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Vaccine 'Passports' Less Of An Issue If More Get Vaccinated, Disease Expert Says

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Mufid Majnun/Unsplash
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

On the "Florida Roundup," Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, talks about COVID-19 "passports" and the possibility of achieving herd immunity.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Friday banning the use of vaccine "passports" in Florida. The executive order prevents any Florida government entity from issuing a vaccine passport to prove that a person is vaccinated for COVID-19.

The order also bans businesses in Florida from requiring customers or patrons to provide COVID-19 vaccine documentation to gain access or services.

The Miami Heat has special sections reserved for fans who have proof of vaccination. Before the governor’s order, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival also wants attendees to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination when it begins in May.

On the "Florida Roundup," host Melissa Ross talked about vaccine "passports" and the possibility of achieving herd immunity with Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation which has been edited for clarity.

MELISSA ROSS: Let's begin with your reaction to the governor's announcement about banning vaccine "passports." There aren't really any vaccine "passports" being used anywhere. So what are your thoughts about this?

MICHAEL LAUZARDO: I think that from the beginning of the pandemic, we had anticipated that vaccines would become available at some point. We were actually hopeful of that. And we knew that there would be a time when there would be those who've been vaccinated and those who have not.

Now, what's interesting is that over the past year or so, I think public health officials and public health people and physicians like myself, we've had a sort of unprecedented level of say of what kind of goes on. In other words, we've used science to support policies. But what's happened since then, in terms of the idea of a policy about vaccine "passports," I personally think that that's a decision better made, not necessarily by the scientists and just the medical community — public health community. But that's a broader discussion because it raises some very interesting ethical and moral issues, to be quite honest with you.

So I think from my perspective, I'm really kind of trying to inform people as much as I can about the vaccines, the roles that they play to try to discount the negative, malinformed, and misinformed narratives that are out there and then let people choose.

Now, I think these are valid questions that need to be raised as far as what do vaccinated people get to do versus others. This is really not a new discussion. Because right now, vaccines are required for certain activities. And also in terms of travel, to travel to some countries, you have to have some vaccines. And yellow fever vaccine comes to mind right away, in addition to other health requirements.

So I think it's an important discussion to have. But I think that from my perspective, I think it's not one that — again, I'm ready to share my opinion all the time — but the reality that this is a broader discussion, I think, that society needs to have about how we can manage this personally. I think that if we get people informed and that they make good decisions about the vaccine, that we'll get enough people vaccinated and that this will become less of an issue with the more people that we get vaccinated.

You're conducting a study at UF this summer. You have students looking at how well the Moderna vaccine might actually prevent COVID transmission. This is important because, of course, the goal is to get to something approaching herd immunity in this state, preventing the transmission and at the same time getting more people vaccinated. Let's talk about those two things if we could. Can we get to herd immunity? And how is the study you're conducting getting us farther down the road to getting past this pandemic?

Very good questions, and you bring up some very great points. So, in terms of the idea of herd immunity, I believe that we're going to get there. We'll continue to work hard to get there right now. I think that now that things have opened up, we're going to really be the real test of vaccine hesitancy.

So, in other words, we're going to have a lot of people that have been eager to get it, but then eventually, we'll see how high the percentages can get. We also have to keep in mind, in terms of when we think of vaccine hesitancy, in the way it's been frequently portrayed, and understandably so, it is portrayed as we get to this magic number. It's 65%, 70%, 80%. Where is that magic number? And the reality is, is that we get benefits with every single person that gets vaccinated. That's one more dead end in the transmission of this virus. And when those transmission dead ends build to a critical mass, then it's almost impossible for the virus to spread.

Now, I think that will certainly happen at some point. My hope is that April is going to be a very pivotal month. And so we've got to work hard not just to improve attitudes about vaccines, but also access. So, in other words, expanding that as much as we can to entire communities, not just segments and people that normally use those resources.

Again, we're very excited to be a part of that, part of our comprehensive approach to addressing COVID in our community. And when I say our community, I mean Florida as a whole and the university's role statewide. But I think it's also important that we're answering a question, as Dr. [Anthony] Fauci announced during his press conference last week.

That this is going to answer an important question and that we know that the vaccines are very effective in preventing severe illness, that we know that they're very effective in preventing deaths. That's obviously the most important outcome related to COVID-19. But what we don't know as well — there's emerging evidence, but it's still an open question — is that can people who've been vaccinated ever transmit to anybody else?

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Denise Royal