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Please Don’t Try to Get Natural COVID Immunity by Getting Infected

It’s nearly two years into the pandemic and some people are starting to wonder if they should try to get natural Covid-19 immunity by deliberately getting infected. 

It’s a shocking thought – imagine telling your March 2020 self that people would be trying to get Covid-19 – but with the Omicron surge ripping through the population, people are starting to wonder if getting it is inevitable. 

The number of people with Covid-19 is higher than it’s ever been and people are stressed about finding accurate tests and desperately trying to prolong the life of their masks. We’re all exhausted. Would contracting Covid-19, and therefore boosting your natural immunity, make this all easier?

That question has gotten more relevant in light of a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday 19 January. 

From data collected from 1.1 million cases in California and New York, researchers analysed the risk of infection and hospitalisation among four groups, per CNN: those who were unvaccinated and never had Covid-19, those who were unvaccinated but did get Covid-19, those who were vaccinated and never had Covid-19, and those who got both the vaccine and Covid-19. 

They found that people who had survived a previous Covid-19 infection and been vaccinated appeared to have higher immunity against the virus than those who had been vaccinated alone.

 But before you run to try to get the virus in search of a boost in natural Covid-19 immunity, vaccination is still the safest path to protecting yourself, the CDC researchers emphasised.

 “Vaccination remains the safest strategy for averting future SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalizations, long-term [symptoms], and death,” the researchers wrote. 

Here’s why: The data in this study was collected between May and mid-November – before the highly-contagious Omicron variant surfaced in the US and before many people had access to booster shots

That means health experts don’t have enough information to say how the natural Covid-19 immunity you might gain from infection would stand up against Omicron and other, potentially more serious, variants of the virus. 

In fact, the data showed that before the Delta variant became widespread, case rates were higher among people who had already had Covid-19 once than those who were vaccinated and had never had Covid-19 before. It was only in the face of the Delta variant that those with a previous infection seemed to have more immunity protection. 

Waning vaccine immunity might have something to do with that, as CNN notes. The rise of the delta variant coincided with what was potentially a slump in immunity for many vaccinated people – months after the initial dose of the vaccine but before the booster. The study did not analyse the timing of vaccination so we don’t know how the booster might affect the findings. 

And let’s not forget that getting Covid-19 is a dangerous path to immunity, while the vaccine has been proven to be generally safe and effective. (Like any vaccine, there can be side effects, and in some rare cases, people have experienced more serious issues like myocarditis after getting a Covid-19 vaccine. 

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