Why you need vaccination after having COVID-19

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Even if you have had COVID-19, get vaccinated.

Write down those eight words. Learn them. Know them. Live them.

“There is a much higher degree of certainty with the vaccines than with natural immunity,” said Stephen Hippler, MD, chief clinical officer for OSF HealthCare.

“For people who have had a COVID-19 infection, they likely have some degree of natural immunity. But we can’t say with any degree of certainty how long that lasts or how much protection it provides for severe disease,” Dr. Hippler said. “With all three vaccines that have been approved, there is good proof that immunity lasts at least six months and is nearly 100% effective in preventing hospitalization, serious disease and death.”

Don’t let down your guard

The COVID-19 pandemic is into its second year. A ruthless and deadly early winter finally eased, only to be followed by troublesome signs of a fourth wave of infections.

We are worn out, individually and collectively. The 3Ws – wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands – are recited like the “Amen” to our bedtime prayers.

But – and we hear this every day, too – now is not the time to let up.

This is like the third quarter of an athletic contest. You’ve done everything right and you’re in good shape, but it’s too early to coast. You’re closer to the end than the beginning, but there’s still a long way to go. If you don’t keep fighting hard now, you could squander your opportunity to win down the stretch.

“From here forward, it’s up to all of us to continue to follow public health guidelines – not let our guard down – and get everybody vaccinated,” Dr. Hippler said.

Natural immunity is limited

Even if you have had COVID-19, get vaccinated. There, we said it again. Because it’s critical.

It’s natural to feel a little confused. Our general understanding is that when we get sick from a virus, our body builds immunity that protects us from reinfection with the same disease. That’s true – to a point. But not all viruses are created equal.

COVID-19 presents lots of unknowns.

Researchers know that very few people who recover from COVID-19 become infected again. They don’t know the implications of reinfection, and they can’t yet accurately project the probabilities. That is likely to change over time, as controlled studies are conducted.

“We’re learning more as time goes by,” Dr. Hippler said. “The public should not take changing positions as a bad thing, but as part of the scientific discovery process. In medicine and science, there is always a pursuit for better knowledge.”

Vaccination stronger than natural immunity

The best knowledge available right now leads the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that everyone get vaccinated – including people who have experienced a COVID-19 infection.

“We have far more information about the protection that occurs with a vaccination than we do with natural immunity,” Dr. Hippler said.

“At this time, it’s unclear how long natural immunity will last and what it protects them from. Does it protect you from being an asymptomatic carrier? From spread? From hospitalization? We don’t know. On the other hand, we know that all three vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalization, serious disease and death.”

Research reported in the New England Journal of Medicine also indicates that previously infected people who received the first dose of vaccination rapidly developed a higher concentration of antibodies needed to prevent reinfection.

Be safe. Be smart. Get vaccinated.

Dr. Hippler said we must remember that the pandemic is a global concern. COVID-19 rages unchecked in some countries, and we continue to see spikes in some parts of the United States. He is encouraged by the millions of Americans getting vaccinated daily, but we have a long way to go.

“We’re all anxious to get back to all that we knew, but we have to do it safely and smartly,” Dr. Hippler said.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler started work as a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare in January 2019. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, he previously worked for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and most recently at the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, MaryFrances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. He’s on a quest to master playing guitar and golf. He also loves to travel, especially driving back roads.

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Categories: COVID-19