UW Health: COVID-19 vaccines create more reliable immunity than infection

UW Health: COVID-19 vaccines create more reliable immunity than infection

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- While both COVID-19 infection and vaccination against the virus create immunity, UW Health experts say they are not necessarily equal.

Officials on Tuesday, Oct. 12 said many individuals remain hesitantto get the shot, and some cite immunity created by a previous infection as the reason they do not pursue vaccination.

UW Health experts now say although infection may generate an immune response, vaccination is the most reliable and durable immunity to COVID-19.

"If you have mild disease, or you have no symptoms, are you going to be immune after you've encountered that? I don't think we fully know that," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, UW Health medical director for infection prevention. 

UW Health Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer and emergency medicine physician, said COVID-19 can cause severe illness or death and at the individual level it is hard to predict who will have a mild case, severe illness, or long term health issues after an infection.

“The COVID-19 vaccines were studied through comprehensive clinical trials and produced extensive data,” Pothof said. “That data shows us that they produce reliable, highly effective and more durable immunity.”

Officials say current evidence suggests that in the 90 days after recovering from COVID-19, reinfection is uncommon, but experts still don't know how long this protection lasts. According to UW Health, about one-third of people who had COVID-19 do not generate an  immune response, so the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of infection-based immunity.

"You don't want to say that I'd rather have that than the vaccine because the vaccine comes with this predictable response and none of the other long-COVID types of issues, whereas the natural disease could be mild or it could be really severe and you won't know which of the two it is," added Dr. Safdar.

Officials say infection-based antibody response went down after 60 days for 94% of healthcare workers who had COVID-19 and recovered, , according to a study in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).  

According to a news release, people with previous COVID-19 infections are more than twice as likely to be reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting and recovering from the virus, a separate article in the MMWR notes.

“COVID-19 vaccination offers better protection than infection-based immunity alone,” Pothof said. “It’s also important for people to know that if you were infected more than 90 days ago, your immunity is decreasing at this point and you may be at risk for re-infection.”

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