SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As COVID-19 cases increase nationwide, partially due to the Delta variant, many are wondering if natural immunity to the virus after already testing positive is enough to protect them. While health officials say natural immunity is “a good thing,” they are continuing to encourage everyone to get the vaccine. One Utah doctor explains why.

On Friday, Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare, announced the hospital system’s ICUs have reached 100% capacity. The same is true for another healthcare system in the state at the University of Utah. As hospitals in Utah and across the country see an increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, doctors continue to encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they have not already.

Some patients have asked about natural immunity to the virus and whether it will protect them better than a vaccine. Dr. Webb says while natural immunity “is a good thing,” it is “not a good strategy.”

“The reason for that is natural immunity varies tremendously from person to person depending on age or health conditions, the health of one’s immune system,” he explains. “It also varies tremendously in how long it lasts depending on those similar conditions. Someone who has natural immunity from a year ago or more likely has waning immunity.”

Dr. Webb continues, saying immunity to coronaviruses, in general, lasts about one cold and flu season. Additionally, he says that while you may have a natural immunity to one variant does not mean it will work against another.

“The bottom line for natural immunity is that it does offer some protection, it’s not a bad thing by any stretch,” he explains. “But for public health policy, it’s very difficult to apply that because it varies so widely.”

According to Dr. Webb, those who are fully vaccinated and have natural immunity are likely to benefit more than those who do not have natural immunity. He outlines the benefits of those who receive the vaccine after having COVID-19, saying these individuals are more likely to have stronger, longer-lasting, and broader immunity against a variety of variants.

A recent study out of Israel found people who once had COVID-19 were less likely to get the Delta variant than those who have been vaccinated, Science Magazine reports. They were also found to be less likely to develop symptoms or be hospitalized. Yet just as Dr. Webb explains, those who had COVID-19 and then received a COVID-19 vaccine were more highly protected against getting COVID-19 again compared to those who had the virus and were not vaccinated.

In Utah, over the last 28 days, people who are unvaccinated are at 5 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.9 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the Utah Department of Health.