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 highly effective in preventing hospitalization, serious disease and death.”

Natural immunity is limited

Even if you have had COVID-19, no matter your age, 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 is encouraged by the millions of Americans getting vaccinated daily, but we have a long way to go.

With three vaccines available, there’s an option for everyone age 5 and older.

  • Pfizer has emergency use authorization (EUA) for a low-dose, two-dose vaccine for kids ages 5-11 and its full dose, two-dose vaccine for kids ages 12-17.
  • Pfizer has full approval from the Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use in people age 16 and older.
  • Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are EUA approved for use in people 18 and older.

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

Last Updated: November 29, 2021

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: COVID-19