Vaccination After a COVID-19 Infection – Yes or No?

Antibodies produced after a coronavirus infection offer some protection against future illness, but extra protection never hurts.

Vaccination is all the rage at the moment. People no longer ask whether you’re positive or negative – they ask how many shots and which one you got. 

Getting vaccinated is vital as it’s the best way to establish herd immunity, which is defined as immunity in over 60% of the population. This would allow for a less restricted lifestyle. But one question that I hear often is: “Now that I’ve had COVID-19 and recovered from it, should I get a vaccine?” The answer is yes. It is safe to get vaccinated once you’ve recuperated but dangerous while still acutely ill with COVID-19. 

Strong Enough and Long Enough 

Over the course of COVID-19, most of us produce antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which allows the virus to bind and enter our system. These antibodies persist for at least a few months, making re-infection unlikely. However, some people are asymptomatic or only mildly ill with COVID-19, resulting in low antibody levels and a higher chance of getting COVID-19 a second time. But the good news is that getting sick twice is rare. And even more encouraging is that months after COVID-19, some people produce more effective antibodies that are better at blocking SARS-CoV-2 and some mutated variants. They develop memory B lymphocytes that react to persistent viral fragments to produce high-quality antibodies. 

Generally, vaccines boost and extend protection. The Moderna and Pfizer RNA vaccines induce protective responses, with most people protected from COVID-19 for at least 5-6 months after their second dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine is also promising, but it will take time before we have a better idea of just how long vaccine immunity lasts – months or years. 

Benefits of Infection, Vaccination or Both 

The best part of knowing that you have protective immunity is that you won’t get COVID-19 – or at the very least, you won’t become gravely ill. But there are other benefits, like knowing when you can safely spend time with your family and friends after infection and vaccination, or whether quarantine is necessary after you’ve recovered or had a vaccine. Data on immunity drives public health guidelines like those from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which suggest that if you’ve had COVID-19, you might not need to quarantine at all for months afterwards if you’re exposed again, as the risk of re-infection is low. See coronavirus updates on Metropole for Austrian quarantine rules. 

Very soon, we’ll know more about how long infection and vaccination prevents infection, illness and asymptomatic shedding of the virus. In the meantime, getting a vaccine will boost your immune responses and extend your protection if you’ve had COVID-19 already – especially if you didn’t mount a robust immune response. But until we establish herd immunity, we need to continue social distancing, hand washing, and wearing face masks.

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Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

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