Natural immunity vs vaccine-induced immunity - which is better?


There are two ways your body can develop immunity from COVID-19: either by being vaccinated or by being infected and then recovering from the disease. But is the protection you get the same? Here we explore what the clinical data shows.

Some people have developed natural immunity from COVID-19 after recovering from an infection as such, people wonder whether vaccination is still necessary, or whether it offers better immunity. Here we take a closer look at what science currently shows when comparing natural immunity to immunity from vaccination.

You can develop immunity more safely by getting vaccinated

All vaccines, including the ones developed to fight COVID-19 infection, train your immune system to recognise and combat viruses or bacteria. After getting vaccinated, the immune system develops memory that will assist in fighting the infection if your body gets exposed in the future.

Vaccines provide a safe and effective way of protecting against severe illness that may result in death. A recent study shows that unvaccinated people are twice as likely to get re-infected as those who are fully vaccinated.

There is a huge price to pay in achieving natural immunity

Immunity can also be achieved without vaccination, by recovering naturally from infection, but this can come at a cost as some people experience severe illness and some may even die from the infection. Vaccines offer a safe and reliable alternative, especially for those at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection due to advanced age or underlying chronic conditions.

For those who have already recovered from an infection, vaccination has been shown to provide an even stronger protection.

Natural immunity has been shown to wane over time and we are not yet sure of how long immunity lasts after COVID-19. Some people who have recovered from natural infection have also been shown to get the infection again (reinfection). Getting vaccinated after a COVID-19 infection is a reliable method of strengthening our immune responses and lowering our chances of contracting COVID-19.

Only get vaccinated once you have fully recovered

Remember, if you've been infected, you need to recover before you get vaccinated. This means:

  • Wait 10 days after your positive COVID-19 test, if you have no symptoms, or
  • Wait 10 days from the start of your COVID-19 symptoms, or
  • Wait 10 days after you're clinically stable (no longer on oxygen), if you had serious illness or went to hospital.

Once you're fully recovered, wait at least 30 days to get vaccinated, and speak to your doctor if you have any questions.

How long do vaccines last?

Research on how long protection from vaccines lasts currently stands at around eight months, and studies are ongoing. Learn more about booster shots here.

Find more reliable, clinically-verified and fact-checked information about vaccine-induced immunity and natural immunity post recovery on the Discovery's COVID-19 information hub and join the millions of South Africans who can proudly say, #IGotMyVaccine.

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for education and information objectives only. Discovery publishes content to help to promote a better understand of COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations. The content covered is an overview of key concepts and is not exhaustive in nature. We encourage further reading from other credible sources where necessary.

South African organisations:

  • National Department of Health's dedicated COVID-19 portal:
  • National Institute for Communicable Diseases' (part of the National Health Laboratory Service) dedicated COVID-19 hub
  • South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPRHA - part of the National Department of Health).
  • South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
  • South African Medical Journal (SAMJ)

International Organisations:

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