What About “Natural Immunity” or If I've Already Had COVID-19?

Quick Summary: The vaccines provide much better and safer protection/immunity than getting sick from COVID-19 and then recovering without a vaccine, and people who have gotten sick and recovered should still get vaccinated and boosted.

Some people think that natural immunity—having gotten sick from COVID-19 and then recovering—is all they need to be protected. Though that might work for some other illnesses, it actually doesn’t work that well for COVID-19. New research has shown that the vaccines actually protect us much better than previously having COVID-19 does on its own (aka natural immunity), and as we are increasingly seeing, you can get sick with COVID-19 more than once! Immunity from the vaccines can be five times more effective than having COVID-19 and recovering (without being vaccinated). Plus, it’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch a dangerous disease!

You should still get vaccinated and get your booster shot even if you already had COVID-19 and recovered, because getting vaccinated and boosted significantly increases your immunity.

A sketch of a person coughing.

What Protection Do the Vaccines Provide?

Quick Summary: The vaccines make it much less likely that you’ll get sick, and if you do get sick, they make it much less likely that you’ll end up so sick that you need to go to a hospital or die from it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has some very reliable data on COVID-19, unvaccinated people are 3.6 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 23 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than people who have been vaccinated and boosted. They have also found that unvaccinated people are 7 times more likely to die of COVID-19. However, no vaccine is 100% effective, so even people who have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine can still get sick with COVID-19 later (though not from the vaccine itself). The vaccine makes it much, much less likely that you’ll get sick, though. 

If you’re vaccinated and end up catching COVID-19 later (this is called a “breakthrough case”), it’s much more likely to be a minor case, because the vaccine helps protect against severe illness, needing to go to the hospital, or dying from COVID-19. A smaller chance of getting sick or severely ill also makes it less likely you’ll get Long COVID-19, which can significantly impact quality of life for a long time. (We’ll talk more about Long COVID-19 later.)

Prevention is Better than Treatment

Quick Summary: Pills and treatments for COVID-19 can save lives, but it’s better to not get sick in the first place than wait to get sick and then try to treat it.

There are now some treatments for COVID-19, including monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral pills. Although these are exciting developments and have saved lives, we need to remember that they are 1) limited in availability and 2) treat COVID-19 but don’t prevent it. That means these treatments are used in people who are already infected and having symptoms. It also means that, by the time the treatments start working, someone could already have developed Long COVID-19 symptoms, which can last months or years. Wouldn’t it be better to never get infected at all? The vaccine is preventative, which means it protects you and lowers the chance of you getting COVID-19 to begin with. 

A sketch of a bottle of hand sanitizer. The label shows a hand with some liquid being poured on it.

What About Masks?

Quick Summary: Masks are still important right now, even if you’re vaccinated, and N95, KN95, and KF94 masks are much more effective than cloth masks.

Masks are very important for reducing the spread of COVID-19. If you or the people around you aren’t wearing a mask, the vaccine helps reduce the chances of getting COVID-19. That doesn’t mean that getting vaccinated means you shouldn’t wear a mask anymore. Masks work best in combination with vaccines, not instead of them. Hopefully, one day, we won’t need to wear masks to stay safe from COVID-19 anymore (though wearing a mask when you or people you’re around have a cold or the flu is still a good idea!).

While cloth masks were recommended early in the pandemic, N95, KN95, or KF94 masks are much more effective than cloth masks at preventing the spread of COVID-19, and are now widely available.

A sketch of a face mask.
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