Some Thoughts On Covid-19, Vaccines and Natural Immunity

In discussing our wellness consulting strategies with members, small business owners, and others interested in the prevention or treatment of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, the topic of Covid-19 vaccines almost always comes up.

At as medical epidemiologists and prevention specialists, our goal is to provide services that will keep healthy people healthy and prevent illnesses when possible. We currently focus on arteriosclerotic cardiovscular disease since it is the number one cause of death in the US.

Among the many effects of a SARS-Cov-2 virus infection (the illness is termed Covid-19) is a weakening of a person’s natural defenses, or an aggravation of other illnesses (comorbidities). Covid-19 infection might make ASCVD even more serious as the infection stresses and weakens the body, and we obviously want to do our part to keep that from happening. Besides, Covid-19 is deadly and has also become a major distraction, hasn’t it?

As of today, it seems likely that everyone in the world above the age of 5 years is facing a recommendation, if not a requirement, that they receive a full course of the Covid vaccine and vaccine boosters. It seems to us that the preoccupation with vaccines has been obscuring very useful medical information about our immunological response to the virus that should be studied further and much faster; the results of which could ease some of the burden upon vaccine providers and medical professionals, as well as the general public. Clarity on this information might also reduce the tension that has built up over vaccine mandates, masking, quarantines, and social distancing. Of course there are still many unknowns to be concerned about.

More than three-quarters of a million Americans have died as a result of their infection from the coronavirus. Many others have been made significantly ill and required extensive care and treatment until the illness ran its course and they recovered. Some have become Covid Longhaulers

Furthermore, there are also likely millions of people who have been infected by the virus without having any idea they have been infected. They either had no symptoms, had no reason to be tested, or were unable to acquire the test, and the virus ran its course and they never knew exactly what had happened to them.

What does that mean?

Those people who have been infected and don’t know it, as well as those who got sick and then got healthy again, likely have a natural immunity to the virus now without having to receive any level of the vaccine. But as it now stands, We cannot find any major well-known health authority that is not recommending the vaccine for those with natural immunity (previously infected). Still, you might want to know your status, considering there is much more to learn on the topic of immunologic protection.

The response to SARS-CoV-2 is probably not very different from those people who get other respiratory viruses, such as the measles; their system develops the antibodies that make a second infection impossible. Antibodies are proteins created by your immune system that help you fight off infections. They are made after you have either been infected or have been vaccinated against an infection. Some viruses, like influenza, undergo antigenic changes, and you have to receive revised vaccines as often as yearly. SARS-CoV-2 seems capable of antigenic shifts, as you may have noticed.

Historical Similarities. Screening for antibodies as a test of immunity is not a new concept. Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) occurs in a baby developing in the womb whose mother is infected with the rubella virus. Pregnant women who contract rubella during pregnancy are at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth, and their developing babies are at risk for severe birth defects with devastating, lifelong consequences. Women who are planning to become pregnant should check with their doctor and obtain a simple blood test to make sure they are immune, and if not, they should be vaccinated before they get pregnant. Health care workers may similarly be tested for existing antibodies in their blood and immunized if there is no evidence of protection. But if they ARE immune, they do not need further vaccination against rubella.

As with the Covid-19 vaccines, the “immunity’’ that comes with having survived a bout with the virus is likely not 100%, but research (studies in Israel and the Cleveland Clinic, among others) shows that the protection that comes from having had the virus previously is much stronger than the protection that comes from the vaccines.

Meanwhile, you should be aware that both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending against antibody testing. Their reasons have to do with the lack of information on what constitutes actual quantitative immunity (what levels are protective is not yet settled). You might ask, since this has been going on for two years now, world-wide, and since antibody tests in a variety of forms (testing for antibodies against both the Spike and Nucleocapsid viral components) have been available under a EUA for most of that time, why has this issue not been better sorted out? Since they are recommending against this testing, does that mean you should not know anything about your personal status in terms of measurable antibodies? We don’t think so.

We are not arguing against the vaccines. Vaccines in general remain the biggest advance in preventive medicine and public health. However, we also like the idea that those infected might be protected by natural immunity. For those people who have not been infected, the vaccines and subsequent boosters are a good protection against being infected. However, a person who has been infected and has thus developed a natural immunity may not benefit at all from acquiring the vaccine. They simply may not need it. There is even a concern that there could be immunological issues emerging in such folks.

Many individual physicians agree that natural immunity cannot be overlooked any longer. But keep in mind that all the organized public health agencies and academic organizations are quite clear on the idea that if you were previously infected, you still need the full course of vaccination and boosters.
The problem with natural immunity. It should be good news that those who have been infected with SARS-Cov-2 and survived are relatively well-protected from getting reinfected. But, as suggested above, often people live through the viral infection without any symptoms, or they may have mild symptoms, or atypical symptoms, or typical symptoms but no available direct viral test, and do not know they have been infected. Therefore, they are going to get the vaccine without needing it, or deal with the consequences of not getting vaccinated even though it may not be absolutely necessary.

Which brings us to the second problem with natural immunity. If we accept the premise that those with natural immunity are as well protected, if not actually better protected, from the virus than those who have been vaccinated, why should they be required to receive the vaccination. But, there are many instances today when people are required to prove they have been vaccinated, especially if they are going to travel, if vaccination is required by a workplace, or even if they wish to eat in a restaurant.

Unvaccinated people are being ostracized (a consequence about which you can agree or disagree) but they may not need to be vaccinated because of their natural immunity, why should they be felt to be inconsiderate or a danger to others.

So, there are tests to determine whether a person has developed a natural immunity to the virus. At My Healthy Potential, we provide antibody tests available under EUA for members which can detect natural infection. If selected correctly, they can also measure a person’s antibody response to the vaccine.

If you are wondering about your response to the actual illness, or to the vaccine, you can be tested for natural immunity and/or vaccine response. We feel more folks should be tested for natural immunity. And those tests (although not yet fully quantifiable) should be as easy to acquire as the nasal swab has been, and as easy as getting the vaccines.

In Conclusion. Our enthusiasm for the vaccines, and our hope that they can bring us back to the relative safety we enjoyed before the SARS-Cov-2 virus arrived in the year 2019, has apparently caused us to ignore an important scientific fact learned long ago regarding the behavior of most respiratory viruses. There is likely a whole class of citizens who are already protected from the virus, and their immunity and protection is probably much better than they would have if they were vaccinated.

We should have had more studies done months ago, reviewed and published, to sort out the importance of natural immunity to SARS-Cov-2. Meanwhile, join us to at least get an early idea of your current status.