Do You Need the COVID-19 Vaccine If You Already Had the Virus? Here’s What Experts Say.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorizations for their COVID-19 vaccines. And, if they’re approved, government officials say that distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine could begin as early as next week.

If you’ve already had COVID-19, it’s only natural to wonder what this means for you. Should you get the vaccine or are you already protected? Doctors weigh in.

Should you get vaccinated if you already had COVID-19?

It’s important to get this out of the way first: There’s no official guidance on this just yet. “It’s a challenging question right now because we don’t have all the data to answer it completely,” says Iahn Gonsenhauser, M.D., chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

That said, Dr. Gonsenhauser says that doctors expect that everyone will be encouraged to get vaccinated—even those who have had COVID-19.

A big reason for this is that it’s unclear how much immunity a person gets from having the actual virus. Getting the vaccine “will help to boost your immune response if you are exposed to COVID-19 again,” says Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

“The thought is that the vaccine may provide longer term protection than the actual infection,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We don’t know that for sure, but we hope that it’s the case.”

There may be some situations, though, where people who have already had the virus may be asked to wait a little longer to get vaccinated, Dr. Schaffner says. “It may well be that in the initial delivery of the vaccine to healthcare providers, some academic medical centers may sub-prioritize and ask those who have already had a diagnosed case of COVID-19 to go to the back of the line, but eventually they’ll all be vaccinated,” he says.

Is it safe to get the vaccine and you’ve already had COVID-19?

Again, there is no data on this just yet, but doctors don’t expect this to be an issue. “It doesn’t seem like having already having experienced the COVID-19 virus would increase your risk of adverse reactions or side effects or anything of that nature,” Dr. Gonsenhauser says. “There’s no reason to think that the side effects or safety profile would be any different.”

“The notion is that we’re happy to vaccinate everybody,” Dr. Schaffner says. If you’ve already had a COVID-19 infection, this may simply help “boost” your immunity or ensure that you have complete immunity, he says.

Will the vaccine protect you even more than other people if you’ve already had COVID-19?

OK, so if the vaccine can help ensure your immunity after having an infection and you likely already have some immunity after having COVID-19, is it possible that you’ll have even better results than someone who has never had the virus? “It hasn’t been determined at this point,” Dr. Watkins says.

Immunity isn’t perfect, and it can wane with time, Dr. Gosenhauser points out. “With natural immunity that comes from experiencing an infection with COVID-19…we’re not sure how robust or how long that will last,” he says. Meaning, if you had the virus back in April, it’s unclear if you would still have immunity to it now or a few months from now. There have also been some reports of people getting re-infected with the virus, so getting vaccinated will help ensure that you will, in fact, have immunity against the virus in the future, Dr. Gosenhauser says.

“There is reason to believe that, if you’ve already had COVID, the vaccine will still confer additional benefits,” he says.

Ultimately, the vaccines need to get an emergency use authorization first, Dr. Gosenhauser says. After that, there should be clear guidance on next steps, whether you already had COVID-19 or not.

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