COVID vaccine vs. natural immunity: Which is better?

Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Fact Box

  • According to the CDC, messenger RNA (or mRNA) vaccines work by “teach[ing] our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies.”
  • Natural immunity is a type of active immunity and can be acquired “from exposure to the disease organism through infection with the actual disease.”
  • Vaccine science began in the late 18th century with British physician Edward Jenner developing an inoculation against smallpox. 
  • A June 2021 Gallup poll found that 78% “of those not planning to get vaccinated are unlikely to change their mind.”

Chad (COVID vaccine)

The immunity obtained from the COVID vaccine is superior to that obtained through infection, or so-called ‘natural immunity.’ While fighting off disease from exposure to the virus will provide antibodies, it also comes with some uncontrolled risks. 

Those infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are more likely to suffer short and long-term adverse health effects than those who get the vaccine. While most people will only suffer mild symptoms, about one-third of those who get sick will get ‘long-haul COVID.’ Symptoms include “fatigue, dyspnea, chest pain, persistent loss of taste or smell, cognitive changes, arthralgias, and decreased quality of life.”

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can transmit the virus. But, those who are infected with the virus are more likely to spread it than vaccinated people, as they clear the virus more slowly. 

More than 10.9 billion doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered worldwide, with only about 0.3% of people having an adverse reaction such as an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. Meanwhile, catching the virus is unpredictable and dangerous, with about 4 in ten adults at risk of serious illness. 

While both natural and vaccine-derived immunity last about as long, vaccinated individuals are about half as likely to catch COVID a second time and are about 5-8 times less likely to be hospitalized, depending on age. 

Getting the COVID vaccine may seem a bit scary to some, and a healthy amount of skepticism is a good idea when dealing with a new virus and its treatments. However, the studies continually show that getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the people around you. 

Elliot (Natural Immunity)

When dealing with COVID, natural immunity is just as good (or better) than vaccination--even some governments agree. The Czech Republic, among others, has a 'certificate of recovery' wherein if one has recovered from COVID-19 within the last six months, they can enjoy the same rights and freedoms as someone who has been fully vaccinated--travel throughout the EU, eating at restaurants, etc. This demonstrates the legitimacy of natural immunity and the fact that it is relatively mainstream. 

Natural immunity has proven efficacy with a track record that spans millions of years of evolution on this planet. Vaccines--specifically the newer mRNA vaccines that were rushed through testing and FDA clearance--do not. Further, the most recent studies show that natural immunity has long-lasting, robust protections. 

COVID-19 will become endemic at a certain point, meaning that its deadliness diminishes while its transmissibility increases. For this reason, it’s important to question the validity of the vaccination program for this disease. After all, the omicron variant is essentially just a severe flu, and flu vaccines have never been mandated during flu season.

Additionally, vaccines come with risks, especially for younger males. A pillar of biomedical ethics is that the cure cannot be worse than the disease itself. Recently released data from Pfizer included 1,291 different adverse events related to its COVID vaccination. Further, younger individuals have a much lower chance of dying from COVID--with some estimates up to 100 times less mortality for specific age groups. 

It is nonsensical to take such a risk with the COVID vaccine, especially when natural immunity can provide the same protections.

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