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Is natural immunity as effective as a COVID-19 vaccine? Hampton Roads doctor explains

One reason people have given for not getting the shot is that they’ve already had the virus. But is that enough to protect you from reinfection?

NORFOLK, Va. — As we head into the holiday season, around 40% of Virginians remain unvaccinated.

One reason people have given for not getting the shot is that they’ve already had the virus.

But is that enough to protect you from reinfection?

Dr. Rebekah Sensenig with Riverside Health System says yes, getting COVID-19 does provide some protection from reinfection, but you shouldn't rely on that alone.

"The problem with natural infection is that the immunity really varies from person to person. It can depend on a whole bunch of different factors—how severe their illness was, whether they have any immunocompromising conditions, whether they’re on certain medications," she said.

She says we still don’t know how strong that immunity is or how long it will last.

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"The studies have shown that people who had natural infection are still twice as likely to get recurrent infection compared to vaccinated individuals." 

She says getting vaccinated still offers the most protection.

"The vaccines are very highly effective, so if you’ve already had COVID, then you get the vaccine, then you create almost super antibodies you can call it," said Sensenig.

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She also says that although there are breakthrough cases in people who have gotten vaccinated, that’s to be expected.

"We never thought the vaccine would be 100% effective at preventing illness. That wasn’t the endpoint. What it is effective at is preventing severe illness and preventing death and that’s the most important thing."

So, Sensenig says yes, even if you’ve already had the virus, you should still get vaccinated.

RELATED: Hampton Roads school divisions work to get students vaccinated

For now, she says since many people still are not, it’s important to use common sense over the holidays.

"We still have to be careful but I think with the vaccinations, with some common sense, we can really have a good and happy Thanksgiving."

Now, Pfizer has asked the FDA to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older.

That’s a step that comes amid concern about increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings.

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