Israeli study: People with natural immunity have more protection than double-dose vaccinated

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

New fodder for the destined-to-be-eternal debate over whether natural immunity is better than vaccine immunity or vice versa.

Although, really, that’s a false choice. Every study I’ve seen that’s looked at this question says hybrid immunity — infection/recovery followed by a vaccine shot — provides the most protection, hands down. And this new study from Israel is no different.

If you’re looking to argue that vaccine immunity is superior to natural immunity, start here and here. If you’re looking to argue the opposite, start with the other study from Israel published this summer that found people who recovered from COVID were 13 times more protected than the vaccinated were.

Today’s new study crunched the numbers on COVID cases in the Israeli Ministry of Health’s database from August and September to see how many people got infected despite being immunized earlier, whether via infection and recovery or vaccination. Chew on the results, then read on.

The most striking takeaway is that immunity waned in every cohort except the boosted, and that’s (probably) only because the boosted population had recently received their third dose when the study was conducted. There’s no way to measure yet how much their immunity is waning over time, although it almost certainly is.

The clear winner in protection is hybrid immunity, at least in the near term, although the recently boosted and those with natural immunity from COVID after being infected four to six months ago aren’t far behind. The comparative loser is vaccination, with people who’ve had two doses within the past two months enjoying only as much protection as people who’ve had natural immunity for eight to 10 months. In fact, even that may understate the advantage from natural immunity considering that the unvaccinated paradoxically tend to be more willing to take risks with COVID than the vaccinated are, at least here in the U.S. The average naturally immune person may be exposing himself more frequently to the virus than the average vaccinated person is and yet still getting infected less often.

People who’d been vaccinated six to eight months ago had *three* times the infection rate of those who recovered from COVID more than a year earlier. Not great.

On the other hand, this data also shows how dramatically boosters work to reduce infection in the double-dosed. It’s night and day between the boosted and the rest of the vaccinated cohort. And in the short term, at least, you get more protection from a booster than you do from natural immunity.

A major caveat: This study was conducted before Omicron appeared. There’s already evidence from South Africa that the new variant is reinfecting people who previously had COVID at three times the rate that previous variants did. Presumably breakthrough infections in the vaccinated are also happening much more often with Omicron. The new Israeli study is a strong argument that people with natural immunity should go get their first shot to attain hybrid immunity and people with two doses should go out and get boosted.

Which many are, by the way:

Relatedly, Kyle Smith is noticing a trend:

I’m a little puzzled by the lack of coordinated outrage at the North for allowing the coronavirus to wreak havoc. The worst ten states for cases today are, per the New York Times:

New Hampshire
Michigan
Minnesota
Rhode Island
Vermont
New Mexico
Wisconsin
Indiana
Massachusetts
Ohio

All but two of those states are blue ones and they’re not all suffering from “casedemics.” Hospitalizations in New Hampshire have also hit an all-time high despite the fact that that state leads the United States with 90 percent of adults having received at least one dose.

Despite the huge share of vaccinated residents, doctors there and in neighboring Vermont (which is also experiencing a wave) say the patients they’re seeing at the hospital are disproportionately unvaccinated. But looking again at the data in the new Israeli study, waning immunity in the vaccinated — especially the elderly vaccinated — must be playing a role too. Logically, we might expect the most highly vaccinated states to have an unusually large percentage of people whose immunity has already waned because everyone there ran out to get vaxxed early this year, when the vaccines first began rolling out. That’s bad news for the northeast as the winter climate feeds Delta and Omicron gets rolling.