COVID Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous Infection

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
November 12, 2021
COVID Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous Infection

Ever since the COVID-19 vaccine became available last December, Americans have been wondering which provides more protection: the vaccine or natural immunity acquired from a previous COVID-19? 

The vaccine offers higher protection than natural immunity, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC researchers collected data from electronic medical records using the VISION Network – a virtual network that pulls data from electronic medical and pharmacy inpatient and outpatient records related to influenza, its complications and outcomes. Records were obtained from 187 hospitals across nine states were reviewed between January and September 2021 while the alpha and delta when these strains were dominant. 

Researchers looked at data from two groups of people. The first group included 6,328 people 18 years or older and fully vaccinated within the last three to six months with either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine and hospitalized with a COVID-like illness of which 5.1 percent were positive for the virus. 

There wasn’t enough data on people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson to include them in the study. The second group was comprised of 1,020 unvaccinated people 18 years or older who were infected with COVID-19 over the last three to six months and then hospitalized with a COVID-like illness, of which 8.7 percent tested positive for COVID-19. 

These results suggest that unvaccinated people were more than five times more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 than people who were fully vaccinated without a history of COVID-19. Additional data analysis found that overall, mRNA vaccines were almost 20 times more effective at preventing hospitalizations among adults 65 and older than natural immunity acquired through a previous COVID-19 infection. 

The findings are consistent with previous laboratory studies that found mRNA vaccines create higher levels of antibodies compared to those who recover from COVID-19 who have varying levels of antibodies, particularly if their COVID case produced mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

The study is the second put out by the CDC that demonstrates greater efficacy of the vaccines versus natural immunity. However, other studies have shown natural immunity may be as effective or more effective than vaccination. But studies also indicate that people who have natural immunity from a previous infection and are later vaccinated have a higher level of immunity than those who have natural immunity or have been vaccinated but not both. Research also indicates that protection from the vaccines confers immunity longer than natural immunity. 

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, please consult your physician. They can provide guidance and resources regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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