One of the most common reasons cited by COVID-19 vaccine holdouts is that they nave natural immunity from a previous infection, and there is some compelling scientific evidence to support it.
But health officials generally urge people to get vaccinated, regardless of whether they have been infected in the past.
“Many of the questions about natural immunity are people who were just skeptical of the vaccine in the first place.,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told reporters last week. “And I wish that wasn’t the case. If you've been infected naturally, then the very best chance you have to protect yourself is to get vaccinated on top of that.”
Some recent studies suggest that the immunity provided by the coronavirus, itself, is superior to the protection offered by the vaccine.
A study published last month, for instance, compared thousands of Israelis who had been infected or vaccinated in January or February. The vaccinated group had a 13-fold higher risk of infection from the Delta variant between June and mid-August than the previously infected group.
Here are the numbers so far in Alabama: As of the end of last week, the state had recorded more than 25,645 infections by people who had been vaccinated. Of that group, 195 died, for a mortality rate of .76 percent.
There also have been 8,595 people who have had COVID-19 more than once. That’s a smaller total than breakthrough infections, but the 75 deaths among that group represent a slightly higher death rate – .87 percent.
Harris said it is especially risky to rely on natural immunity if someone has not had the disease. Even if a person has, he said, that is no guarantee, either.
“We have had thousands of people in Alabama who’ve been infected at least twice and some of them three times or more – or even more,” he said. “And you know, the mortality rate for those people is a little bit better the second time around or the third time around but it’s not great.”
Regardless of whether natural immunity or vaccine immunity is superior, Harris said, there is no data to show that getting vaccinated after an infection causes any harm.
Harris cited a study of his own – a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examination of Kentucky residents who had been infected last year. Of that group, those who were unvaccinated were 2.3 twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated.
“If you’ve been infected naturally, then the very best chance you have to protect yourself is to get vaccinated on top of that,” Harris said. You know, you’re really gonna be the rock star in this whole pandemic if you’ve got natural immunity on board and also have been vaccinated.”
Alabama continues to increase its vaccination rates. The latest CDC data show it is head of three other states in percentage of the population fully vaccinated and ahead of eight in percentage with at least one shot.