DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Why vaccine immunity is better than natural immunity
Two years have passed since Covid-19 broke out on the global stage, disrupting our lives and killing more than 5.5 million people worldwide.
And it’s been just over a year since the UK’s coronavirus vaccine program began, saving more than 100,000 lives and preventing countless others from being hospitalized and suffering long-term damage from Covid.
And yet there are still around five million people in the UK who choose not to get vaccinated. Many seem convinced that they are either not at risk or that ‘natural’ immunity will save them.
People like unvaccinated advisor Dr. Steve James, who made headlines last week when he confronted the health minister, Sajid Javid, about the government’s decision to make a Covid vaccination by April a condition of working on the front lines of the NHS.
It’s been just over a year since the UK’s coronavirus vaccine program began, saving more than 100,000 lives and preventing countless others from being hospitalized and suffering long-term damage from Covid
In fact, it is thought that there are tens of thousands of unvaccinated NHS frontline workers who now have less than three weeks to get their first shot, which they must have by February 3 if they are to be double vaccinated by the government’s deadline of Apr 1.
dr. James objected to mandatory vaccines against Covid, despite the fact that he and other doctors who work with vulnerable patients in the NHS have already had to prove to their hospital confidence that they have been vaccinated against hepatitis, an unpleasant and highly contagious virus (although not). as contagious as Covid).
dr. James claimed that “the science isn’t strong enough” and that he didn’t need a vaccine because he had antibodies, showing that he had acquired some “natural” immunity from an infection.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic used a similar argument to get into Australia – claiming an exemption on the grounds that he had Covid in December and would therefore be protected by his antibodies.
The problem with this argument is that, first, the unvaccinated and unboosted people make up the majority of those in intensive care. And second, just because you have antibodies to a previous form of Covid doesn’t mean you’re protected from contracting it or spreading it to more vulnerable people like cancer patients or pregnant women.
A study published in December by researchers from Imperial College London concluded that, if you’ve had a previous Covid infection, protection against Omicron may be “as little as 19 percent.” In contrast, a course of vaccines – the double dose plus the booster – offers something like 75 percent protection.
Why the difference? It turns out that our immune system is very good at learning from experience. The more often your immune system is challenged by a virus (or a vaccine, which mimics that virus), the better it can defend itself against it.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic used a similar argument to get into Australia – claiming an exemption on the grounds that he had Covid in December and would therefore be protected by his antibodies
The first time your immune system encounters a virus, it isn’t quite sure how to respond and it takes time to build an effective response. While that is happening, the virus is multiplying, spreading and causing damage.
If you’re lucky, your immune system springs into action and you recover from a trivial illness. If you’re unlucky, you’ll end up in the hospital, maybe ICU. The idea of a vaccine is to give your immune system the nudge to go to work long before you’re exposed to the real thing.
The reason for a second and even third shot is that it boosts and fine-tunes your immune response to protect you and others in the future.
Multiple exposures appear to be particularly effective at educating your T cells, immune cells responsible for detecting and killing dangerous viruses, and vital for conferring long-lasting immunity. T cells also seem much better than antibodies at detecting and destroying new variants of Covid.
And this is important because one of the main reasons for getting vaccinated, as far as I’m concerned, is that it protects others – especially the vulnerable who can’t get the shot.
We know that people who are vaccinated carry fewer viruses and clear it from their bodies more quickly, so they are much less likely to pass it on. Vaccines, of course, can have side effects and are not 100 percent effective. One of the criticisms of Covid vaccines is that, despite being stung three times, you can still get infected and get sick.
This is true, although you are much less likely to become seriously ill than if you were completely unprotected. And there’s the consolation that you may now have “super immunity.” In a study by the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research in Boston, USA, researchers tested the blood of people who had contracted Covid after being double vaccinated.
They now had a 30-fold increase in antibody levels and a 4-fold increase in T-cell levels, compared to patients who had been vaccinated and who had not received Covid; which bodes well for future encounters with the virus.
And it seems to work the other way around too. I wrote in this column, before Christmas, that I told an unvaccinated friend that I didn’t want her to come to a social gathering because of the risk she posed.
Since then, she and her husband have become quite ill with Covid. And I’m still suggesting that if she recovers, she might consider a shot.
That’s because studies have shown that people who receive a vaccine after being infected produce much higher levels of antibodies and T cells than those who, like Novak Djokovic and Dr. James, just rely on “natural” immunity.
I am optimistic that we have Covid on the run. But I’m also convinced that it will happen faster and with less disruption once people who are hesitant to vaccinate see the benefits of a shot.
Some people who are against mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff are suggesting that we could test people for antibodies to Covid-19, and if they have those, that would mean they can work safely. But just because you have antibodies doesn’t mean you can’t infect or become infected others. That’s why regulators, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, have recommended that antibody tests should not currently be used to evaluate a person’s level of immunity or protection against Covid infection.
Being a little delusional can actually be good for you!
As a natural pessimist, I’ve worked hard to look on the bright side and believe that it’s going to be okay because I know it’s right for me: Optimists tend to live longer, be healthier, and sleep better .
My wife, Clare, is an optimist and I find it annoying that she refuses to share some of my more negative predictions about the future. I sometimes wonder if her optimism is a form of self-deception.
If so, she’s not alone. According to researchers from the University of Antwerp in Belgium, self-deception is very common. In a recent article in the journal Philosophical Psychology, they describe several techniques we use to protect our fragile egos from the harsh realities of life. I recognize many of these techniques, I must admit.
First, there is the ‘reorganization of beliefs’. An example of this would be parents who are convinced that their child is brilliant and blame the teacher for bad grades. Another technique, if you are determined to hold on to your beliefs, is to avoid going anywhere where those beliefs are tested. And if they are challenged, why not simply reject what you are told by casting doubt on the credibility of the source?
Finally, you can just turn off the things you don’t want to hear. Your doctor may have told you that you are in good shape but that you can lose some weight. All you hear is, “You’re in good shape.”
Does it matter? In many cases, a little self-deception can be a good thing.
There is some evidence that people who put a positive spin on things are happier and more loved than those who are more realistic. And when it comes to loved ones, a 1998 State University of New York study found that the stronger a couple’s illusions about each other, the more likely the relationship would survive.
The fact that I think Clare is as beautiful as when we first met may be an illusion, but it makes us both happy.