Novax Deportovic is what one person tweeted on January 5. Well, ten days later, being deported from Australia is what’s happening to tennis star Novak Djokovic, who apparently still hasn’t gotten the Covid-19 vaccine. On Sunday, Australia’s federal court upheld the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, according to Siladitya Ray writing for Forbes. A deportation obviously means that Djokovic won’t be able to play in the Australian Open, which begins this week, assuming that Djokovic doesn’t have access to a time machine or the Quantum Realm. This whole saga has served up the many problems with exempting someone from a Covid-19 vaccination requirement just because he or she had a positive Covid-19 test previously.
The Djokovic situation should have been an Australian Open and shut case at the beginning. The Australian Open required players to be vaccinated before participating in the 2022 edition of the Grand Slam tournament held each year in Melbourne, Australia. This was consistent with what’s been happening in the rest of Australia The country had used fairly aggressive Covid-19 precautions to limit the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) prior to the arrival of vaccines. Such precautions left many Australian citizens stranded overseas for over a year. So, Tennis Australia should have anticipated that Australians wouldn’t be too happy if a tennis star could somehow get around the rules that held for practically everyone else. This tweet from writer Titus O’Reily summarized what many Australians may have been feeling:
Yet Tennis Australia somehow granted Djokovic an exemption from being vaccinated, leaving the Australian Open to him. This seemed a bit of a “Djoke” to all the others who had been following the rules:
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What was Djokovic’s exemption? Well, apparently it was a variation of the “natural immunity” argument. Djokovic claimed that he tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 back in December adn therefore didn’t have to get vaccinated. However, as Ray reported for Forbes, there were a number of inconsistencies and questions about his account of events leading up to his trip to Australia. For example, one day after he supposedly tested positive for Covid-19, Djokovic appeared maskless on December 17 with young tennis players during an event in Serbia. This made people wonder whether Djokovic was being either deceptive about his positive test and visa application or very irresponsible about exposing himself to others or both. TV personality Piers Morgan described Djokovic’s application as dodgy:
And then there was this:
The entire Djokovic saga showed how it’s not easy to equate testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 to getting vaccinated. Testing positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus is like going on a date. The result of any date can be so variable, ranging from a “what was your name again” to “what do you want for breakfast again” to “what do you want our child’s name to be again?” Similarly, the symptoms and outcomes of Covid-19 can vary greatly as can the resulting immune protection. It’s not clear what kind of immune protection you may get or how long it may last. In fact, you may not even develop any immune protection. For example, as I covered previously for Forbes, one study showed that over a third of those who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 didn’t end up developing detectable antibodies against the virus.
As seen in the Djokovic case, it can be difficult to verify a person’s positive Covid-19 test. You could, of course, take a person’s word for it. At the same time, you can write the word “sucker” on your forehead in permanent ink. There isn’t a single verifiable database for positive Covid-19 tests across the world, and surprise, surprise, people can do something called lie. And in this case, lie doesn’t mean what you may do on a couch.
Moreover, the Greek alphabet of different variants further complicates evaluation of a positive test and natural immunity. Like rushing fraternities and sororities, being exposed to one version may not be the same as being exposed to another. For example, how much protection against the Omicron variant will you have if your previous infection was with the Alpha versus the Beta versus the Epsilon versus the Delta variant? And did anyone even check to confirm which variant you may have had previously? In the U.S. less than 3% of all test samples end up being sequenced to determine the version of the virus.
By contrast, vaccination provides a much more standardized exposure to the spike protein of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Moreover, multiple vaccine doses at specific intervals repeatedly expose your immune system to the spike protein. This can’t happen “naturally” unless you were to deliberately get infected multiple times at time these infections. “Oh, it’s been three weeks since my last infection, honey. Time to expose myself again,” may not play well with your significant other.
Of course, Covid-19 vaccines aren’t like concrete full body condoms. They don’t offer 100% protection. So other precautions will be needed at the Australian Open. However, requiring vaccination for entry can help keep everyone’s Covid-19 risk much more consistent. This can allow an event like the Australian Open to maintain one set of rules and precautions, rather than certain precautions for some but not others:
It also allows for more flexibility with precautions, rather than having everyone follow more stringent precautions designed for the unvaccinated.
Tennis Australia could have avoided this entire Djokovic saga by establishing stringent vaccination requirements and sticking to them. Djokovic could have avoided getting deported by getting vaccinated against Covid-19:
But as the following tweet indicated, he became “the first player to be knocked out a Grand Slam tournament after missing only two shots”:
And that double-fault led to: