TALLAHASSEE — Republicans fighting President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandates are wielding a new weapon against the White House rules: natural immunity.
They contend that people who have recovered from the virus have enough immunity and antibodies to not need COVID-19 vaccines, and the concept has been invoked by Republicans as a sort of stand-in for vaccines.
Florida wrote natural immunity into state law this week as GOP lawmakers elsewhere are pushing similar measures to sidestep vaccine mandates. Lawsuits over the mandates have also begun leaning on the idea. Conservative federal lawmakers have implored regulators to consider it when formulating mandates.
Scientists acknowledge that people previously infected with COVID-19 have some level of immunity but that vaccines offer a more consistent level of protection. Natural immunity is also far from a one-size-fits-all scenario, making it complicated to enact sweeping exemptions to vaccines.
That’s because how much immunity COVID-19 survivors have depends on how long ago they were infected, how sick they were, and if the virus variant they had is different from mutants circulating now. For example, a person who had a minor case one year ago is much different than a person who had a severe case over the summer when the delta variant was raging through the country. It’s also difficult to reliably test whether someone is protected from future infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that COVID-19 survivors who ignored advice to get vaccinated were more than twice as likely to get infected again. A more recent study from the CDC, looking at data from nearly 190 hospitals in nine states, determined that unvaccinated people who had been infected months earlier were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people who didn’t have a prior infection.
“Infection with this virus, if you survive, you do have some level of protection against getting infected in the future and particularly against getting serious infection in the future,” said Dr. David Dowdy of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s important to note though that even those who have been infected in the past get additional protection from being vaccinated.”
Studies also show that COVID-19 survivors who get vaccinated develop extra-strong protection, what’s called “hybrid immunity.” When previously infected person gets a coronavirus vaccine, the shot acts like a booster and revs virus-fighting antibodies to high levels. The combination also strengthens another defensive layer of the immune system, helping create new antibodies that are more likely to withstand future variants.
The immunity debate comes as the country is experiencing another surge in infections and hospitalizations and 60 million people remain unvaccinated in a pandemic that has killed more than 770,000 Americans. Biden is hoping more people will get vaccinated because of workplace mandates set to take effect early next year but which face many challenges in the courts.
And many Republicans eager to buck Biden have embraced the argument that immunity from earlier infections should be enough to earn an exemption from the mandates.
“We recognize, unlike what you see going on with the federal proposed mandates and other states, we’re actually doing a science-based approach. For example, we recognize people that have natural immunity,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has been a chief critic of virus rules, said at a signing ceremony for sweeping legislation to hobble vaccine mandates this week.
The new Florida law forces private businesses to let workers opt out of COVID-19 mandates if they can prove immunity through a prior infection, as well as exemptions based on medical reasons, religious beliefs, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. The state health department, which is led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes mandates and has drawn national attention over a refusal to wear a face mask during a meeting, will have authority to define exemption standards.
The Republican-led New Hampshire Legislature plans to take up a similar measure when it meets in January. Lawmakers in Idaho and Wyoming, both statehouses under GOP-control, recently debated similar measures but did not pass them. In Utah, a newly signed law creating exemptions from Biden’s vaccine mandates for private employers allows people to duck the requirement if they have already had COVID.
And the debate is not unique to the U.S. Russia has seen huge numbers of people seeking out antibody tests to prove they had an earlier infection and therefore don’t need vaccines.
Some politicians use the science behind natural immunity to advance narratives suggesting vaccines aren’t the best way to end the pandemic.
“The shot is not by any means the only or proven way out of the pandemic. I’m not willing to give blind faith to the pharmaceutical narrative,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Greg Ferch.
U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican and physician, along with 14 other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress, sent a letter in late September to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the agency, when setting vaccination policies, to consider natural immunity.
The White House has recently unveiled a host of vaccine mandates, sparking a flurry of lawsuits from GOP states, setting the stage for pitched legal battles. Among the rules are vaccine requirements for federal contractors, businesses with more than 100 employees and health care workers.
In separate lawsuits, others are challenging local vaccine rules using an immunity defense.
A 19-year-old student who refuses to be tested but claims he contracted and quickly recovered from COVID-19 is suing the University of Nevada, Reno, the governor and others over the state’s requirement that everyone, with few exceptions, show proof of vaccination in order to register for classes in the upcoming spring semester. The case alleges that “COVID-19 vaccination mandates are an unconstitutional intrusion on normal immunity and bodily integrity.”
Another case, filed by workers of Los Alamos National Laboratory, challenges their workplace vaccine mandate for civil rights and constitutional violations, arguing the lab has refused requests for medical accommodations for those workers who have fully recovered from COVID-19.
A similar lawsuit from Chicago firefighters and other city employees hit a bump last month when a judge said their case lacked scientific evidence to support the contention that the natural immunity for people who have had the virus is superior to the protection from the vaccine.
Cars lined up outside the Tyler Assistance Center as groceries were handed out by First Baptist Church in Tyler as part of its annual drive-thru distribution event Saturday. Families filled the parking lot with big smiles on their faces and a sense of comfort knowing they were obtaining a Thanksgiving meal.
Attendees left with a Thanksgiving sack full of all the holiday fixings — two hams, two cans of green beans, three cans of corn, two cans of fruit, two cornbread mixes, one box of cake mix and one can of icing.
First Baptist Church of Tyler has been holding the event for 15 years and the community has come to count on it for a holiday meal. Some lined up the night before to ensure they’d get a sack of groceries.
“We had a guy that was here from 11 p.m. at night, he slept out on the porch to make sure he got a ham,” First Baptist Church volunteer Martha Wheat said.
Wheat has been volunteering for the past 15 years and looks forward to helping every year.
“I think the sweetest thing about this event is that we are caring for our neighbors but they care for each other too. We had a pencil today that we would take to the cars stating how much sacks each car needed. This was because families had gotten their friends a sack that didn’t have a way to come,” she said. “They help each other and it’s about everybody caring about others.”
From her years of assisting in the distribution, Wheat said Tyler is blessed and she admires how everyone helps each other.
“Single mommas, elderly, single older seniors, there’s a lot of people hurting but there’s a lot of people wanting to help and that’s what makes Tyler special,” she said.
Robert Watson, Minister of Missions at First Baptist Church in Tyler, said the event this year garnered a total of 93 volunteers, 1,196 food sacks and 1,800 hams.
Each year, the sack is prepared months in advance and has turned into an event the whole Tyler community participates in.
“This year we collected almost 1,200 sacks, it all started with First Baptist Church but now it’s become more of a community (effort). We had donations from Bethesda Health Clinic, some school classrooms, the Plaza Tower, People’s Petroleum Building, South Spring Baptist Church and we have a bible study fellowship that we have on Wednesday and a lot of those ladies picked up sacks and brought them to us,” Watson said.
Echoing Wheat’s sentiments, Watson also said Tyler is a great community that helps each other.
“This year especially has been amazing, we look around our world and see everything going on. People are willing to help, Tyler is a great community and I think they take pretty good care of people who are less fortunate or more needy,” he said. “Through all of this First Baptist has been amazingly blessed during COVID. We’ve grown as a church and are doing financially well, our people just wanna give back to our community.”
Watson and the volunteers all had smiles on their faces as the distribution event went on Saturday, and some volunteers heard stories that brought tears to their eyes.
“People are just gracious and thankful. All sorts of people come to our parking lot, we have time to talk to them and they may be going through chemotherapy, or other difficulties,” he said. “We have time to talk to them and sometimes pray with them, it’s a blessing to our community and a blessing to our church to be able to do this.”
For more information or to contribute to First Baptist Church and their community outreach, call 903-595-1021.
Tyler residents lined up outside Rudy’s Bar-B-Q on Saturday morning as Continuing Faith in Christ Ministries partnered with other local organizations to provide a free turkey to families for Thanksgiving.
Daryl L. Davis, Founder of Continuing Faith in Christ Ministries, said this was the group’s first-ever turkey distribution and it was a collaborative project with Jamien Green, 107.3 Kiss FM radio personality “Melz on the Mic’’, God’s Amazing Grace Outreach Ministries and Rudy’s Bar-B-Q who all contributed to the event.
“We were blessed to bless over 20 families, maybe right at 30. Twenty of our turkeys were smoked by Rudy’s,” he said, adding there were also uncooked turkeys available.
Davis said he hopes to hold this event again next year and enjoyed giving back to the community.
“It’s a wonderful thing giving back, we want to see people blessed,” he said. “You have a lot of people that are blessed and don’t know that they are blessed. Then you have people that are in hard times, those are the people we want to look after.”
Continuing Faith in Christ Ministries is always on the hunt to give to the community, Davis said. The group holds various events such as school supplies and bike giveaways, which will be approaching for the Christmas season.
“Whether it is a child that doesn’t have a pair of shoes or an elderly person that doesn’t have a meal, we want to pave the way,” Davis said, adding he hopes someone would do the same for him if he were in need.
“We want to be a blessing to the people, all people are welcomed. It’s a people thing, it doesn’t have to do with a color, race, gender. We want to love on each other just how Christ loved on us,” he said.
Continuing Faith in Christ Ministries is always taking donations, Davis said. For questions and more information, call 903-944-4443.
Families waited with anticipation in their cars Friday as they formed a line along Palace Avenue to Nutbush Street in Tyler to receive a free fully cooked turkey for Thanksgiving.
Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System and the Houston Temple Church of God in Christ partnered for the giveaway to help make Thanksgiving special for community members in need.
The event began at least 30 minutes before the originally scheduled time as there were already nearly 300 cars filled with up to two families, waiting to receive their free fully cooked turkey.
At the hospital’s first-ever turkey giveaway event, 500 Greenberg turkeys were originally going to be handed out, but as cars kept arriving, members of the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System unloaded a second truck that arrived halfway through the event, carrying 200 more Greenberg turkeys.
Cedrick Granberry, who serves on the Community and Leadership Board at Christus Mother Frances Hospital, works with the local chapter of the NAACP and is also a minister at the Houston Temple Church of God in Christ.
“Christus has been such a blessing to this community and to the city of Tyler,” Granberry said. “Community is what it’s all about. It’s all about giving. It’s more of a blessing to give than to receive, but look at the reciprocation in giving. It’s a blessing to receive as well, because you know somebody else cares. Somebody else knows your struggle, someone else is cognizant that everybody is not as fortunate as some.”
Granberry commended the leadership at the hospital, saying they’re a “fine group of people.”
“It’s just the art of giving. It’s a blessing. Look at the people that have received, the families, the mouths that are fed, and it’s teaching the children to always remember your neighbor. That’s the importance of it and we hope that it can continue to be a tradition,” Granberry said.
Keviesha Lacy, clinical director over the Medical Surgical Trauma Unit and Ryan Tamula, admin director for the Emergency Department at Christus Trinity Mother Frances, attended the drive-thru distribution to represent the hospital and to hand out boxes of turkeys.
“Jason Proctor, (President of the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System) reached out to us to bring our staff to help give back to the community that we serve day in and day out, just another way to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” Tamula said.
Usually working directly with patients and by their bedside at the hospital, Lacy and Tamula said today was a different day for them, but with the same mission.
“We serve our community by our patients coming to the hospital when they’re sick and they’re down, but it’s great to serve other populations that also need our care and the services that we provide, so it’s rewarding as well,” Lacy said.
Tamula added, “It’s a nice change of pace. Usually in the hospital, they’re in agony and suffering and here everyone’s smiling and ready to chow down. We’re happy to deliver.”
Tamula said he was excited that life felt as if it were coming back to normal Friday as vaccination rates continue to rise. He emphasized the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19 so events like these continue.