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Is natural immunity stronger than vaccine immunity against COVID-19?

Natural immunity to COVID-19 is stronger than vaccine immunity, according to CDH Board Member Dr. Ryan Cole. State and national health experts say that's not true.

BOISE, Idaho — As part of Lieutenant Governors Janice McGeachin's "Capitol Clarity" event Wednesday, new Central District Health Board Member Dr. Ryan Cole controversially said those who recover from COVID-19 have a stronger immunity to the virus than those who have been vaccinated.

Idaho Health and Welfare directed KTVB toward a study published by the CDC in August. The study looked at naturally infected individuals and their likelihood to contract COVID a second time. It concluded among participants who did not get vaccinated after natural infection, their risk of getting infected again was more than doubled compared to those who got vaccinated after having had the COVID infection.

The study Idaho Health and Welfare sent to KTVB notably concluded, "All eligible persons should be offered vaccination, including those with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, to reduce their risk for future infection."  

Dr. Cole is critical of this study. The study only looked at one criteria point and set of antibodies, according to Dr. Cole. He added those who are naturally infected have diverse antibodies to protect them from illness, thus making for a stronger level of immunity when compared to the protection offered via vaccine.

"We have this supreme group being ignored and we have an anti-science movement," Dr. Cole said. "The COVID recovered have a broad, durable, long-lasting immunity far, far stronger than vaccine immunity."

Dr. David Pate, former president and CEO of St. Luke's and current member of Governor Brad Little's Coronavirus Work Group, said Dr. Cole is using an incorrect way to look at the data.

While Dr. Pate acknowledges the benefits of natural immunity - even saying the strength of natural immunity has been observed to be higher than originally expected - vaccine immunity is still the strongest tool to protect oneself from COVID-19.

"The vaccine-induced immunity is quite strong," Dr. Pate said. "Why Dr. Cole is mistaken when he says that [vaccine immunity] is weaker than natural immunity - because it only mimics a portion of the natural infection - is because with natural infection you make anti-bodies to a whole host of things related to that virus. Many of those antibodies don't help you in the least. The vaccine focuses your immune response on the part that has the most important antibodies to your defense."

Unprompted, Dr. Cole specifically named Dr. Pate at the "Capitol Clarity" event on Wednesday. Dr. Cole said he is interested in a conversation with Dr. Pate where to two can sit down and discuss the data, studies and conclusions of which the pair disagree.

Dr. Pate told KTVB that he is similarly interested in a good-faith conversation with Dr. Cole.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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