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What's the difference between being vaccinated and having COVID antibodies?

How much immunity do recovered people have versus people who are vaccinated? Dr. Thomas Russo of the University at Buffalo helps answer some questions.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With so many events now requiring COVID vaccinations, there are a lot of questions surrounding the difference between being vaccinated and having COVID antibodies from the virus itself.

Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, joined 2 On Your Side's Maryalice Demler to help answers some questions.

MaryaliceDr. Russo, a lot of people are wondering about why they have to be vaccinated to be immune, especially if they've recovered from the virus, so let's talk about that. First, how much immunity do recovered people have versus people who are vaccinated?

Dr. Russo: Unfortunately, if you've been infected, the degree of protection that you would have moving forward remains uncertain. Particularly if you were asymptomatically infected or had mild infection, the antibody response may not be optimal. And we're particularly concerned that those individuals may be at risk from getting infected from some of these circulating variants, in particular, the ones first described from South Africa and Brazil, and these variants circulated in Western New York at this time.

Maryalice: So people that had the virus don't automatically have immunity that's equal to people who've been vaccinated?

Dr. Russo: There's no question that the optimal immunity is achieved with vaccination. And in fact, the absolute best immunity is achieved if you've been previously infected and then vaccinated, it's like a boost to supercharge antibody response, so we strongly recommend individuals that have been previously infected to go ahead and get vaccinated as well, and that will afford the maximum degree of protection moving forward.

Maryalice: Now, doctor, what about those who have been tested and are shown to have the antibodies? Doesn't that mean that they cannot get or spread the virus?

Dr. Russo: Well, that's an interesting point, Maryalice. You know, it's worth noting that early on, a whole lot of antibody tests were out there, and some fruits were quite unreliable, and so it might have shown that an individual had any bodies, and they really do not. And we don't know anything about the quality of those antibodies, and so that's why we feel it's critically important for people to get vaccinated, because we know with vaccination, you're going to get that great antibody response that's going to be protective, including those various that we discussed."

Maryalice: Let me also ask you about this recent study that was published in the journal Nature by scientists at Washington University Medical School. It claimed that people who recovered from a mild version of the virus may have lasting antibody protection. What are your thoughts about this study?

Dr. Russo: Well, it's an encouraging study, but it's a laboratory-based study, and what they did is, there was a small study, 19 individuals, and 80 percent of them, they identified cells in the bone marrow that are long-lived, and they could produce any bodies. However, we don't know the quality of those antibodies, we don't know if they can neutralize the virus. And in particular, and most importantly, we don't know how effective they would be against some of these variants we're discussing. So it's intriguing, it's encouraging, but the authors of that study actually strongly recommended that if you've been previously infected, please get vaccinated.

Maryalice: So much about this virus is still evolving, what it is we're learning about it and protection, etc., and we appreciate you giving us the time to explain some of these new developments.