Natural Immunity v/s Vaccine

Adelle Fernandes| 12 January, 2021| Mumbai

With the advent of 2021, the Coronavirus spread throughout India is such a rapid manner, that a majority of the population had developed heard immunity against the deadly virus. The roll-out of the vaccine begins in the country from January 16, and although there are signs of optimism, there is also reason to fear.

With India rolling out its vaccine in the coming week, about three crore health care workers will have been vaccinated. Considering the size of the Indian population and the rapid production of the vaccine, the entire population will be vaccinated in the near future.

Post-COVID Immunity

Scientific studies conducted provide ample evidence that states the natural immunity attained after recovering from COVID is effective and long lasting. The immune system responds to infection by various mechanisms, including the production of specific antibodies, T-cells, and B-cells to protect nearly every recovered Covid patient from reinfection. After the pandemic has been around for almost a year now, there have been only 34 cases and two deaths due to reinfection, world-wide.

What does the vaccine do?

The COVID vaccine causes the immune system of those inoculated to mimic the immune response that natural infection induced. Even though the immunity conferred by the vaccine has been documented in clinical trials, it is not as effective as the immunity conferred by natural infection.

Additionally, those who have already developed immunity through natural infection are unlikely to develop additional immunity once vaccinated. For example, as part of the Pfizer randomized trial, the vaccine was administered to previously infected patients, to check for safety in the group. However, those same samples were excluded from the analysis of efficacy, because researchers realized the vaccine would presumably confer no additional benefit to them.

As we know, every vaccine has side effects, and though the approved Covid vaccines are safe, they are not an exception. Most of the side effects are mild and include soreness at the injection site, aches and pains from the immunological reaction; but very rarely, severe adverse events do occur. For recovered Covid patients, then, being vaccinated provides no benefit, but some harm. Some would argue that it is thus unethical to vaccinate them.

India and Natural Immunity

There have been approximately 1.4 crore COVID positive cases across the country since the virus made an entry. Mathematical models imply that in accordance with these numbers, this would mean that more than 50% of the Indian population may have developed natural immunity to the virus.

This fact is corroborated by serological tests of COVID antibodies carried out by Thyrocare. The founder, Dr. A. Velumani said, “nature has already immunized, freely, silently 70% Indians”.

Although this means that the virus has infected almost a Billion Indians, the light at the end of the tunnel is that the vast majority has recovered from infection and has lasting immunity to reinfection. They will likely be better protected from Covid over a longer period of time than those who achieve immunity through the vaccine, since it is unclear how long the vaccine induced immunity can last.

The Road Ahead

Before an individual is vaccinated, they should be asked if they were previously infected by the virus. This simple procedure will spare a large number of people from being unnecessarily vaccinated.  

Apart from this, reserving the vaccine for people who have not been previously infected could solve the issue of excess demand for the vaccine by the vulnerable in the early months of the vaccine roll out when not enough doses will be available for the entire population at once.

The main goal of the vaccination process of the country should be to reach herd immunity and not 100% eradication through mass vaccinations. The country must make the most vulnerable sections of society the target of the vaccines, i.e. those who have never been infected by the virus and lack natural immunity. Once this is done, the country can officially do away with the multiple lockdowns citizens have been surviving through for the last 9 months. Since the vaccine-induced immunity or natural immunity would protect individuals from the virus, there would be no reason for the country to remain under lockdown.

References:

Picture Sources:

1. Yahoo News

2. Webmd

3. Irish Times

Adelle Fernandes

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