Will vaccine passports help to end the pandemic? Maybe not.
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
Update 26 December 2021: This op-ed was written in October 2021. Now Canada is faced with record-breaking numbers of people testing positive for the SARS-Cov2 virus and a huge push for booster shots. We present a number of important issues for the general public and policymakers to consider before rushing headlong down the booster road.
October 15, 2021 – Just prior to triggering the September 2021 federal election, Justin Trudeau announced a billion-dollar fund to help provinces pay for vaccine passports. Several provinces have brought in passport systems since the announcement.
But will they protect Canadians and help to end the pandemic?
As retired public health professionals, we have studied the current COVID situation and found a number of troubling questions, some of which we present below. These questions suggest to us that the vaccine passport strategy may be counterproductive.
Why are COVID hospitalizations and deaths higher in Canada now than they were a year ago, before the vaccine rollout?
This pattern is also seen in other countries with high vaccination rates. For example, the Guardian reported in late August that COVID case numbers in England were 26 times the levels a year ago, despite the fact that 80% of people over 16 are fully vaccinated. As of October 1, daily COVID deaths in the UK were more than twice as high as one year earlier.
Why are we seeing more serious cases and deaths among the fully vaccinated?
Israel and the UK both began vaccine rollouts before Canada. Both have seen a steady rise in hospitalizations and deaths among the fully vaccinated.
In Israel, by mid-August 2021, 60% of hospitalized Israelis with severe COVID-19 were fully vaccinated. As of mid-September, coronavirus spread was reaching record highs, even though more than 2.5 million Israelis had received a third vaccine dose.
A recent briefing report (Table 5, page 20) from Public Health England shows that the proportion of COVID deaths from Delta variant among the fully vaccinated was 63% by September 12, up from 43% in June.
The numbers of fully vaccinated people hospitalized and in ICU have also been rising in Ontario since tracking began in early August.
Could there be something about the vaccine rollout that is contributing to the increased numbers of COVID cases and deaths?
Researchers have found that vaccines that keep hosts alive while allowing viral transmission lead to the development of vaccine-resistant strains. Vaccines that allow this to happen are called “leaky,” and COVID vaccines fall into this category.
Given that mass vaccination with leaky vaccines can promote development of vaccine resistant variants, our efforts to get more people vaccinated with the passport strategy could be prolonging the pandemic.
A recent communication in the British Medical Journal suggests that some of the breakthrough illnesses caused by the Delta variant might be caused by a phenomenon known as “antibody-dependent enhancement” of infection by vaccines.
Do unvaccinated people put others at higher risk of catching COVID?
The Centers for Disease Control in the US concluded in July that vaccinated individuals infected with Delta variant may transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated.
According to data (Table 2, page 13) in the latest weekly COVID surveillance report from the UK, rates per 100,000 of new COVID cases are higher in the fully vaccinated than the unvaccinated for all age groups over 30.
A recent study by researchers in the UK suggests that both the vaccinated and unvaccinated spread COVID at equivalent rates within three months of the second shot. Since the majority of Canadians are now vaccinated, the majority of new cases are likely to come from fully vaccinated people. It seems clear that unvaccinated people do not present any additional risk to their fellow citizens.
It is also important to note that experts recently concluded it is futile to try to eradicate the virus through herd immunity. According to the UK’s scientific advisory group, there will always be variants, and failure of the current vaccines is “almost certain”.
Why have Canada and other Western nations put all their eggs in the vaccine basket when prevention and early treatment can significantly reduce the chances of infection, serious illness and death?
Several effective COVID-19 treatments that significantly reduce COVID cases, severe disease and deaths, are available and advocated by physicians worldwide. Many countries have adopted early treatment strategies. In general, drugs recommended for use in early treatment have low risks of serious adverse effects.
By contrast, COVID vaccines appear to be causing significant numbers of adverse reactions and deaths. Adverse events reported in the US, UK, Europe, and Canada include blood clots, heart inflammation, miscarriages, paralysis, severe allergic reactions and neurological problems such as Bell’s Palsy.
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System in the US has recorded a dramatic spike in adverse events since the mRNA vaccine rollout, and although it is only a passive reporting system, this alarming signal merits careful investigation. In spite of our urgent need to fix the pandemic, we run the risk of ignoring inconvenient observations at our peril.
Should young people be pressured to get vaccinated when they are at low risk for COVID?
Young people are at very low risk of serious illness and death from COVID but are more susceptible to some serious adverse vaccine reactions. A recent study by Public Health Ontario reported that 146 young people were hospitalized with cases of heart inflammation after receiving COVID vaccines. In our view, the risk benefit analysis argues against vaccinating young people and children.
A review of the case for vaccine passports is urgently needed in Canada. Without a careful look at the evidence, we could needlessly prolong the coronavirus pandemic and drive dangerous wedges between Canadians on the basis of vaccination status.
Dr. David Bowering, MD, MHSc, is a retired Chief Medical Health Officer with the Northern Health Authority in British Columbia who was in that role during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. He is based in Northern BC.
Lynn Jones, MHSc, is a retired public health program manager in the Ottawa Valley. She is based in Ottawa.