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Can You Be Forced To Get Vaccinated If You Can Prove Natural Immunity From A Previous COVID Infection?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - It's a common question: Do you need to get vaccinated if you've already had COVID?

Epidemiologists say there's no doubt a vaccine will boost your natural immunity, but can you be forced to get vaccinated if you can prove you have antibodies? A new lawsuit aims to answer that question.

A civil rights group is suing George Mason University on behalf of a law school professor who had COVID—has proof of natural immunity—but may face disciplinary action if he does not get vaccinated.

Because he has antibodies, the lawsuit argues the vaccine amounts to forcing a medically unnecessary procedure.

Julie Watts: How strong do you think this is legal argument is?

Todd Wulffson: Well, the legal arguments can be different than the scientific argument. I think, scientifically, he has a very good argument

But Todd Wulffson, labor attorney and managing partner of CDF Labor Law, says that while the professor's arguments about natural immunity are very strong, convincing a judge that the vaccine mandate violates his constitutional rights could be more challenging.

"He's arguing that he doesn't want the inconvenience of getting a shot when he's already had COVID. That's going to be balanced by the judge against George Mason's compelling need to try to protect everyone that comes on campus," Wulffson said.

He says the professor will have a stronger argument if he gets fired for not being vaccinated.

School representatives confirmed to CBS13 Friday that they've reversed the previous policy, which was cited in the lawsuit, that allowed masks and frequent testing as an alternative to the vaccine.

Without an exemption, anyone coming to campus must now be vaccinated—regardless of masks or testing.

"By saying he has no alternative but to get shot to come on campus or be fired, that actually gives him a stronger argument," said Wulffson. "Because now the risk to him is not just inconvenience, it's losing his job."

He says the federal ruling, in this case, would not necessarily apply in California but could impact similar lawsuits filed here. However, Wulffson also pointed out that, due to backlogs, it may be years before the case actually gets to court.

Julie: Is it medically necessary to get vaccinated if you have a natural immunity?

Dr. Monica Gandhi: When there is so much mixed data, I don't think you could prove that it's medically necessary to get a vaccine after a natural infection.

UCSF Infectious Disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi says there's not yet sufficient evidence that people with natural antibodies from COVID pose a greater risk of transmission, or reinfection, than people with antibodies from the vaccine.

Gandhi points to Israel, where people are eligible for a vaccine passport whether they had a natural infection or the vaccine. She notes that recent Israeli data indicates vaccinated people may be more likely to test positive from the Delta variant than those with a previous infection.

But a CDC study out Friday indicates that people with natural immunities alone were more than twice as likely to be reinfected as those with a previous infection and the vaccine.

"These are two studies being performed at the same time with the same variant in two different places," Gandhi points out. "This is what we call mixed data."

More than a dozen previous studies found the rate of hospitalization and severe illness among people with natural antibodies alone was on par—if not better—than in vaccinated people who had not been infected with COVID.

Gandhi also points to studies that find natural antibodies may be stronger than those from the vaccine, even if there are fewer of them.

However, a recent NIH study found antibodies generated from a vaccine may target a broader range of variants.

And another study found natural immunity increased with disease severity and age, indicating there is still much to learn about the disease.

Julie: Whether or not you're required to [get it], is it beneficial for someone who had COVID to get the vaccine?

Dr. Gandhi: Yes, I do think it's beneficial to get the vaccine after natural infection, and I would recommend one dose.

She points to several studies that indicate a vaccine after a previous infection boosts natural immunity. The studies indicate a benefit after just one dose.

But right now, she says there is no definitive evidence that a vaccine alone is better than a natural infection alone and there is no shortage of studies touting the benefits of both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

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