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No, people who recovered from COVID-19 are not completely immune to the virus

Although studies show people who had COVID-19 and survived have some level of immunity, public health agencies still recommend they get vaccinated.
Credit: MyriamB - stock.adobe.com

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are again rising across the United States, with the highest spread coming in areas with low vaccination rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase in cases has come with the continued spread of the more contagious delta variant.

As a result, the CDC and Democratic and Republican leaders are urging more people to get vaccinated. But what about people who already had COVID-19? A VERIFY viewer asked if they are immune and wondered if they should get vaccinated.

THE QUESTION

Maria C. asked: Are people who recovered from COVID-19 completely immune?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, people who recovered from COVID-19 are not completely immune to the virus and health officials recommend they get vaccinated.

WHAT WE FOUND

The World Health Organization says: “Take whatever vaccine is made available to you first, even if you have already had COVID-19. It is important to be vaccinated as soon as possible once it’s your turn and not wait. Approved COVID-19 vaccines provide a high degree of protection against getting seriously ill and dying from the disease, although no vaccine is 100% protective.”

The CDC also recommends people who already had COVID-19 get vaccinated. People who were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma should wait 90 days before getting vaccinated, the CDC says. But after that, the agency recommends those people get the vaccine as well.  

Dr. Bill Moss, a professor and executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, said immunity means a person’s immune system has previously responded to a bacteria or virus that causes infection.

“However, it’s more of a spectrum than an absolute, as there are different levels of immunity,” he said

People who were infected with COVID-19 and survived have some level of natural immunity, although the CDC says it’s unclear how long that protection lasts. The CDC says reported cases of reinfection are rare.

One study, partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, concluded immunity may last as long as eight months after infection. Dr. Abinash Virk with the Mayo Clinic said recent studies show natural immunity may last for at least a year. But she said the COVID-19 vaccines boost immunity for people who already had COVID-19 and provide protection against variants of concern.

"Additionally, vaccinated persons have demonstrated longer immunity and lower rates of infection than those who were infected, suggesting the vaccines generate a more sustained immunity than natural infection alone,” Virk said.

The CDC says studies suggest the currently authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, work against the variants, including the widespread delta variant, which is estimated to make up more than 80% of new COVID-19 cases across the U.S.

As of Aug. 2, nearly 50% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. More than 611,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the U.S. during the pandemic.

More from VERIFY: Fact-checking misinformation after CDC updates mask guidance for COVID-19

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