Natural Immunity vs. COVID Vaccine: Which Provides Better Immunity?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has always emphasized the need to be fully vaccinated to achieve the best protection against the novel coronavirus. But a growing number of studies have shed light on natural immunity as another path to optimum protection in this time of COVID. 

Fully Vaccinated

In its previous COVID-19 guidance, the CDC defined “fully vaccinated” as a person who has received the primary series of COVID vaccines, which means the two-dose preparations for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. 

However, the public health agency has since updated its guidelines to indicate that the primary series of the mRNA vaccines should include a third dose administered 28 days after the second dose for people with moderate to severe immunocompromise. 

The CDC also stated that everyone should stay up-to-date with their vaccines by getting booster shots when eligible. For the agency, it is a must to get jabbed to stay protected from SARS-CoV-2 and its emerging variants. It even dubbed the idea of having better protection from natural immunity over the vaccines a myth

Natural Immunity

Natural immunity is the body’s way of protecting itself from disease-causing pathogens. It involves processes wherein the body develops natural antibodies against the germ that infected it. But this type of immunity tends to vary for every disease. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine said that while people are unlikely to get the measles again after battling the disease one time due to natural immunity, that’s not the same for other conditions, including COVID-19. According to the research-intensive medical school, studies showed that the natural immunity the body develops after a bout with the coronavirus wanes over time, and it weakens faster than immunity from vaccines. 

Johns Hopkins wrote on its website that just like the CDC, it is strongly in support of getting vaccinated to attain the “best protection against getting COVID-19,” regardless of one’s history of having battled a coronavirus infection or not. 

The Middle Ground

Considering that both natural immunity and the COVID vaccines provide a form of protection from the coronavirus, wouldn’t it be better to credit them both? A growing number of new studies have been looking into this as experts try to establish the paths to optimum protection.

A large trial on the Janssen vaccine found that participants with previous COVID infections had 90% protection against moderate or severe disease. The figure was way higher than the 56% reported efficacy in people who received the jabs without battling the infection. 

A study involving over 52,000 Cleveland Clinic employees reported a high level of protection from natural immunity comparable to the two-dose vaccines. Researchers noted that those who developed natural immunity from prior infections had a lower risk of contracting subsequent infection than those who only got vaccinated.

The CDC has been mandating the need for vaccinations for all amid the pandemic without acknowledging that a prior infection could be a good alternative path for many people who do not have underlying conditions and immunocompromised immune systems. Recognizing that natural immunity could play a part in achieving optimum protection would help redefine the very definition of fully vaccinated, as per the Guardian

On the whole, it would be unwise to recommend getting infected with COVID to gain natural immunity from the virus. But, it would also be absurd not to consider it as part of the equation when talking about the body’s defenses against COVID-19. This opens the doors to the idea of achieving hybrid immunity by combining the immune responses produced by previous infections with the vaccines.

Note: The data tackled in the studies did not include information on the immunity status of those who got infected after their vaccination. 

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