Fact Check: Natural immunity better than vaccine against delta variant

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — It’s been a debate since COVID-19 vaccines came out. What’s better: The vaccine or natural immunity? A lot of people claim the answer is natural immunity, and they’re citing a CDC report. But is that really true?

The CDC study below has been making the rounds online (mobile users, click here).

COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations by COVID-19 Vaccination Status and Previous COVID-19 Diagnosis — Califo… by News10NBC on Scribd

The study found when the delta variant was the predominant strain in the U.S., people who survived a previous COVID-19 infection had lower case rates than people who were vaccinated alone.

"In my opinion, I think that paper is being inappropriately interpreted," said Dr. Emil Lesho.

Lesho is an infectious disease specialist from Rochester Regional Health.

"In some situations, they’re comparable. Natural immunity, vaccine. They’re comparable," Lesho said.

The study includes data from California and New York gathered between May and November of 2021. Before the delta variant, people who were vaccinated had better protection versus people who had previously had COVID. However, when delta was the predominant strain that changed.

"It’s true that you get protection from a natural infection, but it is far safer to get immunity from a vaccine," Lesho said.

Dr. Lesho points to the graph below straight from the CDC’s report. It shows COVID hospitalizations. The solid blue line represents unvaccinated people with no prior COVID diagnosis.

"The hospitalizations, they’re up here among unvaccinated people, and they’re literally flattened, almost just barely above the axis for vaccinated people," Lesho said.

Dr. Lesho said if you had a delta COVID infection you’re well protected against delta, but he says the vaccine offers broader protection against other possible strains.

"Both types of immunity wane after a while," Lesho said. "And that’s the rationale for booster shots."

Keep in mind, the data in this study involved the delta variant. Omicron is now another story. Both Dr. Lesho and the CDC say vaccines provide the safest protection against COVID.