Yes, You Need A COVID Vaccine, Even If You’ve Already Had COVID

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
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The vaccines are here. The rollout in the United States is well underway and more than one-third of adults around the country are vaccinated. As a result, fewer people are dying; hospitalization rates are down among vulnerable populations. We’re learning in real-time that the vaccines do in fact work remarkably well.

Despite the ever-growing body of evidence regarding vaccine effectiveness, many folks who previously had COVID are still confused about whether or not they should get the vaccine. The answer is definitively yes. Yes, you should get vaccinated against COVID even if you’ve had COVID.

“Even though you’ve had COVID-19, it’s still very important for you to get the vaccine,” confirmed Infectious disease expert Kristen Englund, MD. There are a number of reasons this is true.

Vaccines Offer Stronger Immunity Than Natural Immunity

There’s much that we still don’t know about immunity acquired by infection rather than vaccination (natural immunity), largely because COVID hasn’t been around long enough. What’s clear so far, though, is that natural immunity varies from person to person, including how long it lasts and how much protection it actually offers. Therefore, infection doesn’t guarantee immunity.

In contrast, “We now have good evidence that vaccines produce HIGHER antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2 than natural infection, noted Jennifer Beam Dowd, PhD, Associate Professor of Demography and Population Health at the University of Oxford.

A recent study in California found that antibody titers were up to ten times higher in folks who’d received their second dose of mRNA vaccine as opposed to those who’d been infected with COVID. This suggests that “even those with prior exposure could benefit from vaccination.”

Natural Immunity Could Be Enhanced By Vaccination

Not only is immunity acquired through vaccination likely stronger than natural immunity, but vaccination could enhance your body’s natural immunity.

In a post for Dear Pandemic, Dr. Dowd noted that, “a single dose of vaccine after a COVID-19 infection provides a turbo-boost of immunity.”

The study from California also found that people who’d previously been infected with COVID had a stronger immune response to the vaccine and developed antibodies faster.

Vaccines Likely Give Protection Against Variants

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While natural immunity may protect against some variants to a degree, experts believe vaccines will play a key role in protection.

Recent studies have supported this theory. One study looked at how natural immunity fared against the B.1.351 variant as opposed to natural immunity plus a single dose of either Pfizer or Moderna. That study found that “antibodies rose a THOUSAND-fold, and could neutralize the new variant…. as well as the original SARS-CoV-1 virus from 2003 (WOW!),” according to Dr. Dowd.

Another study found that vaccinated folks have “higher neutralizing activity” on average against all the variants as opposed to those who had natural immunity from previous infection.

Vaccination Might Ease Long COVID Symptoms

Researchers estimate 10 to 30 percent of individuals who are infected with COVID will suffer from long COVID. They will continue to have symptoms for weeks or months after their initial infection. These long COVID symptoms can be debilitating and life-changing.

The vaccines may provide some relief. Some long COVID patients are reporting that vaccination has eased their long COVID symptoms. With that in mind, Dr. Englund encourages long haulers to get the vaccine, and notes, “It is not going to make you worse — and there’s a small chance that it might actually make you feel better.”

Vaccine Induced Immunity Could Be Passed From A Pregnant Person To Their Child

One recent study found that in pregnant women, vaccine-induced immune response were “significantly higher” than they were in pregnant women who’d recovered from a natural infection. Not only was the response stronger, but the vaccinated women passed on protective antibodies to their fetus or newborn at much higher levels than those women with antibodies from a natural infection.

Vaccines May Reduce Transmissibility

Experts are studying whether a vaccinated person can carry COVID and pass it on to others. While much of the early data hasn’t been peer reviewed, it’s looking more and more likely that a vaccinated person will not transmit the virus to anyone around them. Dr. Englund notes that early data shows that vaccination makes you 90 percent less likely to have an asymptomatic infection and transmit it to anyone around you.

It looks like the vaccine truly is not only protecting you, but it is protecting those around you.”

When To Get Vaccinated After A COVID Infection?

Dr. Englund recommends getting vaccinated as soon as you’re out of quarantine for your COVID infection.

However, that rule comes with one important exception. Folks who received monoclonal antibodies for their COVID infection must wait 90 days after recovering from COVID. The reason for this is related to your body’s immune response. Dr. Englund explains that, “If you’ve had that monoclonal antibody, it is going to keep you from being able to develop a nice, robust response to the vaccine. So that’s why we have to wait for 90 days until that monoclonal antibody has gotten out of your system.”

The takeaway is simple: even if you’ve had COVID and developed antibodies, you should get vaccinated. Vaccine-induced immunity is stronger, and in those who’ve had COVID, vaccination acts as an extra boost of protection. It’s a way to protect yourself, and very possibly, others around you, too.

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