Natural Immunity vs Vaccine-Induced Immunity: Time for a Rethink?
Vaccines, drugs, or any interventions, for that matter, are far more complex and nuanced in the real world than they are in double-blind trials or laboratory experiments.
One of my pet peeves is when organizations confuse lab trials with risk assessments. For example, a vaccine trial that suggests x% of people will benefit is not a risk assessment. It is an input to a risk assessment.
In a previous role as Senior Risk Adviser for the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, I would see this issue repeatedly. Studies, trials, and experiments are confused with risk assessments and used to make public health policy.
Unusually, I've put a disclaimer at the bottom because I know this topic is controversial. I've also put the links to the research at the bottom so that you can make up your own mind.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an international race for effective vaccines, and significant efforts have been made to vaccinate populations globally. Yet, a growing body of evidence suggests that natural immunity, acquired through previous infections, may offer robust protection against the virus. This has led to vigorous debates about the merits of natural immunity versus vaccine-induced immunity and how public health policies should adapt.
Key Findings from Israel and the Cleveland Clinic
A study from Israel compared two groups of individuals—one previously infected but not vaccinated and another vaccinated but not infected. The findings were eye-opening: those with natural immunity were 13 times less likely to get reinfected and 27 times less likely to have symptomatic infections than those with vaccine-induced immunity. Zero hospitalizations were reported in the naturally infected group, compared to eight in the vaccinated group. Similar conclusions were supported by another study from the Cleveland Clinic.
The benefits of natural infection don't just stop at immediate protection. Even accounting for waning immunity, those with natural immunity are still six times less likely to get infected and seven times less likely to develop symptoms. This suggests that the advantages of natural infection outstrip those provided by the vaccines, particularly against the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.
Implications for Healthcare Workers
The data raise serious questions about blanket vaccination policies, especially for healthcare workers. While vaccination remains a crucial tool in combating the pandemic, empirical evidence suggests that those previously infected with the virus may not significantly benefit from vaccination.
The Importance of Adapting to New Data
Science is an evolving field, particularly in the realm of infectious diseases and pandemics. Professor Makary points out the necessity to adapt our understanding and policies when new data emerges. Holding onto outdated or incorrect hypotheses affects public trust and can lead to avoidable complications.
Despite the mounting evidence, political leaders and health authorities seem reluctant to adapt their strategies. This inertia has led to significant public frustration, specifically mentioning the Biden administration, CDC, and British authorities.
The Power of Natural Immunity
Professor Makary cited 16 separate studies supporting the effectiveness of naturally acquired immunity. The consensus indicates that natural immunity is substantially more effective than vaccine-induced immunity, a fact that public health policy needs to acknowledge.
Serious Adverse Events
Vaccines are not without adverse effects. VAERS is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System put in place in 1990. It is a voluntary reporting system that has been estimated to account for only 1% (read more about underreporting in VAERS) of vaccine injuries. OpenVAERS is built from the HHS data available for download at vaers.hhs.gov.
The level of reporting exploded in 2021. Admittedly, so did the number of vaccinations.
The VAERS COVID Vaccine Adverse Event Report indicates 1,593,415 reports up to 15 September 2023. Just to be clear, my article is not anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine. I'm simply suggesting that we need to improve our risk assessments. What are the risks and benefits of vaccination for people who have already developed a natural immunity through exposure to COVID-19?
Loss of Public Trust
One of the most significant casualties of failing to adapt to new data is the loss of public trust. As the narrative around natural immunity faces resistance from official channels, skepticism toward public health officials grows, leading to avoidable vaccine complications and a loss of credibility.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States are (as of 26 September 2023) still recommending "Updated COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older." They further state, "The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination continue to outweigh any potential risks."
CDC notably makes no mention of natural immunity on that page. In fact, on this page, they state unequivocally, "FACT: Getting a COVID-19 vaccination is a safer and more dependable way to build immunity to COVID-19 than getting sick with COVID-19."
In a 2021 article by the Media Relations Department (Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous COVID-19 Infection), the authors state, "COVID-19 infections in Kentucky among people who were previously infected with SAR-CoV-2 shows that unvaccinated individuals are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus."
To my introductory point about differentiating between data and risk, the number of people infected is less important than the number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID or side effects from vaccination. And this is to name but a few issues I have with their article.
Restoring trust necessitates changing public health strategies in line with emerging scientific evidence. Health officials need to demonstrate humility and transparency. If public health authorities can acknowledge their incorrect hypotheses, trust can be restored, but even so, that is a long process and would require significant changes in public policy organizations.
In a previous article, I wrote about how it takes five years of concerted effort for the public to change their perceptions of risk. This was in relation to the security theatre and billions of dollars spent in the post-9/11 years. Arguably, restoring trust in our public health authorities will take at least that long. So far, the balance of evidence suggests that we would be unwise to trust our policymakers.
At this point, I need to differentiate a clear demarcation between:
the millions of health professionals and scientists who are diligently doing their best for the good of society and
the people who work in the revolving doors between government agencies, big pharma, and the like. Many of these people are well-intentioned, but we would be naive to believe that of them all.
Data is a Key Input to Risk Assessment and Management
This is a long enough article already. Perhaps I will write and publish a risk assessment of the COVID-19 debacle, or better yet, a risk assessment for future pandemics. One last point that I would like to make is that our public health authorities almost universally ignored the fundamentals of nutrition and rest as strategies for supporting our immune systems.
I was with the Department of Health and Ageing in 2003 during the SARS pandemic, and one of my frustrations from that era was still unaddressed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A core pillar of public health policy involved our health professionals working 30-hour shifts, catching sleep on gurneys in hospital corridors when they could, and living on hospital food for days on end. Hardly a smart way to support their immune systems.
Instead, we made them all miserable with masks. Thanks to a study published by the Cochrane Library, we know they are ineffective. And yet, some organizations still recommend them.
Leaving all that aside for the moment (a topic for another book), we have abundant evidence that Vitamin D effectively supports immune systems as a preventative or therapeutic treatment. We also missed a global opportunity to run blood tests for Vitamin D levels of people coming into hospitals. A simple, low-cost blood test could have given us volumes of empirical data about the benefits of vitamin D levels had we chosen to take the opportunity to do so.
Emerging data robustly supports the efficacy of natural immunity over vaccine-induced immunity in certain contexts. Public health policy, thus far slow to adapt, must consider these findings to combat future pandemics and restore public trust effectively.
Changing the official stance on natural immunity, along with a display of humility and transparency, will go a long way in rebuilding public credibility, which is arguably the most precious commodity lost during this pandemic.
While each form of immunity has its merits, it's essential that policies be flexible and adapt to new, rigorous scientific evidence. People can be extremely forgiving with evolving data if our clinicians and policymakers are honest and transparent.
Links to Research Papers
Credit Where it Is Due
Thanks to Dr. John Campbell, who brought some studies to my attention. You can watch his video on this and related topic at this link.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, this article refers to current research as of September 2023. Scientific understanding of COVID-19 is continually evolving, and this should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult healthcare professionals for medical advice.
The article aims to provide a nuanced view of the ongoing debate about natural immunity versus vaccine-induced immunity in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not medical advice. Thank you.