SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A keyword regularly heard in the battle against COVID-19 has been ‘immunity.’ Immunity to the virus can help put an end to it, health officials have explained. There is one type of immunity – natural immunity – that some are questioning. While health officials say natural immunity is ‘a good thing,‘ they are warning it is not foolproof against COVID-19.
In late August, Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare, said while natural immunity “is a good thing,” it is “not a good strategy.” He explains this is because natural immunity varies from person to person depending on age, health conditions, and immune system. It can also vary in how long it lasts.
During a Wednesday press conference, Dr. Webb expanded further on natural immunity against COVID-19. Since his discussion in August, new research has come out regarding natural immunity and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“What we’re learning is that the immunity that is generated for many people after recovering from COVID-19 is stronger than we thought. And that’s great news,” Dr. Webb says, explaining those who have recovered from COVID-19 have the natural immunity. He cites a study out of Israel that found the natural immunity, just like vaccine-induced immunity, varies from person to person. Additionally, the immunity wanes over time.
“That natural immunity, it does appear to be stronger than the immunity that the vaccines are able to elicit in patients who have never had COVID,” Dr. Webb adds. Despite these findings, it does not mean you can skip getting the COVID-19 if you have had the virus. He calls it a “non-viable strategy.”
“It would be catastrophic in terms of life loss, in terms of overwhelming healthcare systems, in terms of economic impact. There’s no question that just pulling off the brakes and allowing the virus to run its course through a community to generate natural immunity would be devastating.”
WATCH: Dr. Webb discusses natural immunity
Instead, Dr. Webb highlights the major finding of the study is “patients who have natural immunity and are then vaccinated are in the best possible situation.” He reminds getting the vaccine is the safest, most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you are still weighing whether or not to get the vaccine, Dr. Webb says he recognizes it is “a very personal decision.”
“For you out there who are making that personal decision, it’s actually a risk, personal risk versus personal benefit question,” he explains. “I, as a physician, every medication that I prescribe has some risk and some benefit. And the vaccines are no different. I think it’s really important for those of you who are making those decisions to understand accurately what the risks are, and understand what the benefits are both to you and to the community.”
Think about getting in your car every day. There is always a risk of getting in a fatal car accident, but “we just don’t take that into account,” as Dr. Webb explains. “It’s hard to take risk into account.”
“Like any other medication that I prescribed, there are some risks. For example, if you’ve had a Z-Pak, you may not know that the risk of having a fatal cardiac arrhythmia with a Z-Pak is very rare. But it’s two times higher than having temporary inflammation of the heart after having one of the mRNA vaccines. We don’t think about that, we take Z-Paks all the time. The risks of the vaccines are very real, we have excellent data from Israel, and from the vaccine safety data that the CDC is collecting. And I can say right now that after millions of doses administered, we have a good sense of what the adverse event rates are. And they’re very, very low.”
As the Delta variant continues to spread, Dr. Webb says hospitals are seeing people who were previously not considered to be at such a risk be affected. This is especially true for men in their late 30s and 40s who are overweight or have other medical conditions.
“The vaccine is life-saving. For those of you who have those risk factors, I want to re-emphasize that.”
But what if you are younger and possibly healthier? What are the benefits of getting the vaccine for you?
“We are running out of patience. We all know that we’re running out of ICU beds, but we’re also running out of Greek letters. And this vicious cycle of new variants emerging is going to continue evolutionary biologists are estimating that this could keep going for two to five years, unless we interrupt the cycle,” Dr. Webb says.
He continues, explaining that by getting vaccinated, you help “increase the immune buffer in our population.”
“We need to work together to engage to get as many immune individuals as we possibly can, in a short amount of time, while at the same time decreasing transmission. So that pool, where those variants are able to play host and mutate, shrinks rapidly,” he says.