Florida Says Natural Immunity Can Replace COVID Vaccination. Here’s Why That’s a Problem

Last Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed “the toughest piece of legislation that’s been adopted anywhere in the country” opposing COVID-19 vaccine requirements into law. Businesses who fail to comply with the regulation by forcing staff to vaccinate without allowing exemptions might face fines of up to $50,000. 

The Sunshine State is now the first in the United States to pass a law requiring private enterprises, including hospitals, to provide vaccines to their employees. Let’s not forget that DeSantis fought President Biden’s federal vaccination requirement in September, claiming that giving such orders to companies and individuals was “fundamentally wrong” and “coercive,” claiming that “threatening mandates, firing, and commercial penalties… alienates people.”

Floridians who want to work but don’t want to get the incredibly effective and safe vaccines to have a few options: they apply for a medical or religious exemption (and hope their employer doesn’t make them swear off Tylenol as well), or they agree to regular COVID-19 infection testing, which was included in President Biden’s original vaccine mandate back in September. However, there is another option – one that DeSantis claims is “science-based”: the new rule permits workers to forgo vaccination if they can provide “evidence of natural immunity” to their employer.

What this means in reality is unclear; the statute states that the state’s Department of Health is responsible for “establishing requirements for competent medical proof that the employee is immune to COVID-19.” 

Testing for immunity using scientific methods is notoriously difficult – but given that controversial physician Joseph Ladapo, who known for spreading anti-vaccine misinformation and touting the supposed benefits of COVID-19 infection, leads the Department of Health a prior infection is likely to, be enough to avoid the mandate.

In late September, a group of 15 Republican doctors, dentists, and pharmacists in Congress submitted a highly criticized letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraging them to consider protection earned from earlier illness when formulating vaccine recommendations. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil recently used the same strategy to avoid taking his prescription, claiming that his “immunity levels… over the roof” because of a prior ailment.

Here is the issue: There is such a thing as “natural immunity,” but it is exceedingly unpredictable. The degree of protection you get from a previous infection depends on a number of factors, including how unwell you were, how long ago it was, and which variety you had.

“[M]ost of the persons who were affected in 2020 and all the way through to the middle of 2021 were infected with older forms of the coronavirus,” said Chris Beyrer, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist. “It’s possible that you had coronavirus last year and don’t think I need a vaccine,” he stated. “However, your natural immunity isn’t likely to protect you from Delta.”

Furthermore, experts generally believe that “natural immunity” is inferior to vaccination. According to recent CDC research, those who rely on a previous COVID-19 infection to protect them are five times more likely than those who vaccinated to end up in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. 

Those that survived COVID-19 and subsequently vaccinated developed “hybrid immunity,” which is a super-effective immunity capable of building antibody levels 100 times greater than infection alone.

Vaccine mandates have met with opposition Republican politicians across the country, despite the fact that roughly two-thirds of Americans support them. Utah, like Florida, recently passed legislation exempting persons with a history of COVID-19 infection from vaccine requirements, and Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire and Idaho have indicated that they would follow suit.

In addition to vaccination regulations, Florida’s new legislation forbids the use of masks in schools and the isolation of pupils who have been exposed to COVID-19. Florida is already one of 26 states suing the Trump administration over the federal vaccine mandate, and DeSantis stated last week that the state would join another lawsuit aimed at blocking vaccination mandates for healthcare workers.

“Many nurses may lose their jobs as a result of this mandate,” DeSantis added. “So, as a result of the mandate, you’re really making the hospitals understaffed.” “So how does this make any sense?” he said, alluding to the process of removing the people most likely to spread a lethal sickness from a location full of those most likely to die from it.