What the Science Really Says About Natural Immunity vs. Vaccine Immunity, Strategies for Dealing with Ongoing Variants, and the Latest Research on the Risk of Breakthrough Infections in Cancer Patients

Immune response to coronavirus
Image: Health Matters

When it comes to the question of vaccine immunity verses natural immunity, the stance taken by the CDC is that vaccine immunity is stronger, which they maintain is confirmed by research. But when you analyze the study they use and compare it to, for example, the Israeli study that states the opposite, there is an enormous discrepancy. And this discrepancy is between studies that are designed to answer the same question.

The Israeli study[1] found that the vaccinated have a 27 times higher risk of symptomatic infection than those who recovered from Covid-19 infection. At the same time, the vaccinated were nine times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid. In contrast, a CDC study[2] by Bozio et al. claims that the Covid recovered are five times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than the vaccinated. Both studies cannot be right. 

While a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released findings that alleged recovered individuals have a 5.5 times more likely chance of being hospitalized when compared to vaccinated people with no prior infection, no other independent research corroborates these findings.

This CDC report was recently dismantled by Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Martin Kulldorf and was revealed to have fatal flaws.[3]  He states that the Israeli study was a “straightforward and well-conducted epidemiological cohort study that is easy to understand and interpret.” At the same time, he found the US study filled with flaws, deeming it fatally flawed. He goes on to say, “It is surprising that the CDC chose this case-control design rather than the less biased cohort design selected by the Israeli authors. Such an analysis would answer the question of interest and may have given a different result more in line with the Israeli study.”

A very recent December 4th, 2021, study[4] supported the finding of the Israeli study, in that infected individuals with or without one vaccination dose have better protection than uninfected doubly-vaccinated individuals 3 to 8 months after the last immunity-conferring event. The data from this study does not suggests that vaccinated individuals were more protected than previously infected individuals 3 to 6 months after the immunity-conferring event. This study highlights that hybrid immunity is the strongest immunity.  In other words, those that have been both infected and have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

How the Omicron Variant Differs

Other variants including Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta have had maybe eight or 10 mutations in the spike protein, and that’s largely what’s given them their advantageous phenotype. Omicron originated with 30 or more mutations in the spike protein!

There has been rapid spread in South Africa’s Gauteng province of Omicron as it rapidly replaces Delta. Omicron is spreading almost three times faster when compared to the Delta variant, which was two times faster compared to previous variants.

Early Lab Data Provide Glimpse into Omicron’s Immune Escape

Preliminary data from a small study at a prominent South African lab have found a 41-fold reduction in neutralizing antibody titers for the Pfizer vaccine against Omicron.

Virologist Florian Krammer, PhD, of Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, noted that the drop was significant and raised concerns.[5]

Omicron was first identified on 23 November in South Africa by researchers using genome sequencing to investigate a puzzling surge in case numbers there. Daily cases went from 274 on 11 November to 1000 a fortnight later, and currently number more than 2000.

Stéphane Bancel, chief executive of Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna, has predicted that omicron will cut the efficacy of existing vaccines. The new variant is also expected to be more resistant to antibody treatments such as those developed by Regeneron. “That is really a cause for concern,” says Barclay.[6]

Most experts now propose Omicron most likely developed in a chronically infected Covid-19 patient, likely someone whose immune response was impaired by another illness or a drug. When Alpha was first discovered in late 2020, that variant also appeared to have acquired numerous mutations all at once, leading researchers to postulate a chronic infection. The idea is bolstered by sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 samples from some chronically infected patients.[7]

Cancer Patients May Have Double the Risk of Breakthrough Infection After Covid-19 Vaccination

Most patients with solid tumors develop antibodies after Covid-19 vaccination, but many patients with hematologic malignancies fail to seroconvert, according to a meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Cancer.[8] Studies have shown that a “substantial proportion” of blood cancer patients who did not produce anti-S antibodies following complete vaccination continue to be seronegative after receiving an additional dose.[9]

The fact that some patients have poor immune responses even after 3 vaccine doses highlights the importance of additional precautions to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to Dr Vaca- Cartagena.[10]  However, it does appear for the time being that vaccine boosters provide protection to cancer patients. The meta-analysis did not include data on seroconversion rates in cancer patients after a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.[11] Since the researchers conducted the meta-analysis, studies have come out suggesting that additional vaccine doses may benefit patients with cancer.[12],[13]

Viral resistance can drive enhanced infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2, which in turn may ultimately enable SARS-CoV-2 to utilize alternative cell surface determinants to enter permissive cells. It is plausible that mass vaccination may drive the virus to fully exploit its evolutionary capacity, including its ability to use alternate receptor domains other than the Spike protein. This can lead to enhanced pathogenicity.[14] This is not an anti-vax statement, but rather an insight into the importance of supporting our innate healing capacity.

Viruses continually mutate, and by relying solely on vaccines, we are engaging in a never-ending race to stay ahead of the mutations. Supporting our overall health and innate immune response capacity is not variant specific and is a prudent approach to Covid-19, particularly as it becomes more apparent that there will never be a “post-Covid” world. We need to understand and accept that Covid-19 is here to stay. We need strategies beyond vaccines alone for living with this virus, starting with building our own robust health and immunity and reducing known risk factors where possible.

There are volumes of existing irrefutable evidence that foods, herbs and specific nutrients possess potential antiviral immune enhancing ability against SARS-CoV-2. According to recent research, herbal medicines, like herbs and essential oils, may have a part to play in counteracting Covid-19.[15] As we head into the 3rd year of living with Covid-19, there is no doubt in my mind we would be in a very different situation today if we had embraced dietary, herbal, and nutritional medicine for supportive care during the past two years, but it’s not too late to start. In my next blog, I’ll be sharing all the wonderful antiviral properties of some of my favorite essential oils.

[1] Sivan Gazit, Roei Shlezinger, Galit Perez, Roni Lotan, Asaf Peretz, Amir Ben-Tov, Dani Cohen, Khitam Muhsen, Gabriel Chodick, Tal Patalon, Comparing SARS-CoV-2 natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity: reinfections versus breakthrough infections

doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.24.21262415

[2] Laboratory-Confirmed COVID-19 Among Adults Hospitalized with COVID-19–Like Illness with Infection-Induced or mRNA Vaccine-Induced SARS-CoV-2 Immunity — Nine States, January–September 2021, Weekly / November 5, 2021 / 70(44);1539–1544, On October 29, 2021, this report was posted online as an MMWR Early Release.https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7044e1.htm

[3] A Review and Autopsy of Two COVID Immunity Studies BY MARTIN KULLDORFF   NOVEMBER 2, 2021, https://brownstone.org/articles/a-review-and-autopsy-of-two-covid-immunity-studies/

[4] Yair Goldberg, Micha Mandel, Yinon M. Bar-On, Omri Bodenheimer, Laurence Freedman, Nachman Ash, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Amit Huppert, Ron Milo, Protection and waning of natural and hybrid COVID-19 immunity, MedRxiv, BMJJ Yale, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.12.04.21267114

[5] Kristina Fiore, Early Lab Data Provide Glimpse Into Omicron’s Immune Escape, MedPage Today December 8, 2021, https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/96069?xid=nl_covidupdate_2021-12-08&eun=g1065123d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DailyUpdate_120821&utm_term=NL_Gen_Int_Daily_News_Update_active

[6] Vaughan, Adam, Omicron emerges, 4 December 2021 | New Scientist | 7, Mutations could have accumulated in a chronically infected patient, an overlooked human population, or an animal reservoir

[7] KUPFERSCHMIDT, KAI, Where did ‘weird’ Omicron come from?, December 4th, 2021, A version of this story appeared in Science, Vol 374, Issue 6572., https://www.science.org/content/article/where-did-weird-omicron-come

[8] Becerril-Gaitan A, Vaca-Cartagena BF, Ferrigno AS, et al. Immunogenicity and risk of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection after Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination in patients with cancer: A systematic review and meta- analysis. Eur J Cancer. 2021;S0959-8049. doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2021.10.014

[9] Re D, Seitz-Polski B, Carles M, et al. Humoral and cellular responses after a third dose of BNT162b2 vaccine in patients treated for lymphoid malignancies. medRxiv. Published online July 22, 2021. doi:https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.07.18.21260669

[10] Storrs, Carina, PhD December 7, 2021, Cancer Patients May Have Double the Risk of Breakthrough Infection After COVID-19 Vaccination, Cancer Therapy Advisor, https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/cancer-topics/general-oncology/cancer-patients-double-risk-covid19-breakthrough-infection/?mpweb=1323-165465-6575524

[11] COVID-19 vaccines for moderately to severely immunocompromised people. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated November 23, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/immuno.html   

[12] Shroff RT, Chalasani P, Wei R, et al. Immune responses to two and three doses of the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine in adults with solid tumorsNat Med. 2021;27(11):2002-2011. doi:10.1038/s41591-021-01542-z

[13] Shapiro LC, Thakkar A, Campbell ST, et al. Efficacy of booster doses in augmenting waning immune responses to COVID-19 vaccine in patients with cancerCancer Cell. 2021;S1535-6108(21)00606-1. doi:10.1016/j.ccell.2021.11.006

[14] Read AF, Baigent SJ, Powers C, Kgosana LB, Blackwell L, Smith LP, Kennedy DA, Walkden-Brown SW, Nair VK. Imperfect Vaccination Can Enhance the Transmission of Highly Virulent Pathogens. PLoS Biol. 2015 Jul 27;13(7):e1002198. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002198. PMID: 26214839; PMCID: PMC4516275.

[15] Vellingiri B., Jayaramayya K., Iyer M., Narayanasamy A., Govindasamy V., Giridharan B., Rajagopalan K. COVID-19: A promising cure for the global panic. Sci. Total. Environ. 2020:138277. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138277.

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Synthesizing the Latest on Covid-19 Science on Vaccines, Variants, Natural Immunity and Essential Nutrients for Immune Enhancement

Regardless of where you stand on the vaccine debate, my goal is to provide reliable, fact-based information on current vaccine trends and to share the good news about the powerful role herbal medicine, nutrition, and diet play in building a healthy immune system. There is undoubtedly a great deal of conflicting misinformation circulating in the public amidst a high degree of vaccine skepticism. On a positive note, the latest scientific consensus is now confirming a reduced rate of severe illness and death from COVID-19, including the Delta variant, in vaccinated individuals, especially for high-risk populations, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions. A recent meta-analysis on Vitamin D is also garnering attention on the critical importance of this nutrient. However, with vaccine effectiveness waning[1],[2] amidst rising numbers of breakthrough infections, the continued transmissibility of infection despite vaccination[3], and new variants of concern continuing to emerge[4], the challenge of relying exclusively on immunizations to move past the pandemic underscores the importance of being ever more vigilant in optimizing our health.

Continue reading “Synthesizing the Latest on Covid-19 Science on Vaccines, Variants, Natural Immunity and Essential Nutrients for Immune Enhancement”

Vitalist Philosophy and Perspective on Vaccinations and The Importance of Natural Immunity

In the case of a serious life-threatening disease, such as polio, my opinion is to vaccinate.  The risk-to-benefit ratio is clear—get the vaccine and not polio! However, with less dangerous viruses, such as the measles, and with effective tools for supporting recovery within the botanical toolbox, I believe in NOT vaccinating against these illnesses. The result is betterment of the long-term vitality of the ‘Life Force,’ and specifically the health of the immune system. Recovering from a non-life threatening virus helps our immune system to become stronger. The long-term effects of vaccination against all childhood diseases is that our immune system gets no training and is therefore not prepared to fight off invading microorganisms. Illnesses like measles and chicken pox are not life threatening except in very rare cases. Choosing to effectively deal with an acute adverse reaction to a disease that is not life threatening and does not impose a high risk of long-term damage, should one be exposed, vs. mandated exposure to risks from vaccines in general is a debate that should not be taken lightly. The environment one lives and works in, lifestyle practices, as well as frequency of travel and avoidance of those with medical conditions of compromised immunity if unvaccinated or exposed to a contagious disease, must all be carefully weighed. Above all, I believe people should be given all of the information they need to make an informed decision when it comes to vaccinations.

Continue reading “Vitalist Philosophy and Perspective on Vaccinations and The Importance of Natural Immunity”