TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Republicans battling President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandates are wielding a new weapon against White House rules: natural immunity.
They claim that people who have recovered from the virus have enough immunity and antibodies not to need COVID-19 vaccines, and the concept has been invoked by Republicans as a sort of replacement for vaccines.
Florida wrote natural immunity into state law this week as GOP lawmakers elsewhere urge similar measures to circumvent vaccine mandates. Lawsuits over the mandates also began to lean on the idea. Conservative federal lawmakers have pleaded with regulators to take this into account when formulating mandates.
Scientists recognize that people previously infected with COVID-19 have some degree of immunity, but vaccines provide a more consistent level of protection. Natural immunity is also far from a one-size-fits-all scenario, making it complicated to introduce sweeping vaccine exemptions.
That’s because how much immunity COVID-19 survivors have depends on how long ago they were infected, how sick they were, and whether the virus variant they had is different from the mutants circulating now. For example, someone who had a minor case a year ago is very different from someone who had a serious case in the summer when the delta variant swept across the country. It is also difficult to reliably test whether someone is protected against future infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that COVID-19 survivors who ignored the advice to get vaccinated were more than twice as likely to become infected again. A more recent study from the CDC, looking at data from nearly 190 hospitals in nine states, found that unvaccinated people who were infected months earlier were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people who didn’t. previous infection.
“Infection with this virus, if you survive, you have some degree of protection against infection in the future and especially against getting a serious infection in the future,” said Dr. David Dowdy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “However, it is important to note that even those who have been infected in the past receive additional protection from vaccination.”
Studies also show that COVID-19 survivors who are vaccinated develop an extra strong protection called ‘hybrid immunity’. When a previously infected person receives a coronavirus vaccine, the shot acts as a booster, raising virus-fighting antibodies to high levels. The combination also strengthens another defense layer of the immune system, creating new antibodies that are more likely to resist future variants.
The immunity debate comes as the country faces another wave of infections and hospitalizations and 60 million people are unvaccinated in a pandemic that has killed more than 770,000 Americans. Biden hopes more people will get vaccinated because of labor mandates that start early next year, but face many challenges in the courts.
And many Republicans eager to counter Biden have embraced the argument that immunity from previous infections should be enough to earn him waiver from the mandates.
“We recognize that, unlike what you see happening with the federal proposed mandates and other states, we actually have a science-based approach. For example, we recognize people who have natural immunity,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has been a leading critic of virus rules, said this week at a signing ceremony for sweeping legislation to stagger vaccine mandates.
Florida’s new law forces private companies to opt-out of employees from COVID-19 mandates if they can prove immunity from a previous infection, as well as waivers based on medical reasons, religious beliefs, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear . The state health department, which is headed by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes mandates and has attracted national attention for refusing to wear a face mask at a meeting, will have the power to set exemption standards.
The Republican-led New Hampshire legislature plans to pass a similar measure when it meets in January. Lawmakers in Idaho and Wyoming, both GOP-controlled state houses, have recently debated similar measures but have not passed them. In Utah, a newly signed law creating exemptions from Biden’s vaccine mandates for private employers allows people to evade the requirement if they’ve already had COVID.
And the debate is not unique to the US. Russia has seen huge numbers of people seeking antibody tests to prove they had a previous infection and therefore do not need vaccines.
Some politicians are using the science behind natural immunity to advance stories that suggest vaccines aren’t the best way to end the pandemic.
“The shot is certainly not the only or proven way out of the pandemic. I’m not willing to blindly trust the pharmaceutical story,” Idaho Republican Representative Greg Ferch said.
U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican and physician, along with 14 other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late September, urging the agency to when determining vaccination policy, think of natural immunity.
The White House recently unveiled a large number of vaccine mandates, sparking a flurry of lawsuits from GOP states, paving the way for legal battles. Among the rules are vaccine requirements for federal contractors, companies with more than 100 employees, and health professionals.
In separate lawsuits, others are challenging local vaccine rules using an immunity defense.
A 19-year-old college student who refuses to be tested but claims he signed a contract and quickly recovered from COVID-19 is suing the University of Nevada, Reno, the governor and others over the state’s requirement that everyone, on with few exceptions, can show proof of vaccination to enroll in classes in the upcoming spring semester. The case alleges that “COVID-19 vaccination mandates are an unconstitutional breach of normal immunity and physical integrity.”
Another case, filed by employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory, challenges their mandate for workplace vaccines for civil rights and constitutional violations, arguing that the laboratory has denied requests for medical accommodation for those employees who have fully recovered from COVID-19. 19.
A similar lawsuit by Chicago firefighters and other city employees was shocked last month when a judge said there was no scientific evidence in their case to support the claim that the natural immunity of people who’ve had the virus is superior to protection against it. the vaccine.
Anthony Izaguirre of The Associated Press wrote this story. AP medical writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.
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