A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined the protective effects of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to immunity after a coronavirus infection. The findings confirm that the most effective protection against COVID-19 comes from vaccines—even for people who have had the virus previously.
For the study, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers used data from a network of 187 hospitals in nine states between January and September of 2021. That data included information for 1,020 people who were unvaccinated but had a previous COVID-19 infection (89 of whom tested positive at the hospital, 8.7%) and 6,328 people who were fully vaccinated and had not previously had a COVID-19 infection (324 of whom tested positive, 5.1%). For all participants, their vaccination or previous infection occurred between three and six months before their positive test.
Based on these findings, the authors concluded that the protection from the vaccine was more helpful than the immunity gained through a previous COVID-19 infection. In fact, those who were unvaccinated but had a previous infection were more than five times more likely to develop a COVID-19 infection three to six months later than those who were fully vaccinated and had never had the virus. “Vaccine-induced immunity was more protective than infection-induced immunity against laboratory-confirmed COVID-19,” the study authors wrote, including during a time when the delta variant was the predominant strain in the U.S.
There are now three COVID-19 vaccines available for adults in the U.S., and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also available for kids ages 12 to 15. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also just authorized the Pfizer vaccine for younger children, between the ages of 5 and 10, last week.
The findings from this study are in line with current CDC recommendations that pretty much everyone ages 12 and older should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether or not they’ve had the infection. While the level of protection that people may get after an infection can be different from individual to individual, the protection from the vaccine is generally long-lasting and predictable, the CDC says. The agency also recommends against using antibody testing to make a decision about whether or not vaccination is necessary.
“We now have additional evidence that reaffirms the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, even if you have had prior infection,” Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, said in a statement about the study. “The best way to stop COVID-19, including the emergence of variants, is with widespread COVID-19 vaccination and with disease prevention actions such as mask-wearing, washing hands often, physical distancing, and staying home when sick.”
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