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Natural immunity or vaccine? New CDC study shows COVID-19 vaccines offer more protection

A CDC study from Kentucky found that those who had COVID-19 in 2020 and were fully vaccinated were less likely to catch it again than those unvaccinated.

TOLEDO, Ohio — In about a month's time, the COVID-19 pandemic has reignited in large part due to the delta variant.

More than a year into the pandemic, millions have immunity from either getting the virus or getting the vaccine. But is one or the other better?

To date, around 50% of the U.S. is now fully vaccinated. But there are also many people who didn't get the shot who have natural immunity from getting the virus.

A new CDC study released this month points to a reduced risk of reinfection if you get a vaccine. It found that among Kentucky residents who were previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 in 2020, those who were unvaccinated against COVID-19 had a significantly higher likelihood of reinfection during May and June 2021.  

"There is data to show us that people have more immunity when they get the vaccine," Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, chief of infectious disease at the University of Toledo's College of Medicine and physician at ProMedica Toledo Hospital said, "than they do from having had previous infection, especially if it was mild or moderate."

Hanrahan also warns unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 to avoid basing whether they're immune on antibodies testing. 

She points out the CDC says whether you test positive or negative for COVID-19 antibodies, you still should take steps, including getting vaccinated, to protect yourself and others.

She stresses the people coming into the hospital now, testing positive for the virus, are "almost exclusively not vaccinated."

"To me, it's incredibly frustrating that there's any question of whether or not to get the vaccine," she said.

She says the latest wave of the pandemic is, in her eyes, the most dangerous and adds that people testing positive now are generally more sick and symptomatic than the patients she treated in the early days of the pandemic.

"Those people who needed a little bit of oxygen are not, we're not seeing that anymore," she said. "People are needing a lot of oxygen and that's the main difference."

The Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines have proven to hold up best against the many variants, including the Delta variant, in preventing serious symptoms and reducing spread. 

Hanrahan says she started practicing medicine as the AIDS pandemic was starting 30 years ago and she believes COVID-19 is the worst disease she's seen.

"It's unpredictable, it causes immense amount of suffering and it's preventable," she added, "so why would you allow anyone to go through suffering that's needless?"

She urges everyone to get vaccinated, especially those who are still on the fence.


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