Joe Biden is losing the CoVid culture wars, and the polls are getting worse. Yet the Centers for Disease Control just handed him a lifeline back to regain the hearts of millions of voters.
CD quietly, without fanfare, just surrendered its year-long pretense that natural immunity to Covid doesn’t exist. A new science brief on its website acknowledges infection-induced immunity and vaccine-induced immunity offer equivalent protection — CDC says, for 6 months.1
Much of the developed world already knew this, based on data over the past year. Since November 2020, study after study has found protection induced by a CoVid infection is at least as good as vaccine-induced immunity.
All 27 EU countries and 16 others issue recovery certificates, vaccination certificates, and negative test certificates, equally, for people to enter public places and socialize.2 There is no category for the recovered in the U.S. They are invisible, or worse.
The way U.S. officials talk, people who survived Covid and remain unvaccinated deserve to be blamed for swelling emergency rooms and intensive care, costing jobs, and disrupting the economy. The insinuation is that claims of natural immunity are just as bonkers and as much a threat to public safety as the anti-mask, no social-distancing political fringe. Science shows it isn’t so.
World Health Organization records count 16,306,656 “Coronavirus Recovered” Americans.3 CDC figures half remain unvaccinated,4 about 8-million people.
Former CDC medical officer, infectious disease specialist, and University of Southern California professor, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, just co-authored a review of 10 studies across six countries. It affirmed the findings that prior infection protects “for 10 months or more, similar to the protective effect of vaccination.”5
“From the public health perspective,” says Klausner, “denying jobs and access and travel to people who have recovered from infection doesn’t make sense.”6
Privately, they knew
Dr. Anthony Fauci, 80, has been Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He oversees research and has been Chief Medical Officer to six presidents, starting with President Reagan.
Privately, Fauci acknowledged eight months ago he expected natural immunity to be “substantial.” In the wee hours of March 4, 2021, Fauci was asked in email “if a person is likely to be immune after they caught the coronavirus once?” He replied, “No evidence in this regard, but you would assume that their [sic] would be substantial immunity post infection.”7
The committee of medical and health experts that advised CDC on use of CoVid vaccines recommended crediting natural immunity in its vaccine strategy. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had in its December 2020 slide deck, “if you have had natural infection, you can wait 90 days” before seeking vaccination.8
The 90-days was based on just some of the earliest studies that found immunity at three months, says Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of California-San Francisco. She recalls, “They said you can wait, because ‘please give it to other people who need it more.’ ”8
At the time, good data had just started to surface.
By November 2020, an estimated 55 million people worldwide had been infected when evidence began emerging that CoVid reinfections from the SARS virus were occurring.9 But there were no symptomatic reinfections, except maybe one in a region with the highest number of cases per million in the world.10 The mechanisms of protection weren’t and still aren’t defined.1,11,12
November 4, a study of 2,800 people in the U.K. after the first wave of CoVid found no symptomatic re-infections over a ~118-day window.12,13 It also found memory T- cells predicted protection in people who had recovered, even when antibodies were low.13
Another U.K. study of 1,246 people reported seeing no symptomatic re-infections in its 2,398 healthcare workers. Over six months, 89 symptomatic PCR-confirmed cases occurred, but none were in people who previously had covid.14
November 16, a National Institutes of Health-funded study at La Jolla Institute for Immunology announced, “durable immunity is a possibility for most individuals.”15 Across 188 cases with a full range of CoVid disease — asymptomatic to severe — it determined “immune memory in at least three [of four] immunological compartments was measurable in ~95% of subjects 5 to 8 months” after infection. Antibodies declined over time but memory B-cells that activate and generate T-cell or antibody responses were “robust and … more abundant at 6 months than at 1 month.”12
“They just keep on going at the same level,” says Gandhi, “so they're estimating it could be lifelong memory B cells. And then memory T-cells are so high,” she says, “they emulate the half-life of what happens after a yellow fever vaccination with memory T-cells. The yellow fever vaccination is once in a lifetime.”8, 16
By the time the NIH-La Jolla study was published February 5,15 the U.S. vaccine strategy was underway.
“As we continued to put effort into vaccination and set targets,” reflected Klausner, “it became apparent to me that people were forgetting that herd immunity is formed by both natural immunity and vaccine immunity.”17
The shortage of vaccines globally prompted Israeli scientists, however, to question whether to vaccinate the previously infected. They mined data on the whole population, six million people age 1+, starting the summer of 2020. In April 2021, they announced that prior infection and vaccination (two shots Pfizer) offer similar protection against infection, hospitalization and severe illness. They said, “Our results question the need to vaccinate previously-infected individuals.”18
In May, Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Authority announced findings from the first systematic review of real-world evidence on the risk of reinfection. It analyzed databases of 615,777 antibody- or PCR-positive people from January 1, 2020, to mid-February 2021, across 11 studies from Austria19, Denmark20, Israel21, Qatar22, the U.S.23,24 and U.K.14,25,26,27,28 including three studies with healthcare workers and two with elder-care home residents and staff. The review affirmed reinfections can recur among the previously infected but are uncommon, at a rate of 0.0%—1.1%. No study found an increase in risk of reinfection over time.29
May 10, 2021, the World Health Organization posted a scientific brief, “CoVid Natural Immunity,” saying, “Available scientific data suggests that in most people immune responses remain robust and protective against reinfection for at least 6-8 months after infection.3
May 15, the Cleveland Clinic completed examining its 52,238 employees “to maximize the benefits of whatever vaccine is available.” The 2,139 (99.3%) CoVid cases that occurred over 10 months were in those not vaccinated and not previously infected, while 15 cases (0.7%) were in those who were vaccinated but not previously infected. None of the 2,579 previously infected employees got CoVid again, including 1,359 who remained unvaccinated. The study concluded previously infected people are unlikely to get reinfected, “whether or not they receive the vaccine...A practical and useful message would be to consider symptomatic CoVid-19 to be as good as having received a vaccine, and that people who have had CoVid-19 confirmed by a reliable laboratory test do not need the vaccine.”30
June 2021, the University of Missouri School of Medicine announced its review of 9,119 patients with severe CoVid, among the largest U.S. studies of its kind. Across 62 healthcare facilities from December 2019 to November 2020, 63 patients (0.7%) contracted the SARS virus a second time. Two died. It found asthma and nicotine dependence is associated with reinfection.”31
June reports of waning immunity from vaccines against the Delta variant32 prompted Israeli scientists to compare it with protection from prior infection. They compared 46,035 members of Maccabi Healthcare Services who caught CoVid at some point with the same number of double-vaccinated people. Fully vaccinated individuals were 13-fold more likely to have a breakthrough infection than people who had a prior case of CoVid. Symptomatic Delta breakthrough infections were 27-times more likely among the vaccinated than in those recovered from prior infection. Vaccinated individuals also had 6.7-fold higher chance of being hospitalized. Researchers concluded “natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease, and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant” than two-doses of (Pfizer) vaccine-induced immunity.33,34
Doctors in The Times of Israel stressed these findings do not mean people should expose themselves to CoVid and get sick on purpose. Israel’s public message strongly encourages vaccinations for non-immune adults but, at the same time, is honest about natural immunity to make the most of its resources.34
CDC apparently had not posted any of the studies above, nor the WHO report, nor any other studies on natural immunity until mid-August when it posted one study35 that supports vaccinating everyone. It compared 246 Kentuckians who had a positive CoVid test in 2020 by vaccination status 5-9 months later: those who got vaccinated after recovering from their infection vs. those who didn’t get vaccinated after recovering. It found those who remained unvaccinated had 2.34 times the risk of reinfection compared with those who got vaccinated. “The health policy implication,” it says, “is that all eligible persons should be offered a vaccine, even those with previous infection.36
Recovery from an initial CoVid infection is not well defined.8,11,12 People with very low levels of CoVid viral components can test positive for weeks or months after an infection.18,20,17,18,37 The NIH-La Jolla study found “almost all individuals were positive for SARS-CoV-2 Spike and RBD IgG antibodies” at 5-8 months after symptoms onset12 although, by then, there’s no live virus and the person is no longer contagious to others.37,38 Chinese researchers early in the pandemic studied transmissibility and found none of 1,296 people in contact with 23 recurrent-positive patients showed symptoms over a three-month period; 100% of their viral RNA and antibody tests were negative.38
After the Kentucky study made headlines, President Biden announced new sweeping federal vaccine mandates affecting 100-million U.S. workers,39 even as Italian officials in a hard-hit province said their year-long study found CoVid infection “appears to confer a protective effect for at least a year.” Of 7,173 residents, 24 (0.33%) tested positive a second time. Most were asymptomatic. Four (0.06%) required hospitalization.40
September 25, 2021, Fauci was asked on CNN about the Israeli study33,34 finding natural immunity protects better than (Pfizer) vaccination, particularly against the Delta variant. Fauci questioned its durability compared to vaccines but admitted, “That is something we need to sit down and discuss seriously because … it is an issue and there could be an argument for” it.41
By the end of September, Jeffrey Klausner told Kaiser Health News, “Everyone is just waiting, for Fauci to say, ‘Prior infection provides protection.’ ”6
Ethics and honesty
The Israelis, the Cleveland Clinic, Klausner, Gandhi and others question the ethics of vaccinating those already naturally protected. The Cleveland Clinic posited from the start of its study, “The rationale often provided for getting the COVID-19 vaccine is that it is safer to get vaccinated than to get the disease. This is certainly true, but it is not an explanation for why people who have already had the disease need to be vaccinated.”30
“As of March 9, 2021,” the Clinic said, “dozens of countries had not been able to administer a single dose of the vaccine. As of May 17, 2021, only 17 countries had been able to reach 10 percent or more of their populations with at least the first dose of vaccine. Given such a scarcity of the vaccine, and the knowledge that vaccine does not provide additional protection to those previously infected, it would make most sense to limit vaccine administration to those who have not previously had the infection.”30
It's true that “duration of protective immunity from natural infection is not known,” the Clinic continued. “However, the same also can be said about duration of protective immunity from vaccination. Uncertainty about the duration of protective immunity afforded by natural infection is not by itself a valid argument for vaccinating previously infected individuals.”30
Two days before CDC posted its brief, Dr. Marty Makary, MD, MPH, surgeon and professor at Johns Hopkins University, was frank on a Fox radio talk show.42
“We’ve had a few doctors making all the Covid decisions in the United States and they’re Old School doctors and they’re not doing certain things they should be doing. Like, inviting people who got infected 18 and 19 months ago to come in and have their blood drawn. Check ‘em for antibodies of all kinds. Do a formal analysis. Look at the immunity profile. That is research that we should have, that we don’t have. . .This is data we need right now to inform policy.”42
Makary and colleagues are doing the study themselves. They’re analyzing blood samples from more than 1,000 people who got CoVid early on, testing the durability of natural immunity as we approach two years in the pandemic. He expects results in November.42
“They have $50 billion, between CDC and NIH, and 30,000 employees,” said Makary. “They couldn’t do this study on natural immunity to just answer the question? Instead, they’re parading around the world that ‘we don’t know about natural immunity.’”42
“They’re too busy with their funding, testing the dogs, beagles, torturing them. It’s insane,” says Makary. “They spend $20 billion on animal experiments, and they can’t find the time to answer this big question the American people are asking, and the rest of the world knows … that natural immunity is real.”42
“I’ve got a $1-million research budget and 8 staff,” he said, “but we’re going to answer this question, once and for all.”42
Two days later, CDC posted its brief, acknowledging it “does not represent a systematic review of all the scientific literature” on infection-induced immunity. It concedes infection-induced natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity confer equivalent protection for six months [the most conservative minimum in the data]. Yet it still recommends vaccinating everyone, regardless. It advocates vaccination for a “higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity than infection alone.”1 It appears to emphasize high levels of antibodies as a metric of immunity, more than memory-B and T-cells.
Gandhi explains we want antibodies to decline over time. “If antibodies didn’t clear from our bloodstream after we recover from a respiratory infection, our blood would be thick as molasses.”17
Also, as UCLA pediatric rheumatologist, Patrick Whelan, MD, PhD says, his sickest CoVid patients in intensive care “had loads of antibodies, so why didn’t [antibodies] protect them?” Whelan told The British Medical Journal the real memory in our immune system resides not in the antibodies themselves but in the [memory T and B] cells.”17
Makary says American “government doctors” didn’t want to see the research that existed. “They didn’t want to look to see when people test positive after they’ve recovered.”42
Why? “Because it undermines the vaccine-for-all message, which is generally a good message,” says Makary, “but they see it as threatening to a very simple and streamlined message — to tell every single human being to get vaccinated as the only path out of the pandemic. That’s what they tell me privately.”42
The political cost to the White House in denying what much of the developed world already knew was evident in the weeks before the November 2, 2021, election. Economist-YouGov polls show Biden’s handling of CoVid, especially vaccine mandates, is further eroding his sinking poll numbers.
An Economist-YouGov poll asked registered voters October 24-26, 2021, if they supported Biden’s vaccine mandates and found 52 percent supported vaccine mandates; 43 percent opposed the mandates.43 Those numbers held through election day.
When registered voters were asked October 24-26, 2021, if they “approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling CoVid,” 48% approved, 44% disapproved. By November 2, 49% approved, but 47% disapproved, picking up more of the “not sure.”44
Worse, independent registered voters increasingly disapproved of Biden’s vaccine mandates as election day approached. October 24-26, 48% of independents disapproved, 44% approved. By November 2, 2021, independents broke 56% against Biden’s policy, only 36% in favor.44
Gandhi and Makary believe the argument for natural immunity got politicized and confused along the way.8
It didn’t help when President Trump released himself from the hospital, still sick with CoVid, still contagious, and tore off his mask on the White House balcony with others around, going inside.45 Then, in a tweet a few days later, he declared himself immune.46
It didn’t help that anti-vax, anti-mask demonstrations turned violent. The Associated Press reports demonstrators have invoked the Taliban, Nazis, the Holocaust, and leaders of Japanese internment camps when accusing teachers, school board members, doctors and local leaders of “crimes against humanity. . .People have been stabbed, punched or harassed at their homes for being in favor of vaccine and mask mandates. Often the assailants are parents.”47,48
Results of Makary’s study could ease some of the CoVid culture wars. If it shows what Makary hypothesizes it will show, Biden will have a graceful way to make amends with millions of recovered voters.
Imagine Biden welcoming to the White House the scientists who did the research to answer this question of consequence to every human on the planet.
Imagine Biden telling the nation science shows we must change how we talk about and treat the recovered. He’d say, we need to stop talking in terms of the vaccinated vs. unvaccinated. To be scientific, we should start speaking about the immune and the non-immune.17
Imagine Biden telling ~8-million “Coronavirus Recovered” Americans who remain unvaccinated, “We’re giving you a Recovery Certificate, so you can keep your job. Just like a vaccination or negative test certificate. And it will align the United States with a system recognized in 27 EU countries and 16 non-EU countries, facilitating travel.2"
Imagine Biden telling the world we’ll make more prudent use of vaccines in the recovered, so there’s more to share with the world.
It shouldn’t be hard to say we’re following the science.
TB is a former policy director, editor, producer and writer. She got the Moderna vaccine.
Footnotes: “CDC surrenders …” Nov. 8, 2021
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- Economist-YouGov poll October 30-November 2, 2021
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