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Booster shots, natural vs. vaccine immunity: Health experts answer COVID-19 questions

Doctors from Johns Hopkins University
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
Posted at 7:32 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 22:42:47-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — We're still learning how to live with COVID-19. The science changes a lot because we're getting new data every day.

On Wednesday, 13 Action News spoke with two of the leading health experts from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Anna Durbin, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety also at Johns Hopkins University, both addressed members of the media from across the country on Zoom today.


Dr. Salmon began with an impassioned plea for vaccine holdouts to get the shot.

"We have the tools we need. What we need to do to control the pandemic, to get back to normal social, economic life, to prevent further unnecessary morbidity, mortality, is we need high vaccine coverage. We need people to get vaccinated and we need it homogeneously across the population. It's not going to work if some states have high coverage and some states have low coverage, or some age groups or communities. We need widespread acceptance of the vaccine," said Dr. Salmon.


Dr. Durbin weighed in on the debate over booster shots, saying she does not believe the general public should get booster shots at this time.

But it's a complicated debate. Dr. Durbin acknowledged that booster shots will provide additional antibodies and better immune response. So if booster shots provide people with more protection against COVID-19, why don't we all get them right away?

These doctors say it's still unclear how much more protection they provide, and they don't feel they're completely necessary at this time.

"That doesn't mean that we won't see, as more data come in, that there may be populations within the United States, particularly the elderly, for instance, or people in long-term care facilities, people who were hardest-hit by COVID at the beginning of the pandemic, who may require a booster. But I think we really need to see that and the decision to give boosters needs to be data-driven," said Dr. Durbin.

Dr. Durbin also stressed it's important to consider other countries in this conversation. After all, she says we cannot keep COVID from coming into the United States if we don't stop it from spreading around the world. She says the best way to do that is through vaccination.


Dr. Durbin and Dr. Salmon also addressed the debate over protection provided by natural immunity versus the COVID-19 vaccines.

It stems from data from a newly-released study out of Israel, which is not yet peer-reviewed, comparing protection from natural immunity after contracting COVID-19 to the protection provided by two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Scientists in the study found that natural immunity did provide stronger and longer-lasting protection against infection, symptomatic disease, and hospitalization from the Delta variant compared to fully vaccinated individuals who never had COVID-19.

This is just one study and others show the vaccines provide better protection than natural immunity. Dr. Durbin says regardless of whether you have natural immunity or not, you should still get the vaccine.

"People who have had COVID should get vaccinated because we know that you can be re-infected after natural COVID infection. And we know that those people who have had COVID and not been vaccinated are about 2.5 times more likely to be re-infected than people who have had COVID and been vaccinated," said Dr. Durbin.

"Yes, natural immunity generally does provide good protection, but the price you pay may be a very severe infection. And what vaccination does is provide very good immunity without the severity of illness that natural infection does. And we know that vaccination on top of natural infection provides excellent immunity, probably better than natural infection or vaccination itself."

Studies show that natural immunity is temporary, lasting five to eight months on average. Plus, Dr. Durbin says having "hybrid immunity," a combination of natural immunity and vaccine immunity, provides even more protection against Delta than one or the other on their own.