Guess what the science says?

Go figure, it turns out that natural immunity from a Covid infection is at least as effective at protecting you from reinfection with the virus as two doses of the vaccine.

That’s the conclusion of a meta-study that reviewed a total of 65 studies from 19 different countries, comparing how much a Covid-19 infection protected a person from subsequent reinfection and illness, and how that protection compared to getting vaccinated. The study was published in the Lancet and financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

“Although protection from re-infection from all variants wanes over time, our analysis of the available data suggests that the level of protection afforded by previous infection is at least as high, if not higher than that provided by two-dose vaccination using high-quality mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech),” the researchers conclude.

The researchers noted that “protection from past infection against re-infection from pre-omicron variants was very high and remained high even after 40 weeks” and “protection from severe disease was high for all variants.” In other words, once you’ve gotten through your first bout with Covid, subsequent run-ins with the virus shouldn’t hit you much harder and in many cases will be milder or perhaps even asymptomatic. The study did find that infection with an early version of the virus didn’t give as much protection against the Omicron variant. But the protection against the risk of severe disease was still high: “Protection against severe disease remained high for all variants, with 90.2 percent for ancestral, alpha, and delta variants, and 88.9 percent for omicron BA.1 at 40 weeks.”

The conclusions of the study indicate that while we were destined to have a public debate about the value of vaccination, that debate turned unnecessarily nasty, and much of it wasted time and energy.

Since early 2021, as the country argued about Covid vaccines, the concept of previous infection was largely ignored, dismissed, or hand-waved away. Those who preferred not to get vaccinated, and who contended that they had sufficient protection because of a previous infection, were often treated as reckless cranks and lunatics. Some lost their jobs. And now, this study indicates, their instincts were right all along. Yes, natural immunity will fade over time, but so does the protection provided by vaccines. Last month in an article in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, Anthony Fauci wrote that vaccines against respiratory viruses generally provide “decidedly suboptimal” protection against infection and rarely produce durable, protective immunity. Yes, we noticed.

It was reasonable for President Biden and his administration to want to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible. In early 2021, lots of Americans who practiced social distancing for much of 2020 still hadn’t had any contact with the virus. And the vaccinations meant that the reactions to Covid-19 would be milder and much less likely to be life-threatening.

But that effort quickly turned into the culture war by other means, as Biden fumed that “our patience is wearing thin” like a stern father attempting to discipline wayward teenagers. He and his team pushed for vaccine mandates that hit a lot of obstacles in court and proved a lot harder to enforce than expected. New York City abandoned its plans for a vaccine mandate for city workers. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate the CDC’s vaccine requirement for U.S. visitors.

Is it good to get vaccinated against Covid? Presuming you’re not allergic to one of the ingredients, yes. But patients’ concerns about the risk of myocarditis, particularly in young males, should not be casually dismissed by doctors. If you’re elderly or immunocompromised, an infection or reinfection from Covid-19 variants is going to remain a potential health hazard for the foreseeable future, and something to discuss with your doctor.

But at this point, it is likely that almost everyone — not quite everyone, but almost everyone — in America has been infected with Covid-19 at least once. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has had 102 million cases since the start of the pandemic, but that number includes only cases officially reported to health authorities. Particularly during the Omicron wave, plenty of Americans felt sick, took a home test, saw two pink lines, and stayed home for a week, never getting their case put into the system and thus the official numbers.

This new Lancet study is good news. It means that once our natural immune systems have fought Covid, they remember how to do it for about ten months. But it also means that, after Americans spent 2021 and much of 2022 screaming at each other about natural immunity vs. vaccination, now “the science” is telling us that the previously infected unvaccinated had adequate protection all along.

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