Written by K. Walker on January 19, 2022
Finally, some honesty and humility from one of the experts advising on the COVID response.
Professor Cyrille Cohen is one of the top experts in vaccines in Isreal. He is head of Immunology at Bar Ilan University and a member of the advisory committee for vaccines for the Israeli Government.
He was recently interviewed by Freddie Sayers for UnHerd.
In a nuanced 30-minute interview, Prof. Cohen addressed some things that other medical experts refuse to touch on — herd immunity, disappointment that the vaccines didn’t prevent transmission, and that mistakes were made in governments’ responses to the pandemic. The interview was honest and forthright, and admitted where things went wrong — it’s not something that you generally see from the medical experts who advised government response to the pandemic.
Professor Cohen said that many experts were disappointed that the vaccines aren’t working to prevent transmission, and the Omicron variant has made that clear.
Around the 8-minute mark, Prof. Cohen discusses Israel’s vaccine passport system — the Green Pass — and says that it’s not really being enforced because of Omicron and is already being phased out in some places. He believes that it will eventually be gone completely because he admits that it was put in place to encourage vaccination. He says that there is no point in continuing the vax passports because Omicron spreads among both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
Prof. Cohen said, “Especially with Omicron, where we don’t see virtually any difference 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.”
Sayers asked what Prof. Cohen thought about jurisdictions that are doubling down on the vaccine passports including for children — for example, Australia, Canada, some countries in Europe, and states like New York and California. Prof. Cohen says that the response to the pandemic had various jurisdictions choose different strategies, but ultimately, the data shows that the vaccines don’t prevent transmission for very long and if that’s the goal, vaccine passports are pointless now that Omicron is spreading.
He then said that vaccine passports are now pointless with the spread of Omicron, but he also admitted what we all knew — it was a tool to coerce people to get vaccinated.
“You have also to understand that the Green Pass [vaccine passport] is not necessarily — and that’s not a secret — it’s not necessarily to prevent transmission,” said Prof. Cohen, “It’s also to encourage people to get vaccinated. And I don’t want to touch upon the political aspects of the green pass. But this is a reality.”
On herd immunity, Prof. Cohen said that he has a different view than others do, “Herd immunity is a consequence for me. It’s not an objective, it’s not a goal. There is a thin nuance here, if I may say, that people have to grasp,” but he cautioned, “I’m not saying to people go and get infected, I don’t think that this is a model that we need to adopt. ”
He then cited Brazil’s attempt to let the virus spread early in the pandemic that had deadly consequences.
When asked what he thought about the politicization of science, Prof. Cohen said that he doesn’t think that the way that the pandemic was handled early on was attributable to hubris, but an honest optimism that the attempt to prevent the spread of a highly transmissible virus could be successful. He notes that we did manage to do that in the past with both SARS and MERS.
Sayers then asks Prof. Cohen what he has learned during this pandemic and what he would do differently when advising the government on a future pandemic.
Prof. Cohen says that he would be much more cautious in advising for lockdowns and vaccine passports because he says that people will assess their own level of risk and behave accordingly.
Prof. Cohen said that there was one huge mistake that was made during the pandemic and the consequences are still unknown — closing schools. “There is one mistake, I think that we made, and that I’m extremely sorry for that,” he said, “We have made a few mistakes, but it was education. For me, education was the thing we shouldn’t have touched. Never, never. “
Prof. Cohen adds that that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more lockdowns for future viruses — he says that a short “circuit breaker” lockdown to “kill it off” and then go on with our lives.
This interview is worth 30 minutes of your time.
At the end of the interview, Sayers pointed out a handful of key takeaways:
Vaccine passports are no longer relevant in the Omicron era.
Big mistakes were made by governments — the biggest was closing schools and universities, which Prof. Cohen says should never have happened.
Omicron has likely accelerated the end of the pandemic phase of SARS-CoV-2 because of its high transmissibility and vaccine evasion, which means the illness will move into the endemic phase and we will probably have “COVID season” just like we have “flu season”.