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UW Health: Vaccines give more reliable, durable protection than infection-based immunity

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Darko Vojinovic

A medical worker prepares a shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, at Belgrade Fair makeshift center in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Russians are flocking to Serbia to receive Western-approved COVID-19 shots. Although Russia has its own vaccine known as Sputnik V, the shot has not been approved by international health authorities.

MADISON, Wis. — Even though COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, many people are hesitant to get their shot because they’ve already contracted the disease, but UW Health experts say immunity from vaccines and infection aren’t necessarily equal.

Infections may generate an immune response, but according to Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer and emergency medicine physician at UW Health, the vaccines are the most reliable and durable way to build up immunity to COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 vaccines were studied through comprehensive clinical trials and produced extensive data,” Pothof said. “That data shows us that they produce reliable, highly effective and more durable immunity.”

Some evidence suggests that reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after recovering from the disease, but experts don’t know how long that protection lasts. One-third of people who had COVID-19 also don’t generate an immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 outweighs the benefits of infection-based immunity, experts said.

According to a study in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, infection-based antibody responses went down after 60 days for roughly 94% of health care workers who were infected and recovered.

“COVID-19 vaccination offers better protection than infection-based immunity alone,” Pothof said. “It’s also important for people to know that if you were infected more than 90 days ago, your immunity is decreasing at this point and you may be at risk for re-infection.”

People with previous COVID-19 infections were also more than twice as likely to get reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated after recovering from the virus, according to a separate article in the CDC’s MMWR.

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