Laboratory technicians Justin Lange, left, and Akanksh Shetty observe social distancing while creating viral transport media at the University of Illinois. The fluid is used to preserve patient test samples for COVID-19. Courtesy of Ann Hyoung Sook/University of Illinois

Wausau Pilot & Review

Officials at Aspirus Health say natural immunity is not enough to protect people from COVID-19, despite numerous uncertainties and conflicting information that continues to circulate in the community.

Immunity is the body’s ability to protect an individual from getting sick when exposed to an infectious agent such as a bacterium, virus, parasite or fungus. One of the biggest reasons patients at Aspirus cite for not being vaccinated is their belief in natural immunity. But that, officials say, can be spotty. A recent CDC study found that 36% of COVID-19 cases didn’t result in development of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

“You have two basic ways to become immune to something,” Aspirus Hospitalist Dr. Adam Clements said Wednesday, in a news release. “You can acquire natural immunity by becoming infected with something. Or there’s acquired immunity that comes from the placenta from the mother, breast milk, antibody infusion or from a vaccine.”

Dr. Adam Clements, who has been an Aspirus Hospitalist for six years and treating COVID-19 patients at Aspirus Wausau Hospital since the pandemic hit our community, said in a news release that “being uvaccinated is number one, two and three on the list of risk factors” related to COVID-19 infections.

“Natural immunity is great for mono,” Clements said. “People don’t die from mononucleosis, the immunity lasts a long time, but it’s not good for influenza. It mutates too fast… it’s not good for HIV because once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Which one is better really depends on the illness. For COVID, natural immunity is not an effective or wise strategy.”

Additionally, natural immunity fades quicker than immunity from a COVID-19 vaccine.

Real-world studies indicate natural immunity’s short life. For example, 65 percent of people who start with a lower antibody baseline from infection completely lost their COVID-19 antibodies within 60 days.

The most recent COVID-19 news has focused on the omicron variant. New data show that the omicron variant is now considered the most dominant version of the coronavirus – making up 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections last week in the U.S.

“Omicron has a lot of mutations in the spike protein. And Omicron actually arose in South Africa or perhaps in other places in the setting of natural immunity,” Dr. Clements said. “It’s already demonstrated its ability to evade that. It’s here. Natural immunity doesn’t work. And it’s dangerous.”

There are still a lot of unknowns about the omicron variant, but health officials do know that it spreads very fast.

Getting COVID-19 is very risky and can result in long-term disease, lasting organ damage, hospitalization or even death. Even if your own infection is mild, you can spread it to others who may be at risk for severe illness and death.

The authorized and approved vaccines are safe and highly effective against severe illness or death due to COVID.

“I have never seen anyone die from a vaccine-related complication,” Dr. Clements said. “I see people die of COVID every single day at this hospital.”