Explain the debate about natural immunity wrt having had Covid-19

This has come up in conversation several times in my own circles so I wanted to ask this question here on the 'dope (sorry if this has already been debated or addressed). Basically, why is it that natural immunity isn’t a valid reason for not needing a vaccination wrt people who have had Covid in the past? I was reading that several of the Nordic countries accept natural immunity from having previously had the disease already as valid for going to restaurants, or work, or the like…on par with having been vaccinated. When I saw this I just sort of nodded and went on, but then in conversations, often heated, it seems this isn’t accepted in the US, and often we require vaccination even if someone already previously had the virus. Why?

I can think of a few reasons, and in fact speculated on this in those conversations, once I learned this is actually a thing. Perhaps it’s because of mutations, like seasonal flu. You have to get the new flu shot every year, after all, because the virus mutates and the previous infection doesn’t mean you are immune to the new variant. Is this the main reason? Another is more cynical and has to do with the drug companies pushing this to get more vaccinations. I dismissed this one, but am putting it in here anyway. Maybe it has to do with trust or verification…did the person really have Covid? In the Nordic countries, there is a much higher level of trust than in the US, say.

At any rate, I’m asking here and hoping to get some insight into this. I know that this has affected a lot of folks, especially those who have had Covid, who don’t think they need or want the shot and yet have to get it anyway to keep their job or whatever.

Basically, because there has been a lot more study on the effectiveness of the vaccines than natural immunity. There seems to be growing evidence that natural immunity is not as protective against the variants, same as a single shot isn’t as effective.

There’s also the problem that a lot of people never actually got tested for COVID-19, and thus they don’t actually know they had it. They just assume. And then, yes, there’s the trust issue. Being antivax has become a badge of honor for a significant group of people here, and their clan accepts being deceitful as a way to avoid it.

Finally, well, we have better options. The one OSHA is going to require is just constant testing. Why assume people are immune who never got the shot when you can check both their antibody levels and whether they are currently infected?

Vaccines work well.
Natural immunity works also.
Vaccines and natural immunity together trump natural immunity by itself.

Since getting the vaccine is such a minor inconvenience and free, there’s really no excuse to not get it, especially since it improves your chances without or without natural immunity.

I have always figured it was a combination of 3 things:

  1. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the effectiveness and longevity of naturally acquired COVID immunity- they don’t really know how immune you are, or for how long.

  2. There’s a lot of uncertainty about whether or not random members of the general public have had COVID or not- with the range of symptoms from asymptomatic to critically ill, someone could very easily have got some other coronavirus, influenza or something else entirely and assume they have had COVID without actually having been tested, and therefore assuming they’re immune when they’re not.

  3. There’s absolutely no downside to getting vaccinated if you have had COVID already; it’s not going to hit you differently, lessen any already present immunity or anything like that.

So with those in mind, it makes sense to just push everyone to get vaccinated; that way your status is absolutely known, without having to wonder about whether you actually had it or not, or just how immune you are. Yes, I suppose if you were tested, and you did have COVID, you’re probably not at much risk, but there’s also no real reason not to get vaccinated anyway. It’s a trivial thing in the grand scheme of things.

Also, the test can give a false positive in a non-trivial number of cases. So there’s a non-trivial number of people walking around who think they had COVID, but didn’t.

Just to add one more thought to this: there are important “proof of” issues wrt natural immunity and vaccination. With vaccination, you have a card, a medical record, showing you have met the standard. And while it is possible to get proof of natural immunity (i/e anti-body tests) that I would be comfortable accepting as proof, most people would like to rely on “Oh, I had Covid back in August” as their passport.

To my mind, it’s just the latest shift in “debate” tactics from the anti-vaxxers. They realize that vaccine mandates are becoming a thing, so now they need a new argument to prop up to avoid getting the vaccine.

What I see more than that is people who probably got some other respiratory illness, and assumed it was COVID, and now believe they’re just peachy and don’t need to bother with masks, vaccinations, etc…

You would not believe how many people I heard say they had a bad cold in January/February 2020, and then assume they must have “got it early”, and that they’re now immune. Or they got something last autumn, and are assuming the same thing.

What perplexes me is that these aren’t MAGA morons or otherwise politically motivated people; they just don’t want to deal with it at all, so they’re basically coming up with an excuse to rationalize and justify their behavior.

In addition to all of the above, there are already state-level systems for tracking who is vaccinated. There is no similar system for tracking who had COVID, and why spend the money to set that up in order to allow people who are not as protected as they could be go eat out?

A significant number of people who’ve had Covid-19 were later found to not have protective antibodies - 36% in one recent study.

So it makes sense to get vaccinated even if you’ve had the disease, as it adds another layer of protection.

On a related note, “natural immunity” comes off looking poorly in relation to vaccine immunity, in that “natural immunity” alone means you’ve fully exposed yourself to risks of serious illness and long-term symptoms.

“Drug companies just wanna make money off vaccines” is a foolish argument that overlooks how much $$$ pharma can rake in treating the sick.

Boston’s 1901-03 smallpox outbreak has uncanny overtones of the struggle over Covid-19 vaccination.

" Anti-vaccination activists in Boston responded to mandatory inoculations with a brochure entitled “Vaccination Is the Curse of Childhood.” It falsely claimed that the vaccines caused smallpox instead of preventing it, and maintained that the only real way to prevent infection was “good drainage, good ventilation, pure water and healthy food.” Anti-vaccinationists, as they were called, branded compulsory vaccination an infringement on their civil rights. And they implored parents to write to a Beacon Street address to receive physician-signed certificates that indicated their children were “unfit subjects for vaccination,” and should be exempt from the state requirement to show proof of vaccination to attend public school."

The article details how “natural immunity” almost killed a defiant antivaxer.

My mother was ‘fortunate’ enough to have the opportunity to engage my anti-COVID-vax brother and SIL.

They claimed previous COVID exposure, and claimed to have both had positive antibody tests within the last six weeks. That’s really all the info I have on that.

My quick research points to a comparable rate of waning between convalescent antibody levels and vaccine-conferred antibody levels.

Coaching my mother from the sidelines, I said that she should ask my brother and SIL when they were exposed, at what rate their antibody levels were waning, and how they planned to augment those antibody levels when they were no longer adequately protective*.

Did they just plan to go to a COVID party and swap spit with all the attendees ?

Because the rest of us can look at averages, and then schedule a booster for a reasonably well-considered, appropriate time frame.

*Researchers appear to have a rough idea of what levels tend to prevent: transmission, symptomatic infection, hospitalization, ICU admission, ventilator, death

I was one of those folks, but I took the extra step of talking to my doctor about it and having blood work done. I was wrong, so I was first in line to get my shots.

Hubs was not vaccinated and caught COVID which was verified by several positive tests until he tested negative. Less than 2 months later, he came down with Delta, again verified by several positive tests.

You can’t out-logic an emotional position and TBH, anti-vaxers are just like born again Christians with their witnessing and self-righteous attitude.

My wife was another one of those people. She had a bad cold in January 2020 that she still insists was when she had it, even though it was way early given how the virus was spreading, and no one else in the house got it. But as soon as shots became available, she got them, so it’s a moot point now.

Yeah. It’s even been mentioned in one of those “unvaccinated person/people died, leaving X children” behind stories. The woman “thought” she had covid, was never tested, and so sure/wanted it to be true so badly she’d already had it she decided not to get vaccinated.

I think it’s probably mostly an issue of trust, to be honest. The number of people totally sure they had covid but hadn’t been tested is mind-boggling, and they’re the ones who’d probably claim they had it for this purpose too.

I don’t know if this has been mentioned as well (though I did a quick search), but there’s also the chance of long-haul covid from natural infection as opposed to the safety inherent in the vaccination.

Personally, I

  1. am not convinced that natural immunity is as good as vaccinated immunity,
  2. don’t trust people who claim to have had COVID not to lie about it,
  3. don’t want my tax dollars supporting some kind of verification system to allow those who’ve actually had COVID to prove it in order to gain access to vaccine-only spaces,
  4. think those who did have COVID should still get the vaccine, because it still helps and we need all the help we can get,
  5. like that the unvaccinated are being denied access to fun things they want to do and want that to stay in place long enough to get as many people vaccinated as possible. If there’s an exemption for those who’ve had COVID, I worry that more unvaccinated people who haven’t had COVID will just hold out for the infection.

ETA: There’s also the issue of waning immunity that is a pretty consistent feature of coronaviruses. The vaccinated can get boosters. What are you natural immunity plague monkeys gonna do, just catch it again every year?

It seems you can find most any side of this debate you want to see, depending on which expert or group you ask. Lots of references to the science in this article but finding the ‘real’ answer is very definitely clouded by politics – with the current American idea being to just jab everybody because it’s easier that way.

Personal FWIT: I was never tested for Covid. Very early on (before I / we had ever heard of Covid) several members of my immediate family developed a long-lasting dry cough and my mother lost her sense of taste (she died of other causes before the taste thing became known). I have long thought I had had Covid and yesterday my sister and I went for an antibody test; both of us tested Positive. So, it appears to me that millions of people had already had Covid before the public became aware of it.

Assuming you’re vaccinated, that would cause you to have antibodies anyway. And, if you’re not vaccinated, I mean, what the fuck?

To the OP, in the real world, there’s no debate. Everyone should get vaccinated unless they are ineligible because of their age or they are one of the tiny number of people who can’t for some bizarre medical reason. There are really very few medical reasons not to be vaxxed.

Any thought at all about the people you probably infected in the mean time?


“Assuming you’re vaccinated …”

Why in the world would you assume that?

Perhaps you haven’t heard of “natural immunity”? Reading only one-sided popular opinion pieces instead of actual hard science papers and footnotes may tend to reduce critical thinking ability.


“Any thought at all about the people you probably infected in the mean time?

None at all. It seems there are over a hundred million of us with natural immunity. I think I’m gonna buy a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and wave it around the herd. I’m tired of being shut in / shut down / shut up with no end in sight and no real justified reason for it; I’m ready to fly my freak flag … I might even buy a t-shirt.