Is it better to gain immunity through exposure to covid-19 or through a vaccine?
With some viruses, such as chicken pox, being infected with the virus itself grants stronger immune protection than the chicken pox vaccine; however, in those cases, you then have to deal with all the complications of having the virus. When it comes to COVID-19, it’s really hard to know whether being exposed to the virus is more protective of future infection than the vaccine, simply because we don’t know the SARS-CoV-2 virus well enough yet.
With natural immunity, which is the protection we get after being infected with a virus, the immune response can be variable. For example: the number of antibodies your body produces may depend on how much of the virus you’re exposed to. And there is likely beneficial variation in the types of antibodies being produced. The vaccinations currently available in the U.S. have been shown to effectively stimulate antibodies against the virus’ spike protein. New vaccines are being created that make antibodies to other parts of the virus as well. Both immunity from natural infection and vaccination stimulate a T-cell response that will hopefully provide you with protection from the virus for a longer time.
While it’s possible some people may have a higher antibody response after a natural infection than they would after vaccination, we’re still learning about this new virus, and we don’t know how protective natural immunity really is, especially when there is such a continuum of different types of infections. We don’t have clear data on how antibody responses from a mild infection compare to a severe infection, or how protective those antibody responses are.
On the other hand, we do know that the vaccine is very protective. In most people, getting vaccinated generates a lot of antibodies. So far, the vaccines appear to be incredibly effective, especially when it comes to preventing severe infections, hospitalizations and death.