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If You’ve Had COVID-19, Do You Still Need to Get the Vaccine?

Mature man taking a COVID-19 vaccine from his doctor

1. You Could Get Sick Again Without It

First, even if you’ve dubbed yourself a COVID survivor, you might still be able to get sick again.

​Patients who have been infected with COVID-19 should still get the vaccine. We are not certain that a prior infection will lead to lifelong immunity. Current data suggests a prior infection could confer immunity for around six months,” says Michelle Prickett, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a Northwestern Medicine pulmonary and critical care specialist.

While not common, there have been confirmed cases of people who have gotten reinfected with COVID-19. One report on a young man from Nevada, described in ​The Lancet Infectious Diseases​, noted the second infection was worse than the first, sending the patient to the hospital for oxygen.

So, even if you think you’re comfortable with risking it because your brush with COVID wasn’t that bad, that doesn’t mean a future illness would be a walk in the park.

2. There’s No Downside

Because of the uncertainty about how long immunity really lasts, Lisa Lee, PhD, research professor in the department of population health sciences at Virginia Tech, also recommends getting the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past, and stresses that it’s safe to do so.

There are several vaccines in development. Lee explains that while vaccine trials didn’t actively seek out and enroll people who had previously had COVID, some participants did actually have the infection before. (There were, after all, tens of thousands of people enrolled.)

Because of that, “in terms of safety, it’s not an issue to get vaccinated [after recovering from COVID-19], and it will certainly help prevent a person from becoming infected again,” she says (The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95 percent effective.)

Typical reactions are similar to a flu vaccine, e.g. your arm gets sore from the needle prick. You might also get a fever or feel achy for a day or two after, a response that your immune system is queuing up and rightfully responding to the vaccine.

It doesn’t mean you got sick from the vaccine, Lee explains, but that your immune system is basically saying it’s ready to take on the virus.

3. Getting It Can Help Keep Others Safe

Important, too, is that by getting a vaccine, you’re helping save others.

As of October 2020, less than 10 percent of the world population had been infected with COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. In other words? There are still so many people who could get severely ill and possibly die from the disease.

“One major purpose of vaccination is to protect people who can’t get the vaccine,” Lee says.

If enough people get vaccinated, this creates herd immunity, which is community protection. (The CDC has not predicted how much of the U.S. population will have to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.)

“If the herd can’t get the infection, they can’t pass it along to vulnerable people,” Lee says. “Essentially, herd immunity creates a sort of [protective] donut around the vulnerable, where the infection can’t penetrate and get to them.”

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