Minnesota Republicans are looking to natural immunity against COVID-19 as a way to push back vaccination mandates, arguing that hospitals, businesses and public institutions should take past infections into account by exempting some of the requirements.
The idea is gaining traction in Republican-led legislatures across the country, despite pushback from public health officials who say protection from infection varies widely from case to case. Studies show that vaccines can reduce the risk of infection even for those who have recovered from the virus.
But Republicans leading Minnesota’s Senate say state and federal health agencies have shut down debate and want natural immunity discussed as part of the state’s pandemic response. when the legislative session begins on January 31.
“I think some of the vaccine hesitants, who have now become vaccine activists about government actions in particular, would find an interesting conversation,” said Republican Senator Jim Abeler, chairman of the policy committee. health and social services in the chamber. “The truth could lead us where it leads.”
Democrats in the divided legislature are pushing back on the idea as COVID-19 cases reach new highs in the state, triggered by the more infectious omicron variant of the virus. The GOP is pushing vaccination efforts and policies put in place by health care professionals, House Health and Human Services President Tina Liebling said.
“My biggest concern about all of this is how they contribute to undermining trust in our medical institutions and our scientific institutions,” said Liebling, DFL-Rochester.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked a federal mandate that would require companies with 100 or more employees to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly, though it upheld a federal rule requiring the vaccination of most workers in healthcare facilities. The decision left it up to companies and private organizations to set their own policies.
States such as Florida and Utah passed laws late last year to allow workers to opt out of COVID-19 warrants if they can prove immunity through prior infection. Republicans in neighboring Wisconsin and New Hampshire are proposing similar bills to their Capitols this year.
Last month, more than three dozen House Republicans in Minnesota sent a letter to the head of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, criticizing the hospital’s vaccination mandate as ‘excessive’ and asking them to consider natural immunity granting an exemption to employees and helping to deal with labor shortages.
Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, whose campaign has focused on criticizing COVID restrictions, is unvaccinated, citing his previous infection with the virus.
Republicans who control the Senate want to add COVID-19 immunity to a state law that allows people to provide proof of immunity to exempt them from vaccine requirements for other viruses. This law, which applies to public or private higher education institutions, requires students to provide proof of immunization against measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria and tetanus, unless the student can provide a doctor’s note and lab confirmation that they have recovered from the illness and have naturally acquired immunity.
Republican Senator Michelle Benson, former chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee and gubernatorial candidate, has approached other Republicans to add a COVID exception to the law. She said the tests can determine a person’s antibody level after a COVID infection and the conversation would show that lawmakers are listening to people who are hesitant about the vaccine.
“The thing is, when your body is infected with the virus, it has a certain level of immune response. When your virus is injected with a vaccine, it has a certain immune response,” the Ham Lake Republican said. “If we’re going to talk about slowing this disease, talking about natural immunity is a way for this administration and for the CDC to say, ‘we hear your concerns.’ And shutting it down keeps a barrier between people.”
But the natural protection against contracting COVID is different from other viruses and varies greatly from individual to individual, depending on the severity of their symptoms and how long they have been infected, said Marc Jenkins, director of the Center. of Immunology from the University of Minnesota.
Tests to determine a person’s antibody level after infection require a blood test and are not widely available, he added. Scientists are still trying to figure out what level a person is technically “immune” to COVID, he said, while vaccines provide more consistent levels of protection.
“Natural immunity can be very strong, but it can also be less strong, and it depends on the level of initial infection,” Jenkins said. “For this reason, and in the absence of a robust antibody testing program, it is best to try to get people to very high levels of protection through vaccination.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied adults hospitalized with COVID-like illness between January and September. They found that unvaccinated adults, despite having had coronavirus before, were more than five times more likely to test positive for the virus than vaccinated people who had never had COVID before, which means that their infection did not offer them stronger protection against reinfection.
In September, a CDC report found that about a third of people with COVID-19 in the study had no apparent natural immunity.
Recent studies show that people with some of the highest levels of protection against COVID-19 are the ones who contract the virus – and then get vaccinated.
“The perfect system would be one where antibody testing is available to everyone, and that can then be used to make clinical decisions or decisions about who has immunity or who doesn’t,” he said. said Jenkins. “Without a robust antibody testing program, I think it’s risky to rely on natural infection as immunity.”