Your body’s defense system

How does COVID-19 immunity work?

As COVID-19 circulates around the world, scientists and doctors continue to study the virus closely to see just how our bodies react to it.

Your body’s ability to protect you from getting sick is called immunity. There are several types of immunity, and you’ve probably heard about them before. But what do terms like vaccine immunity, natural immunity, herd immunity, and hybrid immunity actually mean? And is one type more effective against COVID-19 infection than another?

We chatted with Dr. Mabel Bodell, a nephrologist (kidney specialist) at Confluence Health in Wenatchee, to learn more.

Everyone’s body has an immune system. You can think of your immune system as an army, ready to attack. When any foreign substance, like a virus or bacteria, enters your body, the army determines the level of danger to the body and plans its attack.

If the invader is familiar (like a cold or flu), your immune system remembers fighting it before and can launch an attack quickly. But when an unfamiliar invader enters the body, like COVID-19, it takes your body some time to gather its weapons and determine how to battle it.

Since every body has different immune systems, diseases and viruses affect everybody differently.

  • Natural Immunity: The immunity your body builds if you get COVID-19.
  • Vaccine Immunity: The immunity your body builds based on the information in the vaccine. The vaccine doesn’t actually contain the virus, but it mimics its properties. So, if you get COVID-19, your body is already familiar with the components of the virus and can fight it easier.
  • Hybrid or Super Immunity: A combination of natural immunity and vaccine immunity. Since COVID-19 is a fairly new virus, scientists are still studying this with COVID-19. But emerging research suggests this type of immunity may help people fight COVID-19 and its variants even better.
  • Herd Immunity: This happens when a large part of the community becomes immune to a disease. This makes the spread of disease from person-to-person unlikely. Unfortunately, researchers have determined that herd immunity is unlikely to be achieved with COVID-19. That’s because the virus is very adaptable — and why new variants like delta continue to spread.

Research suggests that hybrid or super immunity may be the strongest defense against COVID-19 and its variants. That doesn’t mean you should try to get COVID-19 to have a stronger immune response. But it does mean that even if you already had COVID-19, you still benefit from the vaccine’s protection.

For most people, immunity from vaccination is stronger and lasts longer than natural immunity. Larry Corey, virologist and past president and director of Fred Hutch, estimates that the immune response from COVID-19 vaccination is between 10 and 100 times stronger than immunity from a COVID-19 infection.

It’s important to note that the immunity from vaccines cannot be replicated by any home remedies or supplements.

Natural immunity varies from person to person, so it’s hard to say. Research suggests that your natural immunity “memory” may only last for a few months. This means it may be very effective if you catch COVID-19 again shortly after your first infection. But it may not be able to protect you as well if you catch it again — or a new variant — months or years later.

This is a great question that many people have. People that had COVID-19 can easily catch it again — or a variant. Again, this virus is incredibly adaptable. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting a vaccine, even if your body already defeated an earlier COVID-19 infection.

If you have COVID-19, you should wait to get vaccinated until you feel better and your isolation period is over.

Researchers are still learning exactly how ‘super immunity’ works. Early findings suggest that super immunity may protect from current COVID-19 and future variants better.

The research on this is still really new so scientists just don’t know yet. They’re trying combinations of various vaccines to see if they can create an even stronger immune system response to help fight COVID-19 and its variants.

The research on COVID-19 immunity is ongoing. But doctors, scientists, and virologists all agree that getting vaccinated is definitely the best defense against COVID-19.

This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 5 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.

WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

Public Health Connection

From the Washington State Department of Health