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Clarey: Had COVID? Get the shot anyway

After I had COVID-19 last fall, I felt free. I assumed I had some level of immunity — at least for a while. It felt amazing not to worry about a quick trip to the grocery or eating at a restaurant.

Now that I have the first dose of the vaccine, I feel downright invincible. 

Maybe you, like me, are one of the more than 9% of Michigan residents who have caught COVID-19. Perhaps you’re wondering, “Should I get the vaccine?” Or maybe you don’t think you need it.

But by getting our shots, those of us who have gotten sick can help things get back to normal and protect ourselves from the rare possibility of reinfection.

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Thursday announcement that state restrictions will lift based on vaccination rates, COVID-19 "survivors" will become a crucial bloc of the population that could turn the tide against the virus and help our economy fully open and life return to normal.

We should get the vaccine like everyone else.  

That's because the Michigan Department of Health and Human services does not count those who have caught COVID-19 among the flock when it comes to the goal of herd immunity.

“We have a goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” says Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for MDHHS. “The coverage number we are tracking on the COVID-19 vaccine dashboard only counts vaccinations, not those who have been infected, toward that goal.”

The sooner we all sign up and get the vaccine, the sooner everything gets back to normal. And the benefits of getting the vaccine certainly outweigh the costs.

Recently, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey commented on why he had thus far avoided the vaccine.

“I had COVID back in December, and I got immunity now,” Shirkey told The Detroit News in an interview. “In fact, the most recent studies that I've read indicate there's a significant amount of immunity that's lifelong.”

But like most of the science on the coronavirus over the past year, many experts are not willing to stake public health policy on such studies. As far as the state is concerned, Shirkey's immunity doesn't count. The CDC and MDHHS recommend that those who have had COVID-19 still get the vaccine because they aren’t sure how long antibodies from natural immunity will last.

Shirkey also pointed out that he didn’t want to take a vaccine away from someone who needs it more. 

Fortunately, we’re reaching the point where many counties are seeing supply of the vaccine start to outweigh demand, so recovered individuals should feel free to sign up for an appointment for public and personal health.

Experts say those who have recovered from COVID will benefit from getting the vaccine's additional immunity — something especially important for older people.

Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Gregory Poland, an immunity and vaccine expert, said in March that those who are older and have survived the disease would especially benefit from the inoculation to keep their immune systems topped off with virus-fighting antibodies.

It's good for younger people, too. Poland cited a study of the AstraZeneca vaccine that found getting the vaccine after recovering from the disease greatly increased the number of antibodies. Other experts, too, have pointed out the varied immune responses people have to the coronavirus, encouraging them to get the extra inoculation even after infection.

In other words, what’s the harm in boosting your immunity? Those of us who’ve had COVID-19 know it is at least unpleasant, at most deadly. Who would want to risk the small chance of having to come down with COVID again? Not me.

I had heard that the vaccine hits those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 especially hard. But my own experience shows the effects surely vary from person to person. I just had a sore arm and a backache for a few days. My wife had the same with some bad cold symptoms.

A few bad days sure beats a week in bed plus a two-week quarantine.

We don't have to agree with Whitmer's restrictions, but why wouldn't we do everything possible to protect ourselves from the risk of reinfection?

I hope I see you at the vaccination site when I get my second dose. I would wave, but my arm might be a little sore. 

Brendan Clarey is an editorial fellow at The Detroit News.

Twitter: @BrendanClarey