Much Better than “Natural Immunity”

Quick Summary: The vaccines provide much better protection/immunity than getting sick from COVID-19 and then recovering without a vaccine.

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 (aka natural immunity), and as we are increasingly seeing, you can get sick with COVID-19 more than once! Immunity from the vaccines is more than five times more effective than having COVID-19 and recovering (without being vaccinated).

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, in August 2021, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than people who are vaccinated. 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 are being developed, but it’s better to not get sick in the first place than wait to get sick and then try to treat it.

News is coming out about antiviral pills that could help treat COVID-19. Although this is an exciting development and can hopefully save lives and keep people from needing to go to the hospital because of severe illness, we need to remember that they are 1) not widely available yet and 2) treat COVID-19 but don’t prevent it. That means these pills are used in people who are already infected and having symptoms, and they need to be used at an early stage of infection. It also means that, by the time the pills 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, but if enough people get vaccinated, we may not need them as much in the future.

Masks are very important for reducing the spread of COVID-19, but we don’t want to keep wearing masks for the rest of our lives, and even now many of us are fed up with them. If everyone wanted to wear a mask and socially distance forever, the vaccine might be less important, but lots of people aren’t wearing masks when they’re in public—maybe you, maybe your friends or family, maybe people you work with or walk past in a store.

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 (particularly right now, given how bad things are and new variants). Masks work best in combination with vaccines, not instead of them. Hopefully, in a few months, if almost everyone has been vaccinated, 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!).

A sketch of a face mask.
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