Coronavirus briefing: what happened today

As the vaccine mandate rolls out, there is an ongoing national debate about whether the rule should apply to people who have so-called natural immunity from previous coronavirus infections.

Politicians, athletes, law professors and psychiatrists have drawn attention to the controversy, which revolves around a central question: do people who have COVID really need vaccines?

My colleague Apoorva Mandivili recently set out to answer this question, and found that – like almost everything about viruses – it is very complex.

Bottom line: People who have recovered from a COVID infection have some protection from the virus. But the strength and durability of their immunity depends on their age, health status and the severity of the initial infection. A vaccine will enhance their immunity, providing long-lasting protection against all types.

“Unlike vaccines, which induce a very strong immune response in almost everyone, natural infection is a little more variable,” Apoorva told me. “How strong and how durable your immunity is depends on how severe the infection was—the more severe, the more protective.”

However, there are some benefits of natural immunity. Antibodies from prior infection are more diverse and able to overcome a greater variety of variations than those produced by vaccines. Natural infections also stimulate defenses in the nose and throat – exactly where they are needed to prevent another infection – whereas vaccines primarily produce antibodies in the blood. Fragments of the virus can persist in the body for weeks after infection, which gives the immune system more time to learn to fight it, while the proteins carried by the vaccine are quickly flushed out of the body.

“But in the long run, it is not bulletproof against infection like vaccines,” Apoorva said. Natural immunity appears to provide protection against reinfection for at least a few months, or possibly a year, that causes symptoms.

Another big unknown is how well natural immunity protects against new forms. Most studies tracking natural immunity were completed before the rise of the delta variant, and recent research has been patchy.

“Many months ago, before Delta, there was an argument made for people who have covid, who say they don’t want to get vaccinated,” Apoorva said. “But now we know that not everyone has a really strong response to being infected. It seems that they don’t do as well against the variant as they did against the original virus.”

“We also know that they can be re-infected after a certain point, even if they are not very sick, and they can spread the virus to others if they are infected,” she said. “So for all those reasons, it still makes sense, and it’s still important for people to get vaccinated. Both for their own ongoing health, but also to protect others.”

The coronavirus was the most common cause of work-related death for US law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021. More than 460 officers have died of Covid-19 infections tied to their work – more than four times those who were killed by bullets during the same period.

And yet, as my colleague Mitch Smith reports, many police officers are refusing vaccination.

Some cities have released statistics showing that police department employees are vaccinated at lower rates than other government employees and at lower rates than the general public. In Los Angeles, where vaccines are required for city workers, more than 2,600 police department employees said they intended to obtain religious exemptions, although nearly all major religious denominations support vaccines.

According to law enforcement officials, police officers, like many other Americans, may be reluctant to vaccinate because of mistrust and mistrust. The daily hazards of police work can also make an invisible virus less dangerous, and vaccinations may be given a lower priority.

For now, the authorities have the advantage. Jobs are flooded in many police departments and there is a shortage of qualified applicants. Still, Massachusetts has ordered state soldiers and many other state employees to be vaccinated. Although most state troops are in compliance, according to their union, some have refused to take shots with a mid-October deadline.

I struggle to let the decisions of family and friends not to be vaccinated spoil my view of them as people. As much as I try to separate his stance on the matter from the many other things that make him the people I adore, adore and spend time with, it just isn’t working. And I think I’ve come to accept that I’m okay with that.

–Rick Feizel, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

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