Healthbeat: How much protection do antibodies provide compared to vaccines?

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — President Joe Biden’s goal for 70% of Americans to get vaccinated by July 4th in the pursuit of herd immunity fell short. But is there a way that could happen besides just vaccine rates?

We know herd immunity happens when much of the population becomes immune to a virus because people have been vaccinated or infected. But as Eyewitness News found out through a Geisinger infectious disease specialist, it’s not so simple when it comes to COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 cases to date is staggering: more than 1.2 million statewide and 33.7 million nationwide. Those who did recover began experiencing something valuable in their immune system.

“The body develops some degree of immunity. The white blood cells which can remember exposure to infection can kick in. Antibody levels will kick up,” Stan Martin, MD, Director of Infectious Diseases, Geisinger.

Dr. Martin says that provides the patient a degree of immunity which can last for several months.

“That’s highly variable though, right? Everybody’s immune system is a little bit different.”

But is it enough combined with the number of people vaccinated to achieve herd immunity?

“In some parts of the country, possibly and others maybe not and that’s a concern,” Dr. Martin said.

He blames some of the difficulty on the fact we, as a population, tend to not stay in one place.

“We have movement of people from one part of the country to another, kind of constantly in flux.”

Another issue is mutations of the original strain of COVID-19 which may make those who were originally infected but recovered still vulnerable.

“As these variants arise, it’s not a guarantee that your immunity to one strain of COVID is necessarily going to translate to another strain,” said Dr. Martin.

Dr. Martin urges COVID patients who’ve recovered to get vaccinated to prevent reinfection and help get our community and country closer to herd immunity.

“And that is the key to getting this pandemic under control. That is the key to having a normal life which we all want again.”

To date nearly 5.5 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. All total, 158 million Americans are vaccinated.

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