The Seychelles has become a place to watch. Known as the world’s most vaccinated nation, ahead of even Israel, a third wave of COVID is hitting the archipelago despite the fact that over 60 percent of its population has been fully vaccinated — and nearly 70 percent have received at least one shot. In April the Seychelles was hopeful it was soon to reach herd immunity. But now 456 new cases reported over three days (the population is approximately 98,000) has cooled optimism there — especially since a third of the new cases were fully vaccinated (the remainder had received only one shot or were unvaccinated).

It’s perhaps too soon to draw conclusions, but it doesn’t look like good news for those hoping widespread vaccination will bring about herd immunity. The coming days will show whether infections continue to spread, although the Seychelles has now closed schools, banned sports and forbidden inter-household gatherings, which will make it hard to know if any slowing in transmission is due to vaccination or only to physical isolation.

As an island nation with a small population, the Seychelles provides an ideal test situation to observe the effect of vaccination on transmission. But a fact that remains puzzling is that in public health discussions about how to reach herd immunity, there is very little talk of natural immunity developed by people who have had COVID and recovered. Why are they not considered immune, but people who’ve never been exposed to the real virus, only vaccinated, are thought to be immunized? Isn’t this a little odd?

First, if you’ve had the real McCoy and your immune system has knocked it into the middle of next week, doesn’t that give you natural selection points — survival of the fittest? You’ve had a successful immune response, and everyone, including the CDC, agrees that your body will recognize the virus and protect against it for at least a time — but for how long? Nobody wants to talk about it. Instead, the CDC downplays natural immunity as relatively unimportant and continues to push vaccination on everyone, including the previously infected.

Just take a look at the CDC’s vaccine FAQ page. It says people who have recovered from COVID should be vaccinated, because although they probably won’t be reinfected, nobody knows how long protection lasts. Er, but what evidence is there that the vaccine offers better protection than natural immunity? Actually, a great deal remains unknown about the vaccines themselves, both with regard to effectiveness and to potential side-effects. As the same CDC FAQ page remarks, ‘We don’t know how long protection lasts for those who are vaccinated,’ and elsewhere, ‘We are still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. Until we know more about how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should keep taking precautions in public places.’ You noticed that — we’re still learning what the vaccines will actually do about COVID…and we’re still learning how effective they actually are.

Why don’t we know how long natural immunity lasts? Is it because the virus has only been around a little over a year? By now we should at least know if natural immunity lasts that long — and monitoring COVID survivors, especially those who come into contact with the virus again at a later date, should tell us more as time goes on. If everyone who’s recovered from COVID is naturally immune, that’s around 30 million people in the US alone, not counting people who might have recovered from COVID without getting tested, especially early on in the pandemic when few tests were available. Isn’t this a rather important piece of the herd immunity puzzle?

Secondly, none of the vaccines flatly claim to prevent asymptomatic or mild infection and transmission. No one should be surprised by what’s happening in the Seychelles; the vaccines only promise to prevent severe symptoms in a majority of cases (and of course time and the worldwide trial they’re carrying out will show if that actually works in real life). If that’s the case, and you’re young and healthy, wouldn’t getting a vaccine for the sole purpose of protecting other people be an empty gesture (entailing possible side-effects)? Why shouldn’t the young and fit simply go about their business until they develop symptoms — in which case they can isolate and protect the vulnerable just as well as they could if they were vaccinated? In fact, if naturally developed immunity should prove to be superior to vaccine-induced sort-of-immunity, perhaps medical professionals ought to consider encouraging young people to get COVID and get over it, as we once did with chicken pox.

But for some reason no one is allowed to discuss these issues in a mainstream context — for fear of undermining confidence in a herd immunization plan that even its own authors admit is full of unknowns. Joe Rogan said he thought the COVID vaccines were safe, but added, ‘if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.’ This provoked outrage, with Dr Fauci himself saying that contrary to Rogan’s remark, young people ought to get the vaccine because ‘if I get infected, I could do damage to somebody else even if I have no symptoms at all, and that’s the reason why you’ve got to be careful and get vaccinated’. In other words, get vaccinated for grandma. But is that fact, Dr Fauci, or is it just policy? That’s what everyone is secretly wondering. The COVID vaccines have never guaranteed prevention of infection, and the Seychelles shows that they can’t. If asymptomatic people can transmit the virus — and that has been the principle inspiring lockdowns, social distancing and mask mandates worldwide — then getting vaccinated doesn’t do any more for grandma than staying home if you feel sick.

Rogan walked back his comments later, emphasizing that he wasn’t a medical expert. But non-medical experts, even 21-year-olds, are capable of making a simple risk-benefit analysis according to known facts. Fact A: I have an extremely low chance of dying of COVID. Fact B: the vaccination doesn’t guarantee prevention of infection and transmission. Fact C: there are potential side-effects. Fact D: natural immunity on recovering from COVID is a thing. Fact E: risk is a part of life: I enjoy driving my car, going downhill skiing and eating the occasional hamburger. You don’t need a degree from Johns Hopkins to think it through.

And plenty of actual medical experts have concerns about the emphasis put on vaccines as the only possible approach to the COVID problem, without regard for other factors such as natural immunity following infection, strengthening immune systems across the population, and possible early treatments for the disease. But their concerns are not allowed into mainstream discussion: on April 30, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) issued a statement warning Ontario doctors not to ‘communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing and anti-lockdown statements’ or promote ‘unsupported, unproven treatments for COVID-19’, under pain of investigation and disciplinary action (discontent about heavy-handed lockdown measures is rising in the region). Ironically, the College noted separately that this was not intended to stifle ‘healthy public debate’!

Ironically, because healthy public debate is exactly what’s not happening. Science is not supposed to be a secret revelation inscribed on golden plates transmitted exclusively to Dr Fauci and the WHO, in which the rest of us must have blind faith even when things don’t add up. There’s a massive lack of trust in public health institutions right now — and it’s not because people are irrational, unscientific fools. It’s a direct result of the massive lack of honesty about what’s fact and what’s policy.