The US Open tennis tournament has started in Queens and one of the world’s best players can finally compete again.
Novak Djokovic, who refused vaccination against COVID-19, was barred from entering the United States for almost two years, forcing him to miss several major tournaments including the 2022 US Open.
Like many others, Djokovic suffered from public health decision-making that was anything but followed by science.
Joe Biden, via Presidential Proclamation, banned entry into the country of unvaccinated non-citizen air travelers effective November 8, 2021.
Apparently, there was no danger from unvaccinated citizens and country travelers.
He finally lifted the restriction on May 12, 2023.
But the ban never made much sense for Djokovic or anyone else who could document a recovery from COVID infection.
Djokovic tested positive for COVID twice, in June 2020 and December 2021.
Before the pandemic, most infectious disease experts said that natural immunity usually offers better protection than vaccines.
Several studies from 2021 at home and abroad have found that this also applies to COVID-19.
A large study by the Cleveland Clinic concluded that people with previous COVID infections are “unlikely” to benefit from vaccination.
And a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British journal The Lancet in early 2023 confirmed what I and many others had long said: natural immunity after COVID infections is real, and “the level of protection that previous infection provides is at least as high, if not higher, than a two-dose vaccination with high-quality mRNA vaccines.”
Public health officials in other places – such as the UK, the European Union and Israel – produced certificates documenting the vaccination or Recovery from COVID-19 infection to facilitate travel and access to public places.
But Biden administration experts were so intent on pushing vaccines that they refused to acknowledge the existence of natural immunity after infection.
They urged everyone, regardless of previous infection, to get fully vaccinated and penalized those who didn’t.
A result of this single-minded focus on vaccines is that in the early months of 2021, when vaccine supplies were severely limited, vaccines were used to vaccinate people who were already immune, rather than targeting people who lacked immunity had.
Some of them were probably unable to get a vaccine and suffered an infection that potentially led to serious illness and preventable death.
Another result has been misguided policies leading to unnecessary travel restrictions and lost jobs and education.
Djokovic was deprived of the right to play, an injustice but by and large not a disaster.
But many first responders, such as firefighters, police officers and medical personnel who could document previous infections but were vaccinated, also lost their jobs and society at large suffered as a result.
And schools that required vaccination regardless of previous infection ensured some of their students — who were never at high risk from COVID — were unnecessarily missing out on valuable education.
The experts followed this policy even though, as Anthony Fauci acknowledged in a peer-reviewed article, vaccines against respiratory viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 typically provide “definitely suboptimal” protection against infection and rarely produce lasting protective immunity.
In other words, there was always good scientific reason to believe that COVID-19 vaccines would offer little or no protection to people like Novak Djokovic and the fans who would watch him.
This time last year, blood bank data showed that almost everyone had immunity from vaccination (26%), infection (23%), or a mixture of both (48%).
There was no reason to keep the misguided travel restrictions in place for another nine months.
I and other tennis fans are grateful to be able to see Djokovic, one of the greatest players of all time, play again.
It’s also great that the Biden administration and public health experts are finally following the science.
dr Joel Zinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Director of the Paragon Health Institute’s Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative.