months post-vaccination, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines had no detectable effectiveness at preventing infection (thankfully, the vaccines’ effectiveness at preventing hospitalizations and severe illnesses is much more durable).

Even if a country achieves 100 percent vaccination coverage, SARS-CoV-2 will continue to circulate, infect, and sicken people. Barring an actual miracle, it will become endemic to the human population, just like seasonal influenza and cold viruses.

The function of the COVID-19 vaccines is not to eradicate the virus or prevent transmission but to attenuate the severity of symptoms and reduce the risk of serious illness or death. If we believe that vaccinations work—and that is the obvious assumption behind vaccine mandates—then vaccinated people have little reason to fear incidental exposure to the virus. To suggest otherwise is to imply that the vaccines are ineffective.

Children have even less cause for worry, as they face a negligible risk of serious outcomes from the virus. An unvaccinated child is more likely to die of drowning or seasonal influenza than they are to die of COVID-19, and their risk of hospitalization is far lower than that of even fully vaccinated adults. Moreover, if the virus is endemic and ineradicable, then it is preferable that people contract it and begin developing a robust immune response in childhood when their risk of developing serious illness is lowest.

And then there’s the matter of natural immunity. A sizeable portion of the population has already acquired immunity to COVID-19 after contracting and recovering from the disease. Researchers at Columbia University estimated that a third of Americans had acquired natural immunity by the end of 2020; many current estimates put the figure at 50-60 percent of the U.S. population. Natural immunity confers significantly stronger and broader protection against the virus and its variants than the vaccines alone. The largest study on natural immunity found that it is six to 13 times more effective at preventing (re)infection than the Pfizer vaccine.

A sizeable portion of the population has already acquired immunity to COVID-19 after contracting and recovering from the disease.

From either an ethical or an epidemiological perspective, it makes no sense to require people to get vaccinated against an illness for which they have already acquired superior immunity. This is especially true under the circumstance that many developing countries are still struggling to procure enough vaccines for high-risk populations that actually need them.

Another justification for vaccine passports mirrors the early pandemic calls to “flatten the curve.” Compared to immunologically naïve people, recently vaccinated people do appear less likely to contract or to transmit COVID-19. Through mass vaccination and routine “booster” shots, it may therefore be possible to slow the spread of the disease and lower its overall prevalence in the population. The point is not to eradicate the virus—that can’t be achieved with current vaccines—but to delay its inevitable progression to an endemic illness and reduce the number of people getting sick at a given time.

For jurisdictions concerned about COVID-related strain on hospital capacity, reducing the overall level of community transmission is an understandable goal. But the trajectory of viral outbreaks is unpredictable, and this one has proved stubbornly impervious to containment measures. A new study in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that there is no discernible correlation between an area’s vaccination rate and new COVID-19 cases; if anything, higher levels of vaccination were faintly correlated with an increase in new cases.

More worryingly, a contingent of immunologists have warned of the possibility that mass vaccination strategies (as opposed to targeted protection for the most at-risk individuals) could actually make the disease more virulent. Viruses want to survive, and they evolve and mutate in ways that help them do so. Because existing vaccines train the immune system to recognize only one part of the virus—the spike protein—mutations to the spike protein can make the virus less detectable to the immune systems of vaccine-dependent persons. In a population with extensive vaccine coverage, selective evolutionary pressure will favour variants with mutations to the spike protein (the delta variant is one such example). Rather than contributing to herd immunity, mass vaccination might end up undermining it, leaving us with more transmissible variants, and less robust immune responses.

This remains, for now, a speculative possibility. Like so much about this virus, we can’t evaluate these risks with a high degree of confidence, and that is all the more reason to proceed with caution and humility. But instead of admitting uncertainty, our elected leaders have done the opposite, staking their political legitimacy on the promise that vaccine passports and social segregation will end the pandemic. This risks creating a “path dependency” problem: with each step that a government takes along a particular policy path, the political cost of reversing course rises.

There are plausible public health reasons for governments and health authorities to want to drive up vaccination rates, particularly among older individuals and those with co-morbidities who are at greatest risk of being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19. But there is no compelling epidemiological justification for segregating vaccinated from unvaccinated people. Whether or not a person holds a digital vaccine passport is not a reliable indicator of their immune status or the transmission risk they pose to other. Yet the failure to produce a QR code on demand is almost certainly a sign of something else: deviant non-conformity.

Social comity and openness will suffer in a society filled with digital checkpoints, where neighbours are told to be suspicious of each other’s health status, families shun their unvaccinated members, and where every shop, café, and theatre is required to turn away customers who don’t carry the right digital papers. (As I write this, a woman at the café table next to mine is describing one of her friends as “filthy” for refusing vaccination; her companion agrees that the friendship must end).

To the extent that vaccine passports are plainly irrational — for example, by failing to recognize natural immunity — compliance with such a regime is demoralizing. And like so many emergency or war-times measures of times past, we can expect these new mechanisms of surveillance and control to remain with us in the post-pandemic era, repurposed for new ends.

If you support the use of digital passports, it’s probably because you agree with the criterion on which they discriminate. You are vaccinated, and you want other people to get vaccinated. You may even believe that non-compliant individuals deserve to be socially excluded. But what if the standards change? What if, one day, your QR code flags you as an undesirable, based on criteria that seem arbitrary, unjust, or entirely mysterious? We speak of totalitarianism as the image of the boot stomping on the human face forever. This is not a boot, but an algorithm in the cloud: emotionless, impervious to appeal, silently shaping the biomass.

Source : The Hub

Read also at CARDUS

Vaccine Passports Are a Failure. Here’s What to Do Instead. . . . . .

Vaccine Passports Would Allow Infections to be Missed

“Vaccine passports” that exempt vaccinated people from regular COVID-19 testing would allow many infections to be missed, Israeli data suggest.

Researchers analyzed infection rates in citizens returning to Israel through Ben-Gurion airport, for whom PCR tests upon arrival are required regardless of vaccination status.

“Surprisingly,” in August 2021, the rate of positive tests among vaccinated travelers was more than double the rate among the unvaccinated, said Retsef Levi of the MIT Sloan School of Management, coauthor of a report posted on the SSRN server ahead of peer review.

Travelers who had received the second dose of the Pfizer (PFE.N)/BioNTech vaccine within the past six months or who had received a booster dose were considered vaccinated. The group considered to be unvaccinated included the never-vaccinated and those whose most recent shot was more than six months prior, given evidence of waning vaccine efficacy by then.

In September, when the Israeli government was recommending booster shots for all adults, the positive-test rate dropped among vaccinated travelers and was about 3.5 times lower with vaccination than without. By October, the positive-test rate in the vaccinated group, while still lower, had started to climb again, Levi said.

The data suggest that limiting frequent COVID-19 testing to unvaccinated people would “pose potential risks by reinforcing the misrepresentation that vaccinated individuals are protected from infections.”

Source: Reuters

Vaccine Passports Could Fuel COVID and Cost Venues Millions, Says Leaked U.K. Government Report

Ben Riley-Smith wrote . . . . . . . . .

Vaccine passports could fuel the spread of Covid-19 by encouraging people to go to poorly ventilated pubs instead of large venues, the Government’s own impact assessment has warned.

The policy would also slash turnover for the organisers of events required to use vaccine passports, and necessitate the hiring of thousands of new stewards which may be hard to deliver, it was concluded.

The Telegraph has seen an internal analysis of the economic and social impact of Covid-19 certification, written by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS].

Across the 13 pages, marked “official sensitive” and dated from early September, are a series of concerns about how the policy would work and its knock-on implications.

One section of the impact assessment responds to whether the policy could have “any displacement effects to other types of venues not included for certification”.

The document reads: “There is potential displacement between live events venues and hospitality venues. A core concern in the sector is that certification could displace activity and business away from music venues to, say, pubs with music and late alcohol licences, etc. which could be counterintuitive and potentially counter-productive.”

It goes on to state: “Similarly, if certification displaces some fans from structured and well ventilated sports stadia, this could lead to them attending unstructured and poorly ventilated pubs instead, where they will have access to more alcohol than if there were in the stadia. Evidence from the Euros showed spikes in cases associated with pubs even when England were playing abroad.”

Number of cases dropping

Boris Johnson has said Covid-19 certification – under which people would have to show proof of two Covid-19 jabs before entry to a venue – could be adopted in England as part of his “Plan B” for tackling any Covid-19 surges this autumn and winter, though no final decisions have been taken.

The number of new Covid-19 cases in the UK dropped on Monday, with 36,567 registered compared to 39,962 on Sunday.

Under government proposals, Covid-19 certification would be required at indoor settings with 500 or more attendees, outdoor settings with 4,000 or more attendees, any venue with 10,000 or more attendees, and nightclubs.

Scotland has already adopted a vaccine passport scheme. The first weekend of its enforcement was dubbed an “unmitigated disaster” by the Scottish Hospitality Group.

The impact assessment states that more than 5,700 extra stewards would have to be hired at big stadiums if attendees needed to have their proof of Covid-19 vaccines checked, with doubts raised over if that is achievable.

Adopting the system at Premier League games could result in “bottlenecks” outside stadiums meaning not everyone’s Covid-19 status would be checked, it warns.

It was also estimated that the turnover of affected venues could drop between £345 million and £2.067 billion if Covid-19 certification came in.

Potential positive impacts

Some potential positive impacts are also noted, with opinion polls referenced showing that more people would feel safer to attend such events if Covid-19 certification was adopted.

The disclosures – the first time the Government’s private assessment for how vaccine passports will affect the economy and society has been made public – are likely to be jumped on by critics.

DCMS sources did not dispute the accuracy of the document. A spokesman said: “There is good evidence to suggest certification would have a beneficial impact on infection rates and it would also avoid the need for capacity caps or closures.”

The certification setup the document analyses is largely the same as the one the Government issued a call for evidence on last month, though it looked at whether to apply the rules to stadiums of 10,000 or 20,000 attendees. Ministers adopted the former definition.

The full scale of the challenge of bringing in Covid-19 certification is made clear in the document.

Around six million checks would have been needed to take place in October if the system had been put in place then.

Each vaccine passport check can take between one-and-a-half and two minutes to conduct, according to real life data from the field. For stadiums with 10,000 or more fans, 5,700 extra stewards would have to be hired.

“Some venues (e.g. Premier League clubs) have stated that they are constrained by the location of their stadiums, and coupled with flow rates, the risk of bottlenecks is too great to make 100 per cent certification checks logistically possible,” one line in the document reads.

Fear of ‘unsafe’ situations

Another talks about how Premier League clubs are already carrying out “spot checks” on Covid-19 certification and mentions fears of “unsafe” situations that could be exacerbated if they were brought in for all attendees.

The key line about spot checks reads: “Given existing queues and high flow rates at PL [Premier League games] this is clearly adding to the pressures of queues, potentially making PL games unsafe and operationally very difficult.

“If this was increased to mandate every attendee being checked, this would have significant impacts on the operational viability of the matches.”

Bringing in Covid-19 certification would cost the Royal Albert Hall around £1,050 extra for each event it hosts, according to estimates contained in the document. Meanwhile each Premier League club would have to pay around an extra £285,000 a season in stewarding costs.

The document also includes various estimates for the impact on turnover if Covid-19 certification is adopted, with a “low”, “mid” and “high” estimate given in each scenario.

The “mid” estimate said one month of Covid-19 certification would see turnover for the affected venues drop by £345 million – a 2.2 per cent reduction on pre-Covid 2019 levels.

The “mid” estimate for three months of Covid-19 certification was a fall of £1.034 billion in turnover (a 6.6 per cent drop in 2019 levels) and six months was £2.067 billion or (a 13.2 per cent drop).

The document did not just contain criticism. Opinion polls suggesting scores of people would be more likely to return to large venues if Covid-19 certification is adopted are referenced.

One found a third of potential event attendees “would not visit unless all attendees had vaccine proof”.

A line in the document read: “Although the impact would not be positive for all consumer segments, overall the evidence indicates that vaccine proof would be a trigger for tempting many from the more cautious segments to return to indoor attractions and there is also growing support among those who have already returned to visiting – now outweighing those who would be alienated.”

A DCMS spokesman said: “There is currently no evidence to suggest that businesses have been impacted by lower attendance when certification is used, with various venues already using this on entry throughout the year.

“Plan B is as published in the autumn and winter plan and this document does not represent government policy. We have been clear throughout that we would only implement Plan B if evidence suggested the NHS was going to come under unsustainable pressure.”

Source : The Telegraph

Video: Why Do We Need Vaccine Passports?

An evidence-based response to the imposition of vaccine passports.

Watch video at Canadian Covid Care Alliance (2:20 minutes) . . . .

Harvard Epidemiologist Says the Case for COVID Vaccine Passports Was Just Demolished

Jon Miltimore wrote . . . . . . . . .

A newly published medical study found that infection from COVID-19 confers considerably longer-lasting and stronger protection against the Delta variant of the virus than vaccines.

“The natural immune protection that develops after a SARS-CoV-2 infection offers considerably more of a shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a large Israeli study that some scientists wish came with a ‘Don’t try this at home’ label,” Science reported Thursday. “The newly released data show people who once had a SARS-CoV-2 infection were much less likely than vaccinated people to get Delta, develop symptoms from it, or become hospitalized with serious COVID-19.”

Put another way, vaccinated individuals were 27 times more likely to get a symptomatic COVID infection than those with natural immunity from COVID.

A Death Blow to Vaccine Passports?

The findings come as many governments around the world are demanding citizens acquire “vaccine passports” to travel. New York City, France, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and British Columbia are among those who have recently embraced vaccine passports.

Meanwhile, Australia has floated the idea of making higher vaccination rates a condition of lifting its lockdown in jurisdictions, while President Joe Biden is considering making interstate travel unlawful for people who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Vaccine passports are morally dubious for many reasons, not the least of which is that freedom of movement is a basic human right. However, vaccine passports become even more senseless in light of the new findings out of Israel and revelations from the CDC, some say.

Harvard Medical School professor Martin Kulldorff said research showing that natural immunity offers exponentially more protection than vaccines means vaccine passports are both unscientific and discriminatory, since they disproportionately affect working class individuals.

“Prior COVID disease (many working class) provides better immunity than vaccines (many professionals), so vaccine mandates are not only scientific nonsense, they are also discriminatory and unethical,” Kulldorff, a biostatistician and epidemiologist, observed on Twitter.

Nor is the study out of Israel a one-off. Media reports show that no fewer than 15 academic studies have found that natural immunity offers immense protection from COVID-19.

Moreover, CDC research shows that vaccinated individuals still get infected with COVID-19 and carry just as much of the virus in their throat and nasal passage as unvaccinated individuals

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” CDC Rochelle Director Walensky noted following a Cape Cod outbreak that included mostly vaccinated individuals.

These data suggest that vaccinated individuals are still spreading the virus much like unvaccinated individuals.

The Bottom Line

Vaccine passports would be immoral and a massive government overreach even in the absence of these findings. There is simply no historical parallel for governments attempting to restrict the movements of healthy people over a respiratory virus in this manner.

Yet the justification for vaccine passports becomes not just wrong but absurd in light of these new revelations.

People who have had COVID already have significantly more protection from the virus than people who’ve been vaccinated. Meanwhile, people who’ve not had COVID and choose to not get vaccinated may or may not be making an unwise decision. But if they are, they are principally putting only themselves at risk.

Source : FEE

Vaccine Passports: Path Back to Normality or Problem in the Making?

Natalie Thomas and Alexandra Hudson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Governments and developers around the world are exploring the potential use of “vaccine passports” as a way of reopening the economy by identifying those protected against the coronavirus.

Those developing the technologies however, say such tools come with consequences such as potentially excluding whole groups from social participation, and are urging lawmakers to think seriously about how they are used.

The travel and entertainment industries, which have struggled to operate at a profit while imposing social distancing regulations, are particularly interested in a way of swiftly checking who has protection.

Among those developing passports are biometrics company iProov and cyber security firm Mvine which have built a vaccine pass now being tested within Britain’s National Health Service after receiving UK government funding.

iProov founder and chief executive Andrew Bud believes such vaccine passports only really need to hold two pieces of information.

“One is, has this person been vaccinated? And the other is, what does this person look like?”

You need only match a face to a vaccination status, you don’t need to know a person’s identity, he added.

Confirmation of patrons’ vaccination status could help the night-time economy, which employs some 420,000 people in the northern English city of Manchester, off its knees, experts say.

“We have to look at how to get back to normal,” said Sacha Lord, an industry adviser and co-founder of the city’s Parklife music festival.

While there have been experiments in socially distanced concerts and events over the last year, they weren’t financially viable, he said.

“A gig isn’t a gig or a festival isn’t a festival unless you are stood shoulder to shoulder with your friends.

“I don’t think we should be forcing people into the vaccine passports. It should be a choice. But on entry, if you don’t have that passport, then we will give you another option,” he added, suggesting the use of rapid result coronavirus tests.

Bud said vaccine certificates were being rolled out in some countries, and in the United Sates, some private sector health passes were being used to admit customers to sports events.

“I think vaccine certificates raise huge social and political issues. Our job is to provide the technology basis for making vaccine passports and certificates possible … It is not our place to make judgments about whether they are a good idea or not,” he said.

Potential issues could arise around discrimination, privilege and exclusion of the younger generation who would be last in line to be vaccinated, he said, adding he believed government was giving it careful consideration.

Source : Reuters