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COVID-19: Why natural immunity is not enough

A masked doctor talks to her masked patient.

If you've already had COVID-19, chances are you have some antibodies against the coronavirus. That's called "natural immunity." But does it mean that you can skip the vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone get a vaccine, even those who've already had COVID-19. That's because we're still learning how well natural immunity protects people and for how long.

And there's strong evidence that getting a vaccine is worthwhile.

Vaccines give added protection

According to recent research:

  • Vaccines boost natural immunity. A study in the journal Nature followed healthcare workers after they recovered from COVID-19. Those who were vaccinated after recovering had much stronger protection than the unvaccinated had from natural immunity alone.
  • Vaccines help protect against variants. Another Nature study found that while people who'd had COVID-19 had antibodies a year later, less than half had antibodies against the Delta variant. Even one dose of an mRNA vaccine gave them a stronger immune response against Delta and Beta.
  • Vaccines help prevent reinfection. CDC found that people relying on natural immunity alone were more than twice as likely to get COVID-19 again, compared with people who were fully vaccinated after they recovered.

The bottom line

Knowing that you may have some immunity if you had COVID-19 is heartening. But adding a vaccine is even better. It can give your immune system a big boost against COVID-19. Plus, it may help protect you against a wider range of variants.

If you received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma while being treated for COVID-19, it's best to wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC says. Talk with your doctor about what's right for you.

Stay up-to-date

COVID-19 vaccines can protect you from getting very sick with COVID-19. But that protection fades with time. To keep your immune system strong, get a booster dose as soon as you're eligible. You can learn more about booster shots and when to get them in our Coronavirus topic center.

Reviewed 1/27/2022

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