If you already had COVID-19, you may be feeling safe from future infection.
To be sure, having had COVID does offer some protection for a limited time. But it doesn’t mean you have the same level of protection that’s offered by the vaccine.
At recent news briefings, Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, explained why doctors hope that those who’ve already had COVID still get the vaccine.
If you had COVID already, isn’t that ‘natural immunity’ enough protection?
The struggle with “natural immunity” is that everyone is different, Priest said. “How old you are, what other health problems you have, what medications you take, and frankly, how big a dose of COVID you got when you were infected. Some people will get infected and have very mild symptoms, and they tend to have milder immune responses and their protection probably doesn't last very long.”
“And there's a study on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website right now that looks into this, which found that those individuals were much more likely to get COVID a second time. What we know about vaccination is that it gives you a more even and predictable immune response. And so, we take the same approach as the CDC, that if you've had COVID, we encourage you to get vaccinated.”
What about antibody tests? Won’t those tell me that I have enough protection?
“I certainly understand that desire to find out if someone has protection,” Priest said. “The problem with antibody testing is: It doesn't paint the full picture of the immune response. Whether you've had COVID or you've gotten a vaccination, the antibody test just measures one part of that immune response, and that's the antibodies your body makes to fight infection.
“Other parts of your immune system are also … protecting you,” he continued. “So, having a particular antibody level doesn't necessarily guarantee you protection.”
In some cases, he said, it may provide a false sense of security.
Some antibody tests are just Yes/No tests, he explained. “And since we don't know the exact amount of antibodies that are good to have,” he said, “it doesn't really help you.”
And, a DIY antibody test leaves you having to read and interpret your own results. “I think it's tricky to do on your own,” Priest said. “You get an antibody test, then try to interpret it on your own and then try to apply it to your own situation in life. It's best to have those discussions with your physician.”
“I’ve never had my antibodies checked,” added Priest, who got two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. “And I don't think it adds to the discussion at all. And at some point, when the CDC and Food and Drug Administration say I'm a good candidate for the third dose of vaccine, I'll get that. But in the meantime, I'll wait and wear my mask” in situations that call for it.
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