Do vaccines really offer better protection against Covid-19 than the immunity arising from previous infection? Should we take the information provided by health agencies at face value, or should we take a more sceptical attitude?
In its weekly MMWRs (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) persists in claiming that vaccination offers higher protection than does a previous COVID-19 infection. This is impossible in principle. Vaccine-induced immune response fundamentally depends on how closely the vaccine or its effects (in the case of mRNA) can resemble the pathogen. Any given vaccine is designed to mimic the pathogen against which it is intended to confer immunity, but it can never be an exact replica. The claim is false right out of the gate, unless “protection” means something other than immunity (what is it then?).
For example, current mRNA vaccines code for the same spike protein that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has. Indeed, they wouldn’t work were it not so. The antibodies produced are a natural response to the presence of the spike protein, whether it is the product of an injection or an infection. How could the vaccine possibly produce “better antibodies” than exposure to the virus itself? It’s impossible! Moreover, the virus contains five different proteins that attract an antibody response. When one is exposed to the actual virus, the body naturally produces an antibody response to all five proteins, not just to the spike. So natural immunity is way ahead of vaccine-induced immunity just on that score. There are additional benefits to naturally acquired immunity, not least the formation of long-term immuno-memory through the production of B- and T-cells. But let’s just stop here: the basic science of immunology is already more than enough to make a point.
Any given vaccine is designed to mimic the pathogen against which it is intended to confer immunity, but it can never be an exact replica. The claim is false right out of the gate, unless “protection” means something other than immunity (what is it then?).
What is the CDC’s argument then? In its August 6, 2021, MMWR , the CDC claims that vaccination offers higher protection than a previous COVID-19 infection and further elaborates on this by saying that “…unvaccinated individuals are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus“. This statement does not connect well with the claim stated in the title. The title, “Vaccine offers higher protection than previous Covid-19 infection,” suggests a comparison between uninfected people who had been vaccinated and people who had been infected with Covid-19. However, the sentence cited above in italics changes the subject from vaccine-induced vs. natural IMMUNITY to the BENEFITS of follow-up vaccination for those who recovered from COVID-19. There is a big difference between those two subjects. If this is just a matter of sloppy language, it is inexcusable for such a global authority as the CDC.
Nevertheless, let’s explore the point about the BENEFITS more deeply by examining the study on which the CDC bases its claim. That study seems to be the only one in existence that supports the benefits of vaccination after recovery from Covid-19 and is quoted in the media to advocate COVID-19 vaccination for the recovered every time when the subject of vaccine vs. natural immunity arises.
The study deals with 246 people found reinfected in May-June 2021 in Kentucky, of which 50 were vaccinated before contracting COVID-19 again. The first most obvious problem with this study is that it has a tiny sample size and CDC-affiliated authorship. Secondly, the authors managed to find 246 people meeting the constraints of the study who had been reinfected by June 2021 in Kentucky alone. That number is very problematic, because by November 18, 2021, only 544 CONFIRMED reinfections were reported globally, none of which even came from Kentucky. The study itself admits to the dubiousness of those reinfections, listing as the first of five limitations the fact that “...reinfection was not confirmed through whole genome sequencing, which would be necessary (my emphasis) to definitively prove that the reinfection was caused from a distinct virus relative to the first infection.” The fifth and last limitation listed is the fact that the study was retrospective and from a single state during a two-month period, and “therefore, these findings cannot be used to infer causation,” which, the authors say, would require “[a]dditional prospective studies with larger populations.” But “infer causation” is exactly what the CDC’s MMWR of August 6th does.
To summarize: the CDC set up its own crew to conduct a flawed study with a statistically indefensible conclusion, and then used that study to support a different a priori fallacious claim, which is projected to the world.
So, what’s going on? Is the CDC using sloppy language or making deliberately misleading statements? I am not sure which explanation would be worse.
Another line from the CDC on the same subject is found in the CDC FAQs. In response to the question, “If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine?,” one sentence reads:
“Research has not yet shown how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again after you recover from COVID-19.“
This strikes me as a failure on the part of the CDC – they should have studied this by now, because this information is very important for the growing population of the recovered (e.g., 4.57% in Canada, 14.05% in the USA, and 14.33% in Israel on November 18th). But perhaps you can’t really blame the CDC for not knowing, because so far there have been too few reinfections and no tendency for the natural immunity to wane. This would also explain why you can’t find any advice from CDC or other authorities as to when a person with a previous COVID-19 episode should get the vaccine.
By the CDC’s very own accidental admission, natural immunity affords protection for much longer than does the mRNA vaccine, whose effectiveness is already acknowledged to wane during the first few months.
So, what’s going on? Is the CDC using sloppy language or making deliberately misleading statements? I am not sure which explanation would be worse. But in any case, the CDC should remove such misleading information from its website to stop confusing the public and embarrassing itself in the eyes of professionals and members of the general population who think for themselves and are educated enough to see the contradictions.