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Disease experts weigh in on natural immunity versus COVID-19 vaccines

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Disease experts weigh in on natural immunity versus COVID-19 vaccines

Numerous studies have shown that vaccination gives higher protection than natural infection.

But it was still a topic of discussion among experts with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which voted unanimously to support vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 years old.

And it's top of mind for a vocal city councilwoman. Andria Tupola's endorsing natural immunity.

In a letter she posted online to Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Tupola's requesting natural immunity be accepted in Oahu's reopening plan.

DeWolfe Miller, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, said natural protection is simply not good enough.

"There is an abundance of hard data -- good data -- that says that natural immunity is not as strong and lasting as the immunity is generated by these vaccines -- these terrific vaccines we have," he said. "So that's been laid to rest a long time ago that the natural immunity wanes quicker and is weaker."

He added that you can't boost natural immunity -- unless getting infected again.

"With the vaccines we can, if we think -- even imagine -- that there's any waning of immunity, then we can just give the person a booster shot," Miller said. "And so with vaccines, we have opportunities to fight back. With the virus, natural immunity doesn't."

Axel Lehrer, an associate professor at the medical school, said in very severe cases of COVID-19, there's strong immunity that may be long-lasting.

But that's a steep price to pay.

"And in some cases it could be better than actually what you would see with a vaccine, but what we see with the vaccine is a controlled-type of immunity -- and that is what we're trying to accomplish," Lehrer said.

He said everyone's body will have a different response to natural infection of any disease.

He's in the process of creating a new COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Hawaii.

Researchers agree children should get vaccinated as soon as possible in order to protect themselves and the community -- with the strongest kind of herd immunity.

Produced in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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