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Natural immunity versus vaccination: Huntsville Hospital doctor explains

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 12:38 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2021 at 12:50 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - If you’ve already had COVID-19, you might be wondering if you still need to get vaccinated. The key question: Can you rely on natural immunity?

According to Dr. Ali Hassoun, Infectious Disease Specialist at Huntsville Hospital, natural immunity protects some people from reinfection but the concern is, there is not enough data to show how long that immunity lasts or if it’s effective against variants. Also, just like anything else involving health, he said the answer can be different from person to person.

“People need to understand, the variability really depends on age group, risk factors, type of exposure,” Hassoun said. “So there are a lot of factors that play in reinfection.”

The most recent discussion over this stems from a large study in Israel. That study found that natural immunity gives longer-lasting and stronger protection than the two-dose vaccine-induced immunity.

However, Hassoun said there are still too many unanswered questions with that study. For example, he says the rate of reinfection and the severity of it is unclear.

“The main issue with COVID, it’s unpredictable,” Hassoun said. “There’s really no specific criteria anymore of who is going to get really sick and who will not.”

Hassoun also takes into account his personal experience with COVID-19 patients. He said he’s seen plenty of patients who thought they had natural immunity but end up getting the virus multiple times.

“From what we’ve seen, people can get a second infection and a third infection,” he said. “And actually when they get a second infection, it can be more severe than the initial one. Because it’s a different variant. At the same time, what’s been shown studies wise, if you get infected and then get a vaccine, your immune response will be really that robust.”

Hassoun acknowledged that about 80 percent of unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 do not have severe symptoms. Regardless, he believes it’s not a risk worth taking. Ultimately, relying on natural immunity is not the safer option.

“It’s not a good idea to wait,” Hassoun said. “Because again, we see at the moment -- people in their 20s and 30s who get infected and they have the same idea: ‘If I get infected, I am going to be fine.’ 80 to 90 percent might be fine, but about 10 percent end up in the hospital. Some of them intubated and some of them have died.”

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