TALLAHASSI, Florida (AP) – Republicans opposing President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccination demands are using a new weapon against White House rules: natural immunity.
They argue that people who have recovered from the virus have enough immunity and antibodies not to need COVID-19 vaccines, and Republicans have used this concept as a kind of replacement for vaccines.
Florida introduced natural immunity to state law this week as GOP lawmakers in other countries push for similar measures to circumvent vaccination requirements. Lawsuits for mandates have also begun to rely on this idea. Conservative federal legislators have pleaded with regulators to take this into account when formulating mandates.
Scientists acknowledge that people previously infected with COVID-19 have a certain level of immunity, but vaccines provide a more consistent level of protection. Natural immunity is also far from universal, making it difficult to introduce general exemptions from the vaccine.
This is because the level of immunity in survivors of COVID-19 depends on how long ago they were infected, how sick they were, and whether the variant of the virus they had is different from the mutants circulating now. For example, a person who had a minor case a year ago is very different from someone who had a serious illness in the summer when the delta variant raged across the country. It is also difficult to reliably test if someone is protected from future infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that COVID-19 survivors who ignored vaccination advice were more than twice as likely to be reinfected. A more recent CDC study, based on data from nearly 190 hospitals in nine states, found that unvaccinated people who contracted the infection months earlier were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people who had no previous vaccine. infection.
“Infection with this virus, if you survive, you do have some level of protection against future infections and, in particular, serious future infections,” said Dr. David Dowdy of 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 vaccinations.”
Research also shows that vaccinated COVID-19 survivors develop super-strong protection, so-called “hybrid immunity.” When a previously infected person receives the coronavirus vaccine, the injection acts as a booster and raises the level of antiviral antibodies. The combination also strengthens another protective layer of the immune system, helping to create new antibodies that are more likely to resist future variants.
The immunity debate comes as the country is experiencing another spike in infections and hospitalizations and 60 million people remain unvaccinated as a result of a pandemic that has killed more than 770,000 Americans. Biden hopes more people will be vaccinated due to workplace requirements, which take effect early next year, but which face many challenges in the courts.
And many Republicans seeking to counter Biden have accepted the argument that immunity from earlier infections should be sufficient to qualify for an exemption from mandates.
“We recognize that unlike what you see happening with the proposed federal and other states, we are actually taking a science-based approach. For example, we get to know people with natural immunity, ”Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has been the main critic of the virus regulations, said this week at a ceremony to sign a massive anti-vaccine law.
Florida’s new law is forcing private businesses to allow workers to waive COVID-19 mandates if they can prove immunity from previous exposure, as well as exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, regular testing, or an agreement to wear protective gear. The state health department, led by chief surgeon Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes the regulations and drew the country’s attention by refusing to wear a mask during a meeting, will have the power to set tax-exemption standards.
The Republican-led New Hampshire legislature plans to pass a similar measure at its meeting in January. Legislators in Idaho and Wyoming, which are controlled by the GOP, recently discussed similar measures but did not take them. In Utah, a recently signed law exempting private employers from Biden’s vaccination requirements allows people to dodge the requirement if they already have COVID.
And this debate is not unique to the US. Russia has seen a huge number of people looking for antibody tests to prove they had an earlier infection and therefore do not need vaccines.
Some politicians are using the scientific evidence behind natural immunity to advance narratives that vaccines are not the best way to end the pandemic.
“The injection is by no means the only and proven way out of the pandemic. I don’t want to blindly trust pharmaceutical history, ”said Idaho Republican Member Greg Ferch.
US Senator Roger Marshall, a Republican and Kansas physician, along with 14 other Republican doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress in late September sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the agency to consider natural immunity when developing vaccination policies.
The White House recently released a string of vaccine regulations, sparking a flurry of lawsuits from the GOP, setting the stage for decisive legal battles. The rules include vaccine requirements for federal contractors, businesses with more than 100 employees, and healthcare professionals.
In separate lawsuits, others are challenging local vaccination regulations using immunity protections.
A 19-year-old student who refuses to be tested but claims he contracted and quickly recovered from COVID-19 is suing the University of Nevada, Reno, the governor and others at the state’s request that everyone, with rare exceptions, will bring proof of vaccination for enrollment in the upcoming spring semester. The case claims that “COVID-19 vaccinations are an unconstitutional attack on normal immunity and physical integrity.”
Another case filed by Los Alamos National Laboratory staff disputes their mandate to vaccinate in the workplace due to civil rights and constitutional violations, arguing that the lab denied a request to provide health care to those workers who have fully recovered from COVID-19.
A similar lawsuit from Chicago firefighters and other city workers hit last month when a judge said their case lacked scientific evidence to support the claim that the natural immunity of people with the virus outweighs the protection from a vaccine.
Associated Press medical writer Laurent Niergaard contributed to this report.