For months, people in the travel industry have been buzzing about the predicted arrival of "vaccine passports" as a ticket to travel. But Iceland has added a new wrinkle to this concept.
That nation's government announced on January 29 that visitors will be allowed to enter without undergoing a test upon arrival as long as they can show proof that they have either been vaccinated for Covid-19 or—and this is the novel part—have successfully recovered from the disease. Visitors who qualify will also be allowed to skip the mandatory quarantine.
The government is, in effect, saying that it considers recovering from the disease to be equivalent to getting vaccinated for it, at least in terms of potential infectiousness.
While that may delight would-be travelers and widen the pool of those who can travel to Iceland without hassle, it's going beyond what scientists currently know.
In fact, researchers are still working to determine just how much immunity both the vaccine and the antibodies confer upon an individual, and for how long.
Recent studies seem to show that 90% of those who recover from Covid-19 have antibodies 6 to 8 months later. There's also some evidence that even when antibodies diminish, they're replaced by other types of immune cells, which are thought to be able to battle Covid-19.
But we still have no definitive answers. "There is a lingering question about the duration of the protective immune response following either virus infection or vaccination,” immunologist Irving Coy Allen told Popular Science.
Also unknown: Can those who've been vaccinated still carry the virus and infect others even if it doesn't make them sick personally?
As Anna Durbin, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Wall Street Journal: "Most vaccines prevent disease as opposed to preventing infection." Which means that a person could potentially still be infectious even if the vaccinated person doesn't become ill.
If we can figure out the answers to some of the lingering questions, it would be an interesting concept if both types of "coronavirus episodes"—actual infection or vaccine—could be used to determine whether an individual is safe enough to cross borders without testing and/or quarantine.
I should note that, right now, Iceland is not accepting visitors from the United States or from other areas of the world where infection levels are high. So this new rule change will only affect would-be visitors from the European Union (Brits are currently barred from visiting, too).
The Icelandic government is also instituting complex rules governing how visitors will have to prove they've either recovered or been vaccinated.
The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha in Brazil already announced that tourists who have recovered from Covid-19 are welcome to visit without quarantine. It will be interesting to see if this soon becomes a standard in other countries. I'm guessing it will.