“He’s got a pass!” said the dad sitting across from me at the airport in Bismarck, North Dakota, where we were both stranded due to flight delays. He gestured to his 5-year-old son.
In Germany Natural Immunity CountsSince the beginning of July in Germany, where that family lives, if you can demonstrate proof of being COVID-recovered and then have a subsequent negative COVID test, you are considered immune. For six months anyway, according to the German government.
But in the United States, where my family lives, even those who are COVID-recovered (and show high protection via either antibody or T-cell testing) are being told they also must get vaccinated. Indeed, the CDC has been actively urging Americans who have already had COVID to get the vaccine.
CDC Urges Vaccination for COVID-RecoveredA CDC statement from August sums up the official position nicely: “New CDC Study: Vaccination Offers Higher Protection Than Previous COVID-19 Infection.”
“If you have had COVID-19 before please still get vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged the public in that release. “Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”
Natural Immunity Versus Vaccine ImmunityDespite sensationalist headlines, reinfection with COVID-19 appears to be exceedingly rare. If you are unvaccinated and have had COVID, the chances of you getting it again are slim. A preliminary report from Israeli scientists shows that out of 149,735 people in Israel with confirmed COVID-19 cases (documented via positive PCR tests) only 154 people had evidence of reinfection, which is about 1 in 1,000.
Sarbecovirus Infections Protect Against Future DiseaseThe benefits of naturally acquired immunity may go beyond protection against COVID. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is part of a family of viruses known as sarbecoviruses. Symptoms vary widely in different people, but these viruses can create severe acute respiratory syndromes that usually begin with a fever and body aches, according to the CDC.
Both of these outbreaks were self-limiting: humans managed to overcome the illnesses naturally without mass vaccination campaigns. Research on these other sarbecovirus infections is limited, but it seems that when we acquire natural immunity to these viruses, it helps protect us against future disease.
Viral Illness: Natural Immunity Provides Long-Lasting ProtectionWith other infectious diseases caused by viruses, we have seen that natural infection provides longer-lasting protection than vaccine immunity. For example, a 2017 study of adults in the Czech Republic published in the scientific journal PLOS One showed that the highest protection against the measles, as measured by antibody levels in people’s blood, was in people over 50 years of age who were naturally infected before the implementation of a measles vaccine.
Because SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus and the vaccines to protect against it only became available in January, it isn't scientifically possible to know the long-term protection offered by either the infection or the vaccines.
Immunologist: Natural Immunity Better Than VaccinationYet another large study from August looked at a database of 2.5 million Israelis and found that “natural immunity confers longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the BNT162b2 two-dose vaccine-induced immunity.”
This Israeli study found that people who were vaccinated who hadn't been previously infected were 6 to 13 times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 than unvaccinated people who had already had the illness.
Where Is The Science Behind The CDC’s Vaccine Push?Given the natural protection provided to people who recover from COVID, why is the CDC so eager to get every eligible American vaccinated, even those who have recovered and have naturally acquired immunity?
The second report cited by the CDC excluded hospitalized patients who had only one dose of any COVID vaccine less than 14 days prior. It also didn't specify if those who were vaccinated or those who were unvaccinated had a history of prior infection.
So that report sheds no light on whether vaccine immunity is more long-lasting than immunity from infection and offers no evidence to justify the idea that COVID-recovered patients should get vaccinated.
The CDC didn't mention other studies that showed findings contrary to the Kentucky study. It's unclear whether the agency reviewed those studies and found the Kentucky study to be stronger or only considered the Kentucky study in making their policy to recommend and require that the previously infected get the vaccine.
Meanwhile, much of the established science supports the superiority of acquired immunity. That fact has put some people, such as Laurie Lentz-Marino, in a difficult position as they try to balance the consequences of not complying with vaccine mandates against their understanding of what’s in the best interest of their health.
“Vaccine-induced immunity can never be as long-lasting and robust as naturally acquired immunity,” said Lentz-Marino, who taught chemistry and biology classes at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, for more than 20 years. “The human immune system knows what it’s doing. We are an incredibly successful species. There would not be close to 8 billion people on the planet otherwise.”
Lentz-Marino, 61, recently resigned from her teaching position over vaccine and mask mandates at the college.
“It’s a sad joke to think that we know better than Mother Nature. We’re going in the wrong direction. It’s really arrogant to think that we can re-design our immune systems.”