CORONAVIRUS | VACCINES

How does natural immunity to covid-19 compare to vaccination?

A study found that those who gained natural immunity after surviving covid-19 had greater immunity, but it is better to get vaccinated than risk death.

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How does natural immunity to covid-19 compare to vaccination?
Ernesto Ryan Getty Images

Humans try to improve on mother nature but she has had a lot more time and practice to create, hone and perfect biological systems. The onset of the covid-19 pandemic allowed researchers a chance to put to practice a new technology, mRNA vaccines which were developed and available to the public at a record pace.

Using the covid-19 virus’ blueprint to create the spike proteins, which it needs to infect cells so that it can reproduce, scientists were able to teach the body what to look for thus protecting people from infection. The results were incredibly effect vaccines, yet a new study demonstrates that the body learns better from the real McCoy. However, with the warning not to go out to get intentionally infected “because somebody could die.”

Researches had access to large database

A real-world observational study in Israel looked at cases of reinfection in people who acquired natural immunity to the covid-19 virus after surviving their infection and those who got infected but had never been before getting vaccinated. It was the largest of its sort to date in one of the countries with one of the highest vaccination rates. Researchers studied the Maccabi Healthcare Services’ database which has 2.5 million patients in its system.

The study, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, shows “huge” differences according to Charlotte Thålin, a physician and immunology researcher speaking to Science. Though she cautions that the number of events analyzed, including infections and hospitalizations, were small.

It is still better to get vaccinated, even if previously infected

The vaccinated population of over 16,000 people that was analyzed experienced 238 infections, less than 1.5 percent, while the group with natural immunity made up of a similar number of people only experienced 19 reinfections. The vaccinated group was 27 times more likely to develop symptoms from covid-19 and eight times more likely to be hospitalized. No deaths occurred in either group anaylzed.

The results show that the covid-19 vaccines are highly effective, even for those who have gained natural immunity. In another analysis, the team found that those who had had a confirmed covid-19 infection and hadn’t received a single covid-19 vaccine shot ran twice the risk of reinfection as opposed to those who had received a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine post-recovery from their original infection with the virus.

Do not try to intentionally get infected

Although people holding parties to get infected turned out to be an urban legend, Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University, warned people who based on this study think “I should go out and get infected, I should have an infection party,” should not consider this as it is extremely risky.

The Delta variant is on a tear throughout the US pushing up infection rates especially in areas with low vaccination rates. The Delta variant is over twice as contagious as previous variants and data suggest that it can cause more serious infection in the unvaccinated. It is also increasing the number of children that are ending up in hospital with serious illness something that had been rare in earlier waves.