A top Israeli vaccine advisor argued their vaccine passport scheme should be ended, and that the government made serious mistakes with lockdown policies.
Professor Cyrille Cohen, the head of Immunology at Bar Ilan University and a senior vaccine advisor to the Israeli government, spoke to Unherd’s Freddie Sayers in a long form interview about his country’s response to the virus, and what the future was likely to hold.
Despite being a proponent of the COVID-19 vaccines, Cohen noted that “their effectiveness against contamination is reduced” from their original release, adding that he and his fellow scientists were “surprised to discover at the end of the day that the vaccines are not protecting us, are not causing what we call sterilising immunity.”
Recent studies in Israel have confirmed that even a fourth COVID shot is nowhere near as effective against the Omicron variant. “We see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose. Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections,” said Professor Gili Regev-Yochay, a lead researcher in the experiment at Sheba Medical Centre, on Monday.
With Cohen highlighting that natural immunity gives people much better protection “than the vaccine,” and because “there is a very narrow gap between people vaccinated and non-vaccinated, both can get infected with a virus, more or less at the same pace,” the Israeli government’s vaccine passport plan, known as the Green Pass, should be phased out.
Cohen told Sayers that while a Green Pass is not the best way to prevent transmissions, the “political aspects” were clear to begin with, in that it would “encourage” people to get the vaccine. The comments from vaccine advisor echoed that of Israeli ministers caught on a hot mic in September last year, admitting the scheme was not “epidemiologically justified.”
“If you mix politics and immunology or health sciences, at the end of the day you get politics,” Cohen continued, arguing that when discussing and applying policies from the government, “you need to have as many possible voices around you and then make the right decision.”
Reflecting on his role in the Israeli government’s response as one of a number of vaccine advisors, Cohen said that the government made a “few mistakes,” but that the most crucial one was closing down the schools, to which he said he was “extremely” sorry. “Education was the thing we shouldn’t have touched. Never, never,” he added, saying the decision to shut down schools will likely have “some repercussions in the future.”
Looking to the future, Cohen predicted that with the spread of the Omicron variant, COVID-19 would not be eliminated from society, but would become more of a flu-like disease in terms of commonality and spread.
“I think there is going to be bad waves and better waves, with a better immunity at the level of the population, with better vaccines with better treatment,” he said. “In that sense, and I’m extremely cautious, there is a possibility that Omicron will accelerate that transition.”