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Americans with ‘natural immunity’ look for ways around COVID-19 mandates

2 Mins read

Vaccine holdouts with some immunity from a prior coronavirus infection find themselves in the messy middle as the nation debates how far to go in mandating the shots, with some employers giving them a carve-out. At the same time, blue states take a hard line, saying vaccinations are a better public health strategy. Spectrum Health in Michigan is granting an exemption to employees who can show a positive antibody test within the past three months. Meanwhile, effective health systems in eastern Pennsylvania said they would give a yearlong reprieve from its vaccine rule to those who demonstrate natural immunity.

Strict mandates in places like Washington and New York require workers to get the vaccine, flustering those who say they’re already producing antibodies. Meanwhile, the Consumer Brands Association, a trade group representing 2.1 million workers, wants to know how President Biden‘s push to require vaccination or weekly testing at large companies will be applied to workers with prior infections. Firms are waiting for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to explain the situation. “How will the requirements address natural immunity? Will individuals contracted COVID-19 be required to be vaccinated or submit to testing requirements?” the association said this month in a letter to President Biden.


Favorable treatment is unlikely since Dr. Anthony Fauci and other administration officials have repeatedly told persons with a previous infection to get the shots. They point to a high-profile study out of Kentucky that found unvaccinated people with an earlier disease are twice as likely to get reinfected as those who recovered and then got vaccinated. The officials also question the durability of naturally induced protection, even as they acknowledge that more research is needed. “It is conceivable you got protected, but you may not be protected indefinitely,” Dr. Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, told CNN this month. “I think that is something that we need to sit down and discuss seriously.”COVID-19 and the fear of side effects from the vaccine is frustrating lawmakers like Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who recently told the National Institutes of Health that constituents want to see exemptions for the previously infected. He cited studies from Israel and elsewhere that suggest infection-acquired immunity can be as robust as the response sparked by messenger-RNA vaccines in persons who never had the virus. Nurses and other constituents are flooding his office with calls and emails, saying officials and companies pushing mandates “totally disregarded” those with natural immunity. Scientists say some previously infected people might get a similar immune response as vaccines. However, individual experiences will differ based on genetics, the nuances of their immune systems, and their experience with COVID-19. They also call it more cumbersome and costly to rely on repeated lab tests to prove individual protection than a low-cost vaccine on the front end.

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