When the WHO says that vaccine and natural antibodies provide the same level of protection, why is it recommending aggressive vaccination undermining the significance of natural immunity?
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has relied only on immunization to fight against Omicron, the highly infectious new variant of Sars_Cov_2. So far, this international public health advisory body has completely ignored the significance of natural antibodies in its advisories from time to time.
When a person naturally recovers from Covid-19, he or she develops a natural immunity against the virus that causes the disease. The available scientific studies so far have shown that natural antibody provides the best and long-lasting protection as compared to any of the available vaccines.
Despite that, in none of its advisories issued so far, the WHO has acknowledged any of these studies to give prominence to natural immunity over vaccine-acquired immunity. A section of health experts in India doubts the impartial and fair role of the WHO in the fight against Covid-19.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO’s role has been doubtful. Its obsession with vaccines is questionable,” Dr Sanjay Rai, Professor, Department of Community Medicine, AIIMS, Delhi, said.
Dr Rai, who is also the President of the Indian Public Health Association, points out the technical briefs that the WHO has been releasing from time to time after the beginning of the pandemic and says that the bias against natural immunity is quite obvious in these communications.
For instance, in a scientific brief, released on April 24, 2020, the WHO had rejected the suggestions of some governments that those people who had naturally recovered from Covid-19 should be given an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” to travel as they were protected against re-infection.
“At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate,”,” the WHO had said.
More than a year later, when many scientific studies proved the significance of natural immunity in providing better protection as compared to vaccines, the WHO, in its scientific brief on May 10, 2021, said that vaccination and natural infection provide similar protection.
“Though rarely reported to date, reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 can occur. Four large studies from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Denmark estimated that infection with SARS-CoV-2 provided 80-90% protection from reinfection up to 7 months, and up to 94% protection against symptomatic disease,” the WHO held.
Despite that, it concluded saying, “Available tests and current knowledge do not tell us about the duration of immunity and protection against reinfection, but recent evidence suggests that natural infection may provide similar protection against symptomatic disease as vaccination, at least for the available follow-up period.”
Dr Rai says that if the WHO was of the view that both vaccine and natural infection provides similar protection then ”why didn’t it recommend that naturally-recovered people don’t need the vaccine at all?”
More surprising is the WHO’s stand in its technical brief dated November 27, 2021, titled, “Enhancing Readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529) in the WHO South East Asia Region.”
Completely ignoring the significance of natural immunity in the fight against Omicron, it said, “Increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage in all eligible age groups, but particularly in the old adults, health care workers and others with high risks of severe diseases should be prioritized by public health authorities.”
Dr Rai said that these briefs not only show that the WHO is disregarding a superior form of immunity only to promote vaccination. “If everybody will be vaccinated, then the evidence in favour of the superiority of natural immunity will itself disappear. That’s really unfortunate.”
Dr Amitav Banerjee, Head, Department of Community Medicine, Dr DY Patil Medical College, Pune agrees with Dr Rai and said that in the latest technical brief dated November 27, 2021, the WHO should have also said that those who have recovered naturally don’t need to be vaccinated.
“Real world population studies from Israel after the rollout of vaccination has established that such naturally acquired immunity is 13 times more robust than that induced by vaccines. Translating this in practice one can say that a person who has recovered from a natural infection has already received 13 boosters! Why can’t the WHO see this and include it into its advisories?” Banerjee said.
He added, “Stands to common sense, even if we ignore the science, which is all too frequent in this pandemic. One who catches the infection harbours the whole virus for roughly 13 days in the body. Vaccine tries to mimic this by injecting a dose of attenuated part of the virus or with newly developed technology gene-based vaccine which stimulates the body to produce only part of the viral component – the spike protein. A double injection of the vaccine and a booster makes three, not thirteen!”
Dr Banerjee regrets that common sense, science and social epidemiology is being overlooked by the WHO and the global policymakers, “and models based on inert numbers from the West are being projected to Asian and African countries with different transmission dynamics.”
Professor Gobardhan Das, a well-known immunologist who is associated with the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine, Jawaharlal Nehru University, too, believes that by issuing alerts and making sensational statements, WHO is creating a panicky situation when it is not necessary.
“It looks WHO is confused. On one side they are saying both vaccine and natural immunity provides equal protection, on the other, they are not ready to agree to consider those who recovered from infection as already immunized. In fact, real study data indicates natural infection elicits far better immune responses and protection,” Prof Das said.
Reiterating his earlier stand that Omicron is “a boon in disguise” as it has spread to more than 90 countries but the majority of patients exhibit mild symptoms which are as similar as to a vaccine, he said, “In no circumstances I am suggesting to get infected. One has to follow all precautions and guidelines provided by the government agencies. But, one should not panic.”
“WHO is creating unnecessary panic. They failed to alarm when it was indeed necessary. In December 2019, WHO in spite of knowing that COVID-19 was spreading from Wuhan rapidly, repeatedly assured nothing to worry about and advised to allow all travels etc. Because of WHO’s ignorance, many lives were lost,” Dr Das said.