For those of us who have recovered from COVID-19, the failure of those making policy recommendations to acknowledge and account for the immunity developed naturally following a COVID-19 infection is beyond frustrating. At one point in an e-mail exchange, Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that because COVID-19 is an RNA virus, the development of natural immunity was probable. At the time, he also said this would need to be confirmed.
Several studies have now shown that this immunity exists. In November of 2020, The New York Times interviewed several researchers who explained, based on their findings, that natural immunity did indeed occur, and there were indications it may be long-lasting:
“That amount of [immune] memory would likely prevent the vast majority of people from getting hospitalized disease, severe disease, for many years,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology who co-led the new study.
The findings are likely to come as a relief to experts worried that immunity to the virus might be short-lived, and that vaccines might have to be administered repeatedly to keep the pandemic under control.
This research finding followed the knowledge that COVID-19’s first cousin, SARS-CoV-1, elicited durable immunity for at least 17 years and provided protection against a new strain of the virus. Additionally, they found that individuals never infected or exposed to either SARS virus demonstrated an immune response to the N-protein in both viruses based on exposure to other betacoronaviruses that circulate, causing cold-like symptoms:
Thus, infection with betacoronaviruses induces multi-specific and long-lasting T cell immunity against the structural N protein. Understanding how pre-existing N- and ORF1-specific T cells that are present in the general population affect the susceptibility to and pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection is important for the management of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of conducting studies to determine whether this was the case with COVID, the global health bureaucracy recommended draconian lockdowns and other mitigation methods. A logical deduction is that this type of T cell reactivity was widespread, given there were an extraordinary number of mild cases and positive tests in asymptomatic people. The lack of attention and study following these findings means we will never know.
Several recent studies have confirmed that recovered COVID-19 patients can expect long-term immunity. One current report states:
Many people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 will probably make antibodies against the virus for most of their lives. So, suggest researchers who have identified long-lived antibody-producing cells in the bone marrow of people who have recovered from COVID-191.
The study provides evidence that immunity triggered by SARS-CoV-2 infection will be extraordinarily long-lasting. Adding to the good news, “the implications are that vaccines will have the same durable effect”, says Menno van Zelm, an immunologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
While the researchers couch this with the caution that COVID-19 variants may blunt some protective effects, that remains to be seen. The Cleveland Clinic just released the most extensive study of natural and vaccinated immunity to COVID-19, which included 52,238 employees:
Specifically, of all infections during the study period, 99.3% occurred in participants who were not infected previously and remained unvaccinated. In contrast, only 0.7% of infections occurred in participants who were not previously infected but were currently vaccinated.
Importantly, not a single incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was observed in previously infected participants with or without vaccination.
With further statistical analysis, it was observed that the COVID-19 vaccination significantly reduced the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in previously uninfected participants but not in previously infected participants.
Although the study did not directly estimate the duration of protection from natural infection, it was observed that previously infected participants remained protected against COVID-19 for at least 10 months after the symptom onset or a positive test result.
Logically, this finding makes complete sense. If natural immunity had not been adequate or durable before vaccine distribution, nursing homes would have been a revolving door of hospital admissions due to reinfections. Stories about reinfection and severe illness would have been all over the media. That never happened, and globally confirmed reinfections have been very rare.
As Greta Thunberg and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have noted, there are millions of vulnerable elderly in other countries without access to COVID-19 vaccines. Why is America holding doses with a short shelf life and encouraging the recovered to get vaccinated when this is the case?
A study in preprint asserts that recovered patients may even have better protection against COVID-19 variants than vaccinated individuals. A natural infection encourages the development of cells reactive to more parts of the virus than the vaccine does. It is a longitudinal analysis of patients in Washington State and Atlanta, Georgia:
The immune response to natural infection is highly likely to provide protective immunity even against the SARS-CoV-2 variants because the CD4+ and CD8+ T cell epitopes will be conserved. Thus, recovered COVID-19 patients are likely to better defend against the variants than persons who have not been infected but have been immunized with spike-containing vaccines only.
How much more data do Dr. Fauci and the CDC need before they stop ignoring natural immunity?