Doctor’s Tip: Why should you get vaccinated against COVID if you’ve had COVID?

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor’s Tip

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be waning. However, people are still becoming seriously ill and dying from it, and others are ending up with chronic “long COVID” symptoms. Therefore, we’re not completely out of the woods yet. And hopefully a new variant won’t emerge.

Millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the U.S. and worldwide, and the vaccine has proven to be very safe. The vaccine has also been shown to be extremely effective at preventing serious illness, death, and long COVID. Surveys by the CDC show that fully vaccinated adults 18 years and older are 16 times less apt to be hospitalized and 20 times less apt to die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated adults; fully vaccinated adults age 65 and older are 50 times less likely to experience severe COVID-19 than unvaccinated seniors.

The question is whether natural immunity after getting the disease is as effective as immunizations. The Berkeley Wellness Letter, published twice a month by the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, is geared towards lay people, but it has useful information for health professionals as well. The current issue includes an article that addresses this common question. It notes that research by the CDC and the University of Kentucky Department for Public Health during during the delta variant COVID-19 spike showed that “those who chose not to get vaccinated against the disease once they recovered were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to get Covid again than those who decided to get the shot.”

Immunizations induce immunity against infectious diseases without actually causing the disease. Some diseases, such as measles and chickenpox, induce permanent immunity. However, others such as mumps, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, do not — nor do immunizations for these diseases, necessitating periodic boosters. COVID-19 disease appears to fall into the category of not conferring lifelong protection. It is also unlikely that the current immunizations will confer lifelong immunity, and boosters beyond those currently recommended will likely be necessary.

Some people falsely believe that if they have COVID-19 and their antibody titer is high enough, they’re protected. According to the Wellness Letter, the pertinent facts are:

• We don’t know yet what the protective antibody level is, if there is one.

• The antibody tests have not been standardized yet, so the same blood sample can result in different levels in different labs.

• COVID-19 tests can be unreliable, in that false negatives and false positives can occur.

• Evidence indicates that mild COVID-19 infection in an unvaccinated person is not as protective as the vaccine, and scientists just aren’t sure yet about severe disease.

If you aren’t worried about yourself, how about other people you come in contact with? The Berkeley article notes that unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 — symptomatic or asymptomatic — “shed more virus for a longer period than vaccinated people who have a breakthrough infection,” endangering vulnerable people. The Berkeley article notes that unvaccinated people “are the primary drivers of this pandemic in the U.S.”

The bottom line in the article is this: “If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, do so now whether or not you’ve tested positive for the disease at any point of the pandemic [and whether or not you have antibodies]. That way, you will substantially reduce your chances of dying or ending up hospitalized or with long COVID that could leave you with ongoing health problems. If you have been vaccinated and you are a candidate for the booster, please get it. Omicron is more capable of evading our immunity, and the booster adds significant protection against getting sick from it.”

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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