Dr. Fauci explains why COVID-19 vaccines work much better than natural immunity to protect you from the coronavirus

Dr. Fauci explains why COVID-19 vaccines work much better than natural immunity to protect you from the coronavirus
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gives a thumbs up after receiving his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health on December 22, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed new data suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines "can do better than nature."
  • People who've had prior infections saw their immune response to COVID-19 drastically improve after receiving mRNA vaccines.
  • The finds are a beacon of hope, as new variants (which may reinfect people) circulate the globe.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling it: mRNA COVID-19 vaccines can provide people with better protection against new viral variants than a prior coronavirus infection alone can.

During a White House COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Fauci pointed to several new studies, which, when taken together, suggest that the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna provide great immune protection against newly circulating viral variants.

According to the data, the vaccines bump up any natural protection people may have had from prior infection substantially.

"Vaccines, actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus] can do better than nature," Fauci, America's leading infectious disease expert, said. "Vaccination in people previously infected significantly boosts the immune response."

Two of the studies that Fauci referenced during the briefing have been peer-reviewed, meaning other independent scientists have given them a thumbs up, while two others are still awaiting peer approval. But they all tell a very similar story.


Four studies all show superior protection against variants from vaccines

One study found that people who'd had two doses of an mRNA coronavirus vaccine (either Pfizer's or Moderna's) had antibody titer levels "up to 10 times" that of a natural infection, Fauci said, suggesting those vaccines give people's bodies more fighting power against viral variants than a prior illness can.

"You had interesting increased protection against the variants of concern," Fauci said.

Another small study showed that previously infected people who got vaccinated were exceptionally well protected against three of the five major variants of concern: the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil, the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK which is now dominant in the US, and the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa.

But that's not all. In another study that Fauci mentioned, people who'd been previously infected with COVID also displayed better T-cell immunity after a single dose of Pfizer's mRNA vaccine. (T cells can help make infections milder, if people do ever get reinfected.)

"Now, remember these are only laboratory data, have not been proven in the clinic," Fauci said, pointing out that the new studies are based on blood tests, so it's hard to know exactly how everything would play out with real-world infections and variants. "But they are really very interesting, and things that we need to follow up on," he added.


The final study Fauci cited suggested that people who have recovered from a prior COVID-19 infection who then get vaccinated may receive great broadband protection, not just against concerning viral variants, but also against other coronaviruses, like SARS, from their COVID-19 vaccination. That's a virus-fighting power that people who've been infected but not vaccinated don't get.

"Vaccines are highly efficacious," Fauci concluded. "They are better than the traditional response you get from natural infection."

Dr. Fauci explains why COVID-19 vaccines work much better than natural immunity to protect you from the coronavirus
Messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA) are standing up to variants really well, so far.White House COVID-19 Response Press Briefing