By Mary Hearty

Even though people who have had COVID-19 infection develop natural antibodies that can protect them for approximately three or six months, World Health Organization (WHO) still recommends that they should take the vaccine as it serves as an immune booster.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Paediatrician and WHO’S Chief Scientist during the WHO Science in 5 interview, explained that after getting COVID-19, people do get an immune response but this varies from person to person and it depends on whether you had a mild infection or more severe infection.

“Scientifically, you can take the vaccine as soon as you have fully recovered from COVID-19. At this point of time, we are not sure of exactly the level of neutralizing antibodies that offer protection against an infection. Therefore, we recommend individuals go and get antibody testing done in order to confirm whether they have immunity,” Dr Swaminathan said.

The Paediatrician elaborated that unlike the natural immunity developed after the infection, vaccines have been standardized in terms of the dose of the antigen that is being administered.

“This was based on many clinical trials that have been done so when someone receives a vaccine, we can be fairly confident and predict the kind of immune response they will get – of course in the majority of people,” Dr. Swaminathan said.

She also clarified that studies that look at the immune response when somebody has a dose of a vaccine after having had natural infection, and also when two different vaccine types are given one after the other, the so-called mix and match approach is still ongoing.

“Scientists believe that perhaps this type of a hybrid approach might actually give us a much stronger immune response than just natural infection alone, or giving a vaccination with the same vaccine alone,” Dr. Swaminathan said.

Despite COVID-19 vaccines preventing severe disease and hospitalization due to all the existing variants, Dr Swaminathan advised that taking precautionary measures such as wearing a mask, maintaining distance and hand hygiene, avoiding crowded or closed places, and other public health and social measures put in place by governments are necessary because not enough people are vaccinated yet.

“It is good to take those precautions in addition to being vaccinated because that’s what’s going to drive infection rates in the community down.”