The NCAA recognizes natural immunity. Here’s what it means.
The NCAA on Thursday released its new COVID-19 guidance for winter sports, and the guidance contains some important news.
As ESPN reports, the NCAA’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group updated its definition of “fully vaccinated” to account for various new vaccinations, boosters, and immunity factors.
“Fully vaccinated individuals now include those within two months of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, five months of receiving the Pfizer vaccine series or six months of receiving the Moderna vaccine series;” reports ESPN staff writer Jeff Borzello, “and individuals who are beyond the aforementioned timeline and have received the booster vaccine.”
But perhaps the biggest development came in the following line.
“Individuals within 90 days of a documented COVID-19 infection fall within the equivalent of ‘fully vaccinated.'”
Natural Immunity Is Now Considered Fully Vaccinated by NCAA
In many parts of the world, including the United States, vaccine passports are required for travel.
Vaccine passports are morally dubious for several reasons, but they seem particularly unjust for people who’ve already had COVID-19, since they’ve already been exposed to the virus and have acquired natural immunity. Some evidence, such as a medical study out of Israel published in October, suggests that people with natural immunity actually have more protection from COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institutes of Health and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, was recently asked on CNN about the Israeli study — specifically if people naturally infected with COVID-19 had a lower risk of contracting the virus than those who received the vaccine. He declined to give a clear answer.
“I don’t have a really firm answer for you on that,” Fauci said. “That’s something that we’re going to have to discuss regarding the durability of the response.”
Harvard Medical School professor Martin Kulldorff disagrees.
“Based on the solid evidence from the Israeli study, the Covid recovered have stronger and longer-lasting immunity against Covid disease than the vaccinated,” Kulldorff wrote. “Hence, there is no reason to prevent them from activities that are permitted to the vaccinated.”
‘No Federal Solution’
Getting vaccinated after getting COVID-19 might provide additional protection.
“Recent research,” the Mayo Clinic says, “suggests that people who got COVID-19 in 2020 and then received mRNA vaccines produce very high levels of antibodies that are likely effective against current and, possibly, future variants. Some scientists call this hybrid immunity.”
Kulldorff is right, however, that it is unnecessary and indeed discriminatory to treat people with natural immunity differently than those who’ve been vaccinated. (Vaccine passports themselves are morally dubious, as noted above, since they deprive individuals of fundamental freedoms.)
Moreover, Kulldorff says the NCAA’s decision to consider those who’ve had COVID “fully vaccinated” for just three months — a smaller window than those who’ve received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — is strange since evidence indicates that natural immunity offers stronger protections against COVID than the vaccines.
“It is good that the NCAA recognizes natural immunity for those who have recovered from Covid, but, since natural immunity is stronger and longer lasting than vaccine induced immunity, there are no public health reasons to only acknowledge it for three months after infection,” Kulldorff, an epidemiologist and biostatistician who has studied infectious disease outbreaks for years, told me in an email.
Still, while Dr. Fauci may not have made up his mind on natural immunity yet, it’s clear that other organizations are reaching their own conclusions as the federal government’s clumsy attempts to contain COVID-19 continue to fail.
“The omicron variant has presented another surge of cases across the country,” NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said. “Given how the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s important that staff on member campuses continue to work with their local and state health officials on protocols most suitable for their locations.”
It’s unclear precisely what Hainline meant with these comments, but his use of the terms “local and state-health officials” may reflect President Biden’s recent admission that “there’s no federal solution” to the pandemic.
This would certainly be a step in the right direction. But the real epiphany will be when they realize the heavy hand of the state has only made the pandemic worse.
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Star Tribune.