Health officials say people who have recovered from COVID-19 should still get vaccinated, citing the unknowns about natural immunity and reinfection, which is even more cloudy now that more contagious coronavirus variants are on the loose.
But how long should people wait after infection to schedule their vaccine appointment?
For those eligible to get one of the three authorized vaccines in the U.S., at least until symptoms have disappeared and criteria have been met to leave isolation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, the agency says you can leave isolation at least 10 days after your symptoms started and at least 24 hours after your fever went away without the use of fever-reducing medications. If you never develop coronavirus symptoms, you can leave isolation 10 days after the day you receive your positive test result.
For those currently not on high priority lists for COVID-19 vaccination, experts offer a different timeline.
“We tell people with recent infection to wait 90 days, just to give others without natural immunity a chance to go first,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told McClatchy News in an email in January.
The suggested time period is based on what scientists know about waning immunity against the coronavirus. Studies have shown protective antibodies gained from infection can last at least three months or up to eight months — certain evidence suggests it could last for years.
The risk of reinfection is also low in the months after a first round with the virus, the CDC says, “but may increase with time due to waning immunity.”
“Thus, while vaccine supply remains limited, persons with recent documented acute SARS-CoV-2 infection may choose to temporarily delay vaccination, if desired, recognizing that the risk of reinfection, and therefore the need for vaccination, might increase with time following initial infection,” the agency said.
Some experts have expressed concern over coronavirus variants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil, where several cases of reinfection have been reported. Another variant of concern was first spotted in the U.K. and has since been spreading in the U.S.
One study found that 2% of people in South Africa who previously had COVID-19 were infected again with the variant there called B.1.351, NBC News reported. It’s unknown how many official cases of reinfection have been reported in the U.S.
The CDC says people who were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma should wait 90 days before getting a vaccine, but that they should talk with their doctor for specific guidance.
Although the period after infection before vaccination isn’t set in stone, health experts say people should not get a shot if they are currently infected with the coronavirus to prevent spreading it to others.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses separated by about a month, while the more recent Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just one dose.
More than 51.7 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of March 2 — about 16% of the total population, a CDC tracker shows. More than 26.1 million people have received their second, final dose, or about 8% of the total population.