Professor Cyrille Cohen is head of Immunology at Bar Ilan University and a member of the advisory committee for vaccines for the Israeli Government. In a wide-ranging and forthright interview, the Professor tells Freddie Sayers:
The Green Pass / vaccine passport concept is no longer relevant in the Omicron era and should be phased out (he expects it to be in short order in Israel)
He and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that the vaccines did not prevent transmission, as they had originally hoped
The biggest mistake of the pandemic in Israel was closing schools and education
Widespread infection is now an inevitable part of future immunity — otherwise known as herd immunity
Omicron has accelerated the pandemic into the endemic phase, in which Covid will be “like flu”
"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".
On the behavioural science behind the Green Pass:
"You have also to understand that the Green Pass is not necessarily — and that’s not a secret — it’s not necessarily to prevent transmission. 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 the risks and rewards of herd immunity:
"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. I’m not saying to people go and get infected, I don’t think that this is a model that we need to adopt."
On Israeli school closures:
"There is one mistake, I think that we made, and that I’m extremely sorry for that. We have made a few mistakes, but it was education. For me education was the thing we shouldn’t have touched. Never, never."
On the acceleration from pandemic to endemic:
"I think it’s going to be like flu, 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. In that sense, and I’m extremely cautious, there is a possibility that Omicron will accelerate that transition."
On vaccine mandates: "I think that vaccination is a personal choice. And I always said, I believe it is so. But that choice has some consequences. And here, there is a problem in society. If you are over 50, 60, and you’re saying I don’t want to get vaccinated, will you be, and I’m gonna ask a provocative question, will you be willing to renounce on the possibility of getting taken care of in hospitals?"