I was in a conversation with my mom recently, and she mentioned wanting to get the new COVID-19 vaccine. I promptly shared with her that since she and my father both had COVID-19, they may want to consider the science to determine if they need to get the new COVID-19 shot since they have natural immunity.
Natural immunity is something that people who are infected by a virus receive after their immune systems clear that virus. It is the immune response that an individual possesses without prior exposure to a specific pathogen. In general, our body’s natural immunity is a defense mechanism and is always present to some degree, providing immediate protection against a wide range of potential threats.
What is very powerful about natural immunity is how immunological memory is developed, whereby your immune system can remember a pathogen, like virus, and generate immune cells years after the original infection.
This video from the University of Arizona mentions that people still have immunity to SARS-CoV-1 (the first SARS virus) 17 years later. The researchers do a good job at looking at the data to determine that the antibodies lasted as long as the 6-7 months that they were examined.
Vaccine-mediated immunity, on the other hand, occurs after receiving a vaccine to a virus. This form of immunity decreases over time, often requiring a “booster” shot to boost the body’s immune response.
Vaccines can be good, provided that they are properly tested. One example of a bad vaccine that was drilled into us when I was at public health school at Johns Hopkins, was the 1976 Swine Flu vaccine, which was recalled due to killing 32 people. The reason was that it was allowed by the FDA to be administered despite not having proper research. The conclusion that we made in this class from studying that part of our history was to never take a vaccine that hasn’t been properly tested.
The first COVID-19 vaccine was allowed to be administered to people based on an emergency use waiver, as opposed to clear scientific research. It was not adequately tested. The second COVID-19 vaccine, which is based upon a more recent variant than the first vaccine, has more research released than the first vaccine.
But is this enough to recommend it?
And, if you’ve had COVID-19 and have a robust immunity to COVID-19 through natural immunity, do you need the new vaccine?
Everyone needs to answer this for themselves.
The CDC’s recommendation says, “On September 12, 2023, CDC recommended a COVID-19 vaccine updated for 2023-2024 for everyone aged 6 months and older to protect against serious illness.”
But this recommendation doesn’t answer the above questions. There is no mention or distinction for people with natural immunity by the CDC. Their omission makes it seems like the CDC doesn’t care that some people already have robust immunity and don’t need the new vaccine.
This was indeed the case with my nephew’s wife, who is Central American and trying to get a green card. She was told in August that she needed the vaccine (the first vaccine was the only one available at the time) in order complete her application. She did mention that she’d already had COVID-19 and had natural immunity. Additionally, she is pregnant. The officials in the immigration department did not think either of those were relevant. They told her she still needed the vaccine to complete the application and that not complying would within several days would significantly impact her chances of receiving her green card. I saw her this weekend and found out that she made the decision to get the old version of the vaccine.
In my niece's case, the old vaccine was from the alpha variant from 2021. In her case, there was very little benefit from the vaccine. The cost, however, could be significant especially due to her being pregnant.
What I told my parents, who are in their 80’s, was that they do not need to get the vaccine due to already having natural immunity. This is primarily due to both their age and the recently released vaccine (adverse effects can be underreported early on in scientific literature). And their chances of getting significantly sick, let alone dying from COVID-19 are very small.
For anyone considering getting the new COVID-19 vaccine and already has natural immunity, I would simply suggest asking yourself: Do the costs outweigh the benefits?
For more information, this video by Dr. John Campbell, discusses the data showing how natural immunity is 27 times better than vaccine-mediated immunity.