A reader of The Tribune-Democrat asked:

“I had COVID-19 this past November. I began giving blood to the Red Cross, which tested for antibodies. They are no longer performing that test. I asked my doctor for a prescription to go get my antibodies tested, but he refused. I feel it is very important for us as a country to know how long natural antibodies last.

“The argument is that I should get a vaccine because we do not know how long antibodies last. But we do not know how long the vaccine lasts either. Why can’t I find someone who will allow me to test my naturally present antibodies? Up until a month ago, I clearly had antibodies. Now I can’t find out. Why is the medical world operating only on the premise of vaccination? Why not offer credence to those of us who had COVID-19 and are naturally immune?”

The answer:

Thank you for your question. I can understand the confusion. Please let me try to explain.

The vaccines for COVID-19 are designed to prime your immune system to make antibodies that will bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. The spike protein is what the virus uses to enter our cells. You can think of the spike protein as a key and your cells the lock. If you make enough blocking antibodies, the keys are unable to enter the lock.

When we have a natural infection with COVID-19 our bodies make antibodies to all parts of the virus, not just the spike protein (ie. the key) So, you have some blocking antibodies, but you won’t have as many because the body is responding to all parts of the virus.

Think of it like this when it is cold outside, we want to cover all our skin to keep from getting frostbite. The vaccine is like the jacket, hat, scarf and gloves we wear, it keeps the cold from getting to us. Natural infection would allow us to have a hat and gloves on, but not the entire ensemble.

The vaccines tell the immune system to make those blocking antibodies. If someone is exposed to COVID-19, they will receive varying amounts of virus. Delta creates more virus to spread than the other strains. If you get more virus from the exposure than there are blocking antibodies, you will become infected. The amount of blocking antibodies you make depend on many different factors of your body. Hence, the vaccines being good at keeping you from getting severe infection.

Thus, your question as to why natural immunity is not being considered is answered. The delta variant is more infectious because it makes more of itself once it gets in. Vaccines are designed to block the virus from getting in. More virus from an infection means more blocking antibodies are needed, therefore a booster shot is being considered for those already vaccinated.

Delta is also the reason masks are being mandated across the country in areas with high transmission rates. The mask, if worn properly by an infected individual, reduces the number of viruses that reach a person. This means less blocking antibodies are needed, and less people get sick.

– Jill D. Henning, associate professor of biology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

• • • • •

“I have had C. diff several times over the past four years. I would rather die than have it again. Is there anything in the COVID shots that might bring on another round of C. diff?”

The answer:

There is no evidence that the Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccines increase the risk for C. diff (Clostridioides difficile) infection. These vaccines are not antibiotics. In fact, getting severe COVID-19 and requiring hospitalization may increase the risk for C. diff.

– Dr. David Csikos, chief medical officer, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber.

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