A new study out of Israel found the natural immune protection developed after a COVID-19 infection does “considerably” more to ward off the delta variant than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The study found those who were once infected with COVID-19 were less likely to get the delta variant, develop symptoms or become hospitalized with a serious case of COVID than vaccinated individuals who were never infected, according to a report in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
The study also found those who were previously infected with COVID and received one dose of the vaccine were even more protected against the delta variant.
“This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the BNT162b2 two-dose vaccine-induced immunity. 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,” the study said.
The study pointed out its unique nature.
“This is the largest real-world observational study comparing natural immunity, gained through previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, to vaccine-induced immunity, afforded by the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine,” the study said.
“Our large cohort, enabled by Israel’s rapid rollout of the mass-vaccination campaign, allowed us to investigate the risk for additional infection – either a breakthrough infection in vaccinated individuals or reinfection in previously infected ones – over a longer period than thus far described.”
In the Science report, Meredith Wadman wrote it was a good news/ bad news situation.
“The study demonstrates the power of the human immune system, but infectious disease experts emphasized that this vaccine and others for COVID-19 nonetheless remain highly protective against severe disease and death,” she wrote, noting the risk of the disease is such that people should not seek to be intentionally infected.
Wadman noted the report could impact policy because “Vaccine mandates don’t necessarily exempt those who had a SARS-CoV-2 infection already and the current U.S. recommendation is that they be fully vaccinated,” adding that some experts believe those already infected should get one dose of the vaccine and no more.
“It’s a textbook example of how natural immunity is really better than vaccination,” said Charlotte Thålin, a physician and immunology researcher at Danderyd Hospital and the Karolinska Institute. “To my knowledge, it’s the first time [this] has really been shown in the context of COVID-19.”
There is a caution. While the study shows the benefits of natural immunity, it “doesn’t take into account what this virus does to the body to get to that point,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, Seattle.
“We continue to underestimate the importance of natural infection immunity … especially when [infection] is recent,” said Eric Topol, a physician-scientist at Scripps Research. “And when you bolster that with one dose of vaccine, you take it to levels you can’t possibly match with any vaccine in the world right now.”
The study “suggests that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine — so impressive in trials — is not strong enough to bring about the kind of herd immunity we might have gained by letting the virus pass through the population,” he wrote.
“It also suggests that we might be wasting our time trying to foist jabs on the young when they may have gained better, stronger immunity to COVID through natural infection.”
“But one of the most interesting issues is the new light it sheds on the debate over vaccinating children; perhaps it is better to simply allow them to be infected on the grounds they’re highly unlikely to come to serious harm but are more likely to gain lasting immunity from the disease that way.”
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