We are winning the COVID-19 fight, not the war
Tom Dean, MD
In the struggle against COVID-19, vaccines are our best weapon. We must continue the push to increase vaccination rates. Many people wonder if they need a vaccine if they already had COVID or if the infection itself makes them immune. These are reasonable questions – but a definite answer is not known. Here is what we do know.
Those who have had COVID have some protection against a new infection, but that protection is not complete. A number of folks who have had COVID have experienced reinfection. The rate of reinfection is fairly low – but it is much higher than the rate of infection for those who have been vaccinated.
It also appears that immunity from natural infection declines with time, though how quickly that happens is variable and may relate to the severity of the original infection. By contrast, research shows immunity from vaccination tends to be higher, with decline not evident for at least six months. Studies are ongoing, and a full answer will not be available for several years.
The consensus of the experts is that everyone who is eligible should be vaccinated. Some will argue that this is overkill, but like so many other decisions it is a process of balancing the risks. As we gain more experience with the vaccines, they are establishing an impressive track record of both safety and effectiveness – in fact, the performance of these preparations is much better than some well-accepted vaccines, such as those for influenza.
On the other hand, the more experience we have with COVID the more it becomes apparent that the threat it carries is more complex than initially appreciated. Not only is it potentially life threatening in the acute phase, but it also carries a substantial risk of persistent symptoms and longer-term disability.
Everyone needs to be cautious and weigh the risks – but looking at the big picture, the evidence is strongly in favor of vaccination for everyone, whether or not they have had COVID. This becomes particularly vital as new variants appear, with experts expressing concern that the Delta variant may be more threatening than the ones that have preceded it.
A series of COVID variants have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic. The Delta variant has recently caused a devastating surge in India as well as major outbreaks in the UK and in China. This variant has gotten attention from international experts because it is considerably more contagious, seems to cause more serious disease, and attacks younger people.
So far in the United States the Delta variant accounts for less than 10 percent of new cases – but it is fully expected that those numbers will increase. Here’s the good news: Existing evidence indicates that current vaccines are effective against the new variant, though there is some concern that the level of effectiveness may be slightly lower than against previous strains.
The bottom line remains that the very best defense we have in this ongoing war is vaccination. This is true for two reasons. First, those who are vaccinated have good protection against the infection. Secondly, a higher vaccination rate lowers the risk of viral spread – and it is during viral spread that new variants evolve.
The basic recommendation remains the same: Get your shot.
NRHA recently launched the association’s Rural COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkit to immediately assist you in your vaccine access and education efforts and allow you to easily co-brand and distribute resources to your community.