COVID-19 vaccines protect from serious illness


Hello, dear readers, and welcome back to our ongoing conversation about all things coronavirus. We continue to receive a lot of mail on the topic, and we’ll keep adding bonus columns so we can keep up.

-- The question of natural immunity versus the vaccine is an ongoing issue in one reader’s family. “Will the vaccine based on the original strain of coronavirus protect you more than your natural antibodies to newer variants?” he asked. “This is the constant issue in my family, and a proper explanation for the importance of getting vaccinated -- even if you still have antibodies -- is appreciated.”

It’s true that having had COVID-19 offers some natural protection; however, this fades over time. Research also shows that it may not be as effective as the vaccine against reinfection. The vaccines offer protection against serious illness both to the original virus and to emerging variants. Because it’s possible to become reinfected, and because COVID-19 can have serious and lingering health effects, the most robust source of protection is to get vaccinated and to stay current on boosters. This keeps your level of protection as high as possible. It’s also important to continue to wear a good mask in public places.

-- A reader from California wondered if being vaccinated makes someone less contagious if they develop COVID-19. “My understanding is that full vaccination protects the vaccinated individual from developing serious medical consequences of COVID-19,” she wrote. “However, if that vaccinated person develops a breakthrough infection, aren’t they just as potentially contagious to others than as if they had not been vaccinated?”

You’ve asked an intriguing question that has yet to be fully resolved. There is some evidence that when people who are fully vaccinated become ill with COVID-19, they have a lower overall viral load, which they shed for a shorter period of time. This would make them less contagious. However, this continues to be a topic of debate. We’ll continue to update on the issue as new data becomes available.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD

-- We’ll close with thoughts from a reader in Illinois who finds herself exhausted by the ongoing divide over the coronavirus vaccines: “The media fills us with the good and bad of the vaccines, the pro- and the anti-vaccine positions, and we’re left not knowing what to believe,” she wrote. “It causes us to become skeptical. Wouldn't it be a simple decision to just ask your personal physician and act on his or her recommendation? After all, they are familiar with a person’s health issues.”

You have echoed the frustrations of many of our readers, and we suspect they’ll be glad to see they’re not alone. Yes, we agree that anyone who remains unsure about any aspect of the vaccines should talk to their health care provider. This person understands COVID-19, has a good grasp of your health and your health history, and has your best interests at heart. We have recommended this many times in our columns, and we add our voices to yours: If you’re unsure about getting the vaccine or a booster, please talk to your family doctor.

To learn more about the vaccines and for the latest information visit UCLA Health's COVID-19 Vaccine Info Hub.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)