If I had COVID-19, do I need to get vaccinated?
The two reasons to get vaccinated are to keep yourself from catching COVID-19 and to keep yourself from transmitting it to other people who might then get very ill. This pandemic can only end in two ways. One would be allowing millions more people to sicken and die. The other is through a very high percentage of vaccination.
COVID-19 is new and there’s a lot we don’t know about it. It began a year and a half ago, 141 million cases have been documented and 3 million people have died. Through all of this, there has been the ability to gather information. The most useful data I’ve found was published just last month in Lancet. The majority of the country of Denmark was extensively tested. The study looks at people tested in their first wave (March to May) and their second (September to December), a range of 4-8 months. Their conclusion was the following: “We found protection in the population to be 80% or higher in those younger than 65 years, but to be approximately 47% in those aged 65 years and older.” So there is protection for most people who’ve had COVID, but it’s not as strong as we get with our vaccinations. We also don’t know how long the protection lasts after getting COVID-19.
We know people can get sick with a second infection. We know most people who get vaccinated after formerly having COVID-19 develop a robust immune response. We expect that any protection from the disease won’t last forever. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) get us nearly 100% protection against severe COVID, 94-95% protection against getting mild to moderate disease and over 80% protection against asymptomatic transmission. There’s evidence that the protections from the vaccination are quite long-lasting. Due to viral mutations/variants, COVID-19 is becoming more contagious and probably more aggressive. The vaccines are highly effective at protecting us from variants, but we don’t know the same about prior illness. After hundreds of millions of doses of the mRNA vaccines, we know them to be very safe. The J&J vaccine is on “pause” for a possible side effect that has shown up as 1 per million. Though we’re worried about that, it should be seen as emphasizing the high level of safety that is going into the observation for any dangers. We also know that people are getting tired of COVID-19 restrictions and want to return to life as they knew it.
You can be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as you are no longer contagious from your infection. However, it is generally agreed upon that reinfection within 90 days is exceedingly uncommon. So the CDC indicates that waiting 3 months from the time of the infection is reasonable. This delay has been important in that there haven’t been enough vaccines to go around. As we get closer to supply meeting demand, there is less reason to delay. Anybody who received Monoclonal antibody infusions during their COVID-19 illness does need to wait 3 full months.
So, in summary, protection from COVID from previous disease isn’t terrible. But it’s not as good as you need and we need. If we all get vaccinated, the epidemic in the U.S. will disappear and we can lead the less wealthy countries to end the pandemic altogether.
Dr. Daniel Wilensky, Community Health Center