Through the pandemic, there has been a common misconception that if you are infected with COVID-19 once, your immune system will build its own natural immunity, to protect you from getting COVID-19 in the future. This has become the reason why many individuals choose not to get a COVID-19 booster shot, even if many months have passed since they were last ill with COVID-19 symptoms. Although the human immune system does build a level of immunity after a virus has been introduced into the body, the ability of the human immune system is limited when fighting a virus as cunning as the SARS-CoV-2, which frequently mutates and develops new methods of evading the human immune system’s defenses. The immune system, when functioning normally, will also identify and recycle certain unused defense cells after they have served their purpose, once the infection has cleared. In other words, natural immunity wanes with time and as the virus mutates into new variants. It is currently thought that natural immunity is strong for the first 90 days after infection, however, a person may be re-infected with COVID-19 if they come in contact with a different variant of SARS-CoV-2 than the one which caused the original infection.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, the coronavirus currently has mutated over 50 times during the 2 years we have spent in a pandemic. Due to the variations and mutations that COVID-19 has been through in the past two years of the pandemic, mRNA vaccines are more effective at stimulating a strong immune response than being infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Natural Immunity vs. mRNA Vaccine-induced Immunity
Natural immunity is the response that occurs in our body when we encounter a germ or a virus and our body produces cells called antibodies. These antibodies can “remember” a particular germ to detect its presence if it returns to the body.
mRNA vaccines have been engineered to stimulate a strong immune response to all current variants of SARS-CoV-2, even if there are different levels of protection as the virus mutates into new variants. Immunity from infection is only effective against the variant that an individual becomes infected with, leading to a greater risk of becoming infected with a future variant. Vaccination-induced immunity provides greater and broader protection than natural immunity. That being said, all forms of immunity wane over time which is why booster doses of an mRNA vaccine are recommended for all eligible individuals.
Please reference this European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control video for more information. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/video-how-do-covid-19-mrna-vaccines-work
Pitkin County continues to recommend getting boosted to protect yourself and others from future infections of COVID-19. Learn more about where to get additional doses this summer, here.