Despite media claims that “We Can’t Turn the Corner on COVID,” the numbers of COVID-19 cases, new hospitalizations, and deaths nationwide peaked and started to decline around the beginning of September. The combination of this milestone, new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing widespread levels of vaccination and natural immunity, and improved availability of treatments suggests that, outside of isolated pockets, COVID-19 is likely to become a diminishing health risk in the United States.
The CDC looked for evidence of prior infection or vaccination in the blood of approximately 1.5 million blood donors from around the country between July 2020 and May 2021. Based on the antibodies found in the specimens, they were able to distinguish between those who had been vaccinated and those with antibodies resulting from infection. As of the end of May, the combined vaccine and infection seroprevalence (indicating the proportion of the population with antibodies and some level of immune protection) was 83 percent for those 16 and older (children under 16 can’t donate blood). Over 20 percent had antibodies indicating an earlier infection and recovery. Based on the infection-induced seroprevalence, the researchers estimated that there were actually 2.1 infections per reported COVID-19 case.
Now, following the surge from the Delta variant, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (all ages) is over 40 million, or 8 million more than on May 31. Applying the 2.1 multiple from the blood donation study to the entire population results in a real number of cases and people with natural immunity of 84 million, or 25 percent of the population.
In addition, 177 million people are fully vaccinated, which is 53 percent of the total population and 34 million more than at the end of May. An additional 10 percent of the population has received a single dose, which provides some protection, albeit less than the full two doses.
While there is overlap because some previously infected people have been vaccinated, roughly 80 percent of the country has vaccine or natural immunity. Both types of immunity provide effective protection against COVID-19. The risk of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated is small, and when they occur, the vaccines continue to be effective in preventing serious illness, even for the Delta variant. The CDC also acknowledges that reinfection of recovered COVID-19 patients is rare.
Though a few vaccines induce a better immune response than natural infection, experts generally say that “natural infection almost always causes better immunity than vaccines.” This appears to be true with COVID-19.
A new study from Israel confirms that natural immunity to COVID-19 is superior to vaccine-induced immunity, even with the Delta variant. Between June 1 and Aug. 14, when Delta was dominant in Israel, the risk of infections was 13 times higher for vaccinated people than for previously infected, unvaccinated people when either the infection or vaccination had occurred between four and seven months before. The risk for symptomatic breakthrough infections was 27-fold higher. While natural immunity did wane somewhat over time, vaccinated persons still had a six-fold higher risk for infection and a seven-fold higher risk for symptomatic illness than people infected up to 10 months before vaccinations started.
An earlier study at the Cleveland Clinic of more than 52,000 health care workers from Dec. 16, 2020, to May 15, 2021 (just before Delta became dominant in the United States), found that both natural immunity and vaccine immunity provide good protection against infections. Not one of the 1,359 previously infected subjects who remained unvaccinated was reinfected. Their risk of infection was no higher than for vaccinated people, whether they were previously infected or uninfected.
Moreover, natural immunity thus far appears to be at least as long-lasting as vaccine immunity. Even before vaccines were widely available, studies indicated that four types of immune memory persist for more than six months after infection. The Cleveland Clinic results suggested that natural immunity provides protection against reinfection for 10 or more months, leading the authors to conclude that previously infected COVID-19 patients are “unlikely to benefit” from vaccination. Another study found that convalescent individuals maintained immunologic protection for 12 months without vaccination, though protection could be enhanced by vaccination.
Read the full article at New York Post.