One of my patients, 45, does not remember having COVID but has the antibodies to prove it and the numbers are quite high. He is happy to have the immune protection while he has dodged the clinical bullet. Another patient, 20 years older, obese and at risk of complications, developed double pneumonia but recovered with the help of an infusion of monoclonal antibodies against the SARS COV 2 virus.
What do these two patients have in common? Both have developed antibodies and some degree of immunity against the virus. A recent report from the National Institutes of Health showed that this immunity can last for at least eight months.
What is still needed is a better laboratory test of this immunity, as well as permission for those recovered by COVID to go to places without restrictions. Science backs this up even if the government has not yet offered its permission. This delay in translating evolving science into policy, leaving punitive restrictions in place, has been a major problem throughout the pandemic.
Translate science into policy faster
Consider that, a week ago, more than 20% of Americans and close to 50% of those over the age of 65 had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is sure to have an impact and create pockets of community immunity. More than 80% of COVID deaths in the United States occurred in patients 65 years of age or older. COVID vaccines have been shown to dramatically decrease the severity of the disease, with increasing data showing that they decrease viral load and transmission.
More than 2 million Americans are being vaccinated daily, and this number is set to rise as Johnson and Johnson shipped 4 million doses of their new vaccine available Monday. This single-dose vaccine, which can be stored in a refrigerator for three months, has been shown to be 85% effective against serious illness and 100% effective against hospitalization and death, with a single injection.
Why doesn’t the government keep up with the science and immediately translate it into policy? Consider a new Harvard study of 1.2 million people in Israel, about half of whom had received the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. After two doses, the vaccine was found to be as effective for adults over 70 as it was for younger people, with a 94% reduction in symptomatic COVID-19, an 87% reduction in hospitalizations, and, most importantly, the prevention of 92% of all documented cases. infections, even at a time in Israel when the UK’s highly transmissible B117 variant was on the rise.
But these results, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, did not lead to an immediate change in policy here as they did in Israel. In fact, the CDC had planned to issue guidance for vaccinated people on Thursday, but is delaying it. In Israel, meanwhile, vaccination or proof of immunity against infection has become a ticket for the reopening of society. The so-called green passport now allows Israelis to enter gyms, shopping malls and restaurants, and travel to Greece and Cypress.
It’s worth it: I am getting the COVID-19 vaccine. I put my faith in science, Modern and me
Iceland allows travelers to present passports in lieu of testing or quarantine requirements, why can’t we? Why was I forced to show a negative PCR test result to enter Madison Square Garden and watch a basketball game with a small socially estranged crowd when I could have shown my vaccine test card from the Centers for Control? and Disease Prevention? Science shows that vaccination or recovery from COVID or both are much more reliable indicators than a negative COVID test, which can easily be done at the wrong time in the disease process.
Consider public health, not politics
Critics of the so-called vaccine passport say that rewarding immunity is a way of penalizing those who are not yet immune. While this may be a fair point, it is imperative to look at this more from a purely public health perspective; who is at risk and who puts others at risk. If you are in the fast-growing immune group, you are much less likely to spread or get sick from the virus. This is the end result of public health. It doesn’t mean it’s time to throw away the masks or re-gather in crowds, but it does mean you can see Grandma, especially if you’ve both been vaccinated.
COVID Model: No, the school cannot open up like the NFL. It is much more complicated than that.
A public health perspective includes more than just the ravages of the virus, it must also consider the loneliness and isolation that have been caused by efforts to control it. Sometimes these efforts are effective, especially when imposed before viral spread, but sometimes they are excessive and do more harm than good. Here is an epidemic of depression and anxiety that coincides with the COVID pandemic.
Our government has made many promises that it has not kept. We must not allow the vaccine to become another political weapon. We need to use our immunity as a bridge to reopen society and overcome our depression and isolation now before it is too late. If there is a tangible incentive to get vaccinated in terms of restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and travel, many more people will.
My mother-in-law, bedridden with multiple sclerosis, turns 80 this month. I haven’t seen her in a year, but now that we’re vaccinated I’ll be on my way to celebrate with her soon.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a member of the USA TODAY Taxpayers Board and a Fox News medical correspondent, is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. His latest book, “COVID: The Politics of Fear and the Power of Science,” was published last fall. Follow him on Twitter: @DrMarcSiegel
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 Vaccines and Immunity Are Our Ticket to Reopening American Society.