Is natural immunity from having COVID stronger than from immunity from a vaccine?

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30 September 2021

The latest data say that vaccine immunity is greater than natural immunity.

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If you survive Covid-19, you might also get Long Covid.

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“While a natural infection may induce maturation of antibodies with broader activity than a vaccine does—a natural infection can also kill you,” said Michel C. Nussenzweig, head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Molecular Immunology.

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VERIFY: Does natural immunity provider longer protection from COVID than vaccines?

We reviewed several studies currently diving into the topic.

Author: Hope Ford Published: 6:58 PM EDT September 16, 2021 Updated: 6:58 PM EDT September 16, 2021

ATLANTA — Questions and concerns over natural immunity compared to the COVID-19 vaccine resurfaced once again after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated “the ones that have recovered have very strong immunity.”

DeSantis referenced a study out of Israel, a country with the one highest vaccination rates in the world.

“They compared the protection from a previous infection versus the Pfizer protections. They found that Pfizer did provide protection, but the natural immunity was far stronger,” he said.

11Alive is verifying the claim.

QUESTION:

So, is natural immunity from having COVID stronger or last longer than vaccine induced immunity?

SOURCES:

{Because VERIFY is all about transparency, we’re adding if a study has been peer-reviewed or not. A peer-reviewed study is reviewed by several experts in a particular field, before the article is published to ensure the article is scientifically valid and reached reasonable conclusions.}

Peer-reviewed study from Michigan Medicine

Non peer-reviewed study from Israeli researchers

Non peer-reviewed study from Rockefeller University

CDC

Non peer-reviewed study from Oregon Health and Science University

ANSWER:

Yes, and it needs context.

WHAT WE FOUND: 

The study conducted in Israel, compared more than 16,000 patients who caught the virus and were never vaccinated and more than 16,000 people who only received the Pfizer vaccine. The study took place when the delta variant was widespread in the country. The study found the vaccinated group had A “13.06 fold increased risk for breakthrough infection with the Delta variant compared to those previously infected.”

That means that group that previously had COVID and were never vaccinated had a lower chance of reinfection later on.

“This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection.”

The study, however, did not account for social distancing or whether people wore masks regularly. 

Michigan Medicine recently released a peer-reviewed study, showing patients with mild COVID infections produce antibodies that protect them from reinfection for up to six months. The study looked at health care workers or patients with a high risk of exposure to COVID.

RELATED: Unvaccinated COVID survivors twice as likely to get reinfected, CDC study shows

At Rockefeller University, researchers found that “vaccination produces greater amounts of circulating antibodies than natural infection. But a new study suggests that not all memory B cells are created equal. While vaccination gives rise to memory B cells that evolve over a few weeks, natural infection births memory B cells that continue to evolve over several months, producing highly potent antibodies adept at eliminating even viral variants.”

This means, the natural memory B cells delivered better protection, for longer.

So, why does this need context?

Authors of these studies cautioned against risking catching COVID, thus risking long-term symptoms or even death.

“While a natural infection may induce maturation of antibodies with broader activity than a vaccine does—a natural infection can also kill you,” said Michel C. Nussenzweig, head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Molecular Immunology.

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And, going back to the Israel study referenced earlier, it reads in the conclusion, “Individuals who were both previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant.”

https://www.11alive.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/vaccine-comparison-natural-immunity-covid-19-verify/85-6b531cb8-b604-46ef-b575-7566a4a6699a

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3 Responses to Is natural immunity from having COVID stronger than from immunity from a vaccine?

  1. Danny K, MD says:

    Thank you for this balanced review. It should be pointed out that the “twice as much protection” among those previously infection from the CDC Kentucky study if they get vaccinated probably does not matter, and is being inappropriately quoted by many in the media,. You, on the other hand quoted it correctly!

    The recent CDC/MMWR (a case-control study using odds ratios, reporting from Kentucky more than twice the protection with vaccination for those who already had the virus), and also the Israeli article that you cited (pre-print with a massive data – also reporting about twice the protection if those with natural immunity get vaccinated) – both of these statements about vaccination lack context of magnitude. It is absolutely essential to take into account absolute magnitude in this situation.
    To illustrate with an example: it is a known fact that in the event of a crash, people who sit in the back of a commercial airliner have twice the chance of survival as those who sit in the middle of the plane. But we do not require everyone to sit in the back of airplanes — because it makes little meaningful difference either way. So in the first part of the Israeli article we get the bigger context: people with natural immunity alone are 13 times less likely to get the delta variant as those with the vaccine alone, even after controlling for the extremely high vaccination rate in that country. Doubling that protection is likely meaningless.

    Other longitudinal studies that were pre-delta (NEJM Dec 23 antibody positive patients, Lancet UK “SIREN” Study) or early-delta variant (Cleveland Clinic data) also confirm that context: there is extremely little difference between the vaccinated and those with natural immunity. Increasing the protection of natural immunity is a case of “twice as good as already more than good enough.”

    Thank you again for a great analysis!
    DK (Physician)

    • weehingthong says:

      Thanks for the clarification. Your comments are helpful.

      I have a personal stake in all this. I’m 71. An acquaintance, 69, was unvaccinated because it was not his turn yet (in Malaysia, the oldest and those with co-morbidities get vaccinated first). He was infected but died on the 10th day. He had co-morbidities.

      A friend’s husband, 40+, was infected after full vaccination, home-quarantined himself, developed a few symptoms, and recovered. No signs of Long Covid yet. He WILL accept a booster.

      It’s life or death.

    • weehingthong says:

      An update.
      The discussion isn’t concluded, and that’s good. Covid-19 is recent and we’re all living through it.

      The latest data say that vaccine immunity is stronger than natural immunity by 9 times!

      https://weehingthong.org/2021/09/18/171054/

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