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DHEC still recommends vaccination for people who have already had COVID

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 6:05 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2021 at 6:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control indicates more than 200,000 South Carolinians currently have some form of natural immunity to COVID-19 after being infected during the virus’ most recent surge, beginning in July.

But the state health department still recommends all those recently infected people get vaccinated, if they haven’t already.

“There is definitely a clear benefit for those who have been previously infected to still get vaccinated,” DHEC Medical Consultant Dr. Jonathan Knoche said.

Knoche said both getting the COVID-19 vaccine and getting COVID-19 itself provide people with some level of protection against future reinfections.

But he said people who receive the shot have a better chance of not getting infected again.

“When we look at studies from a year ago, whether it’s done in the US or overseas, unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to get reinfected than people who are vaccinated,” he said.

Research shows people are likely protected from reinfection of COVID within 90 days of their previous infection, Knoche explained, but past that, it is not clear how much longer that protection lasts and when a person’s antibody levels are no longer effective at preventing sickness.

Knoche said it is also unclear to what extent being infected with an earlier strain of the virus will shield against future or current variants, like the delta variant.

While antibody levels eventually decrease after a certain period of time following both infection and vaccination — hence why booster shots are now recommended for certain groups of people for the Pfizer vaccine and could be recommended soon for those who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (WIS LINK) shots — Knoche said getting the shot is still the better bet to protect people from another infection and to help their community as a whole get through the pandemic.

“That’s based on people being vaccinated and achieving a high level of immunity to protect our population,” he said. “Until we reach that point, there’s a chance another variant could pop up somewhere, either in the US or overseas, and threaten the level of herd immunity we’ve so far achieved.”

Knoche said it is safe for people who are unvaccinated and have COVID to receive the vaccine as soon as their isolation period is over.

“But I also understand if people want to try and time their vaccination, potentially optimize their protection and wait a little bit longer, pushing off their vaccine beyond just coming out of isolation because they’ll have some level of natural immunity, natural protection after having been infected,” he said. “So I understand that desire, and I think it would make sense.”

DHEC is especially reiterating its call for all eligible South Carolinians to get vaccinated with both flu season and the holiday season coming up.

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