Many people suffered with COVID-19 during the pandemic and if you are one of them, you may be wondering “If I Had COVID, Am I Immune?”.
The Study Overview
A three-month-long study conducted by scientists with several Israeli organizations – The Israel Institute of Technology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Sheba Medical Center – found that natural COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) infection provided similar immunity to those who have been vaccinated with the BNT162b2 (Pfizer) vaccine.
Results from the study raise the question of whether previously vaccinated individuals require a vaccine but could also help prioritize vaccines first to those who have not contracted COVID-19 previously.
Understanding the level of protection previous infections of COVID-19 provides is critical in understanding more about this deadly virus that has claimed more than 3.75 million lives worldwide. If the immunity offered by a previous infection is proven to be comparable to a vaccine, then it can help lawmakers with future policy-making regarding mask mandates and vaccine recommendations.
If I Had COVID, Am I Immune?
The study, conducted over three months, was published by medRxiV, an online archive for unpublished manuscripts, in April and has not yet been peer-reviewed. According to the early results, a vaccinated individual that has not tested positive for COVID-19 is 92.8% protected against infection. However, the researchers found that a person who tested positive for COVID-19 and was not vaccinated was 94.8% protected against reinfection.
Scientists also found that vaccinated individuals and COVID-19 positive groups were protected against severe respiratory disease at 94.4% and 96.4%, respectively. Furthermore, vaccinated individuals and COVID-19 positive groups were protected against hospitalizations at 94.2% and 94.1%, respectively.
“This is the first large-scale study to explore the protection due to prior SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with the Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccine,” says Yair Goldberg, a scientist with the Israel Institute of Technology.
The findings from the Israeli study, which is still under review, mirrors results from other similar studies, such as one published in Nature. That study showed that particular cells residing in a person’s bone marrow can remember the COVID-19 virus and could potentially deliver antibodies if reinfection occurred.
Another study, published on BioRxiv, a biology research website, found that those same cells mentioned in the bone marrow could potentially mature and strengthen for at least one year after COVID-19 infection.
The idea of protection by infection is not new. Contracting most viral diseases, such as measles, provides lifelong protection against reinfection. In addition, viral infections like the flu are especially effective in evading vaccines due to their ability to mutate quickly.
The Israeli study provides insight into the many problems that countries currently face, the main two being vaccine shortages and vaccine refusal. Many countries across the world do not have access to enough vaccines to vaccinate their entire population effectively. If studies like the one conducted in Israel can prove that previous infection provides similar immunity to a vaccine, then those countries could prioritize their vaccine supply to those who have not yet been infected.
Another problem some countries face is the widespread refusal of vaccination. For example, in the United States, nearly 24% of the population say they “will definitely not get vaccinated,” according to a joint poll conducted by PBS NewsHour, NPR, and Marist.
While many experts believe that such a high rate of vaccine hesitancy can impede a nation’s ability to reach herd immunity, some are looking to studies such as Israel’s to provide solutions. For example, in an April blog post, Jeffrey Morris, the Director of Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, said he believes it is possible to reach herd immunity even in the face of widespread vaccination hesitancy.
“If the projected 15-20% refuse vaccination, we should be fine and perhaps could handle as much as 30% of the population unvaccinated considering some groups of people who are vaccine-hesitant were also the same that resisted compliance with mitigation policies and thus might be more likely to have protection from a previous infection,” he writes.
If I Had COVID, Am I Immune? Do I Need to Get Vaccinated? – COVID-19 Immunity
Despite these studies, experts still highly recommended vaccinations for individuals that have previously been infected with COVID-19. Experts say that vaccines can boost immunity in those who have previously been infected and help protect against variants such as the UK (B.1.1.7) and South African (B.1.351) variants, which are both thought to be more infectious than COVID-19.
Vaccines are still the key to beating the pandemic. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine does so.
According to their website, the CDC states that, “Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.”
Vaccines are a safe, effective way to prevent yourself and those around you from infection, serious illness, and death. They have been rigorously studied by thousands of scientists across the globe and have been tested on hundreds of thousands of individuals across the world.
They’re also free and readily available at thousands of vaccination sites. In addition, some local governments are also offering incentives to those who have not yet been vaccinated, including lottery tickets worth millions of dollars and even free college tuition for children.
If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, talk with your doctor or visit the CDC’s website to learn more.
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