- Experts say a person who’s had COVID-19 still needs to get vaccinated against the disease.
- They note that the immune response after having the disease isn’t as strong as the defensive response that occurs after vaccination.
- They also note that people who've had COVID-19 can still contract and transmit the coronavirus more easily if they haven't been vaccinated.
Health experts are urging people who have already had COVID-19 to get vaccinated.
Their recommendation comes after Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, stated he does not plan on getting vaccinated against the disease.
“Until they show me evidence that people who have already had the infection are dying in large numbers or being hospitalized or getting very sick, I just made my own personal decision that I'm not getting vaccinated because I've already had the disease and I have natural immunity,” he told a WABC radio show in New York.
That statement goes against the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advises that people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they have already had COVID-19.
“Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible — although rare — that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again,” the CDC guidance states.
Experts react to Paul’s statement
Dr. Julie Parsonnet, an expert in adult infectious diseases at Stanford University in California, says Paul’s comments suggest a lack of understanding about the immune system.
“I think it’s a bad message and I think it reflects a lack of understanding of how immunity works. Usually the first exposure to an infection is sort of like a taste test. Your immune system sees it and it responds, but it doesn’t build up very strong memory responses and you don’t have the circulating cells that allow you to respond very quickly to infection,” Parsonnet told Healthline.
“We know that some people who have COVID don’t mount an immune response at all. We also know that some people get reinfected and that some people who have gotten reinfected have gotten quite sick. Yes, he (Senator Paul) will have some immunity, but there is good data that you will have better immunity if you get a vaccine,” she added.
Dr. William Schaffner is an expert in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He says the recommendation for people who have already had COVID-19 to still get vaccinated is based on two factors.
“The first is that the antibody levels after vaccination are much higher than the antibody levels after natural infection. And higher antibody levels are usually associated with a longer duration of protection,” Schaffner told Healthline.
“The second is, to use Tony Fauci’s word, higher antibody levels provide a greater cushion of protection against some of the variants. Obviously, those are not sufficient reasons for Dr. Paul,” he added.
What happens when people don’t get vaccinated
President Joe Biden has announced a goal of having 70 percent of adults in the United States vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4.
But that leaves almost a third of the population unvaccinated, meaning the coronavirus could still have a chance to mutate.
Parsonnet says comments like those from Paul are damaging. She argues there needs to be a more united approach against COVID-19.
“When I think about COVID-19, I think we are actually fighting a war,” she said. “We have a global war. It’s sort of like that movie ‘Independence Day' when the aliens land on Earth. Well, the aliens have landed and there’s this virus that is killing off people, and the worst thing you can do when there is an enemy that you’re all fighting is for you to shoot each other.”
“We need to think about this in a much more ‘we’re in this together’ way and let’s figure out how we pull together to fight the enemy,” Parsonnet said. “The enemy is not the Democrats and it’s not the Republicans. The enemy’s a virus and we need to deal with it.”