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VERIFY: Does natural immunity provider longer protection from COVID than vaccines?

We reviewed several studies currently diving into the topic.

ATLANTA — Questions and concerns over natural immunity compared to the COVID-19 vaccine resurfaced once again after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated “the ones that have recovered have very strong immunity.”

DeSantis referenced a study out of Israel, a country with the one highest vaccination rates in the world.

“They compared the protection from a previous infection versus the Pfizer protections. They found that Pfizer did provide protection, but the natural immunity was far stronger,” he said.

11Alive is verifying the claim.

QUESTION:

So, is natural immunity from having COVID stronger or last longer than vaccine induced immunity?

SOURCES:

{Because VERIFY is all about transparency, we’re adding if a study has been peer-reviewed or not. A peer-reviewed study is reviewed by several experts in a particular field, before the article is published to ensure the article is scientifically valid and reached reasonable conclusions.}

Peer-reviewed study from Michigan Medicine

Non peer-reviewed study from Israeli researchers

Non peer-reviewed study from Rockefeller University

CDC

Non peer-reviewed study from Oregon Health and Science University

ANSWER:

Yes, and it needs context.

WHAT WE FOUND: 

The study conducted in Israel, compared more than 16,000 patients who caught the virus and were never vaccinated and more than 16,000 people who only received the Pfizer vaccine. The study took place when the delta variant was widespread in the country. The study found the vaccinated group had A "13.06 fold increased risk for breakthrough infection with the Delta variant compared to those previously infected."

That means that group that previously had COVID and were never vaccinated had a lower chance of reinfection later on.

“This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection.”

The study, however, did not account for social distancing or whether people wore masks regularly. 

Michigan Medicine recently released a peer-reviewed study, showing patients with mild COVID infections produce antibodies that protect them from reinfection for up to six months. The study looked at health care workers or patients with a high risk of exposure to COVID.

RELATED: Unvaccinated COVID survivors twice as likely to get reinfected, CDC study shows

At Rockefeller University, researchers found that "vaccination produces greater amounts of circulating antibodies than natural infection. But a new study suggests that not all memory B cells are created equal. While vaccination gives rise to memory B cells that evolve over a few weeks, natural infection births memory B cells that continue to evolve over several months, producing highly potent antibodies adept at eliminating even viral variants.”

This means, the natural memory B cells delivered better protection, for longer.

So, why does this need context?

Authors of these studies cautioned against risking catching COVID, thus risking long-term symptoms or even death.

“While a natural infection may induce maturation of antibodies with broader activity than a vaccine does—a natural infection can also kill you,” said Michel C. Nussenzweig, head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Molecular Immunology.

In addition, studies show getting vaccinated after COVID is still a good idea. 

A CDC study showed Kentucky patients who had COVID and were never vaccinated were more than twice as like to get reinfected than those who have COVID, but got vaccinated.

Another study from Oregon Health and Science University also found those who previously had COVID and were vaccinated afterwards, had greater immunity than non-vaccinated people with natural immunity.

And, going back to the Israel study referenced earlier, it reads in the conclusion, "Individuals who were both previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant."