Conservative politicians, rank-and-file workers and even high-profile athletes and coaches who oppose vaccine mandates are increasingly making the argument that people who have recovered from COVID-19 shouldn’t have to roll up their sleeves for the shot.
“Now more than ever, we need to pursue every scientific measure — such as natural immunity — that can help mitigate the pandemic without threatening people’s jobs, our economy or denying Americans access to everyday life activities based on COVID-19 vaccination status,” Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn., said in a statement.
Harshbarger and a group of House Republicans, including Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, say natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection is effective, durable and long-lasting. They have introduced legislation requiring federal agencies to take into account naturally acquired immunity from previous coronavirus infection when issuing any regulations aimed at protecting people from the disease.
But members of the medical community say that while there is some natural immunity and protection from a repeat infection of COVID-19 after recovering from the illness, it is not yet clear how long it lasts.
Health experts at the University of Utah as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that the COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for everyone 12 years and older, regardless of a previous coronavirus infection. Although some medical professionals suggest that no vaccination is needed for those who have already had COVID-19, U. doctors disagree.
“While there is some evidence natural infection provides strong immunity, there is variability from person to person and less predictability than vaccine immunity,” according to Dr. Emily Sydnor Spivak, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health. “Clinical antibody tests available also are not great correlates of immunity to COVID-19 and have wide variability from test to test.”
Harshbarger said there is ample scientific evidence from numerous peer-reviewed studies that natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection is effective, durable and long-lasting. The CDC, she said, has already acknowledged natural immunity for measles, chickenpox and other viruses.
Stewart said the mere introduction of Harshbarger’s Natural Immunity is Real Act is proof of the Biden administration’s inconsistency on COVID-19. The GOP House members say President Joe Biden’s policies fail to recognize that millions of Americans have immunity because they’ve already had and recovered from the virus. People should not be forced to choose between getting the vaccine or keeping their job, they say.
“We’re simply asking that President Biden practice what he preaches and actually ‘follow the science.’ These two statements are not mutually exclusive, and in fact are both true: The vaccine offers effective protection against COVID-19; natural immunity offers effective protection against COVID-19,” he said in a statement.
Research comparing immune responses in people who have recovered from Covid-19 to those who have been vaccinated has been mixed, according to a Wall Street Journal story Tuesday.
Many studies have found that mRNA vaccines produce a higher level of neutralizing antibodies immediately after inoculation than COVID-19 infections. Antibody levels in vaccinated people and those who have recovered from infections drop over time, several studies have shown, reducing some of the immunity that both groups of patients have developed, the Journal reported.
A recent CDC study shows that those who have had COVID-19 and are not vaccinated are more than twice as likely than those who are fully vaccinated to contract the virus for a second time.
“Letting people get COVID rather than a vaccine to protect them from COVID means they’re at risk of severe disease, long COVID, and even death,” Spivak said. “I say this as we are seeing young, 20-year-old patients being admitted with very severe disease. And even if only a few people have this unfortunate turn of events, it’s not worth the risk.”
Biden called for companies with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly coronavirus testing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don’t comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
Many companies have implemented vaccine mandates on their own since Biden’s announcement last month.
Stewart earlier said Biden has no right to mandate a personal medical choice. He said it’s unconstitutional and beyond the scope of any federal power. Stewart has taken exception with the Utah Jazz requiring fans who enter Vivint Smart Home Arena for basketball games to show proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test.
Republican attorneys general in 24 states, including Utah, have threatened to sue the president if his proposed vaccination mandate for large companies takes effect.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has introduced several measures to counter Biden’s mandate. All have failed, including one on Oct. 6 also called the Immunity is Real Act. It would have done the same thing Harshbarger is proposing.
In a Senate floor speech, he said studies in Italy, Israel and Denmark found natural immunity to COVID-19 is strong and effective.
“But the president’s mandate announcement makes not mention of natural immunity, no mention whatsoever. Our entire national health apparatus seems to disregard the significant protection individuals have if they’ve previously had and recovered from COVID,” Lee said.
Harshbarger said it’s necessary to use all clinical tools as protection and treatment options to combat COVID-19.
“However, my bill is a necessary and timely legislative action resulting from President Biden’s continued politicization of COVID-19 which continues to create deep divisions among Americans, such as when he chillingly said his national vaccine mandate requirements are ‘not about freedom or personal choice,’” she said.