OpEd: Another View of COVID-19, Immunity and the Vaccine Mandate

Male doctor hand wears glove holding syringe and vial with covid 19 vaccine.
Stock Photo from 123RF
State Sen. Simcha Felder

When the global pandemic suddenly brought our world to a halt, we sought information to understand our new reality. We followed the news and tuned in for daily briefings because today’s data is not the same as yesterday’s data. We had a front-row seat when mistakes were made and when government transparency turned opaque. Our former governor and current mayor directed people to follow the science, but what they really meant was follow their science.

Considering human nature and the diversity of New Yorkers, it is not at all surprising that people would arrive at different conclusions about things, even the vaccine. Covid-19 vaccine-hesitant people live everywhere across our city, state, and nation, yet I find regular reports that prominently splay neighborhoods in my district in headlines that do not accurately represent the facts. Before we dismiss people as ignorant or assume evil intent, allow me to shed some light.

I am not referring here to ardent anti-vaxxers, but to people who are faithfully following the growing body of science who are drawing conclusions about what is right for them at this time – based on solid science. On science.org you can review for yourself current research findings on the exceedingly robust protection of natural immunity in Covid-19 survivors. Perhaps NYC should follow the science.

Let me start by saying that I took the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I was qualified to do so, and recently received a booster as well. I offer free flu shots annually at my office, and after a brief hiatus due to COVID, you can again schedule your flu shot at my office. You would be right to say that I am pro-vaccine and that, in this case, I think more choice would be an improvement.

My message from the start has been clear; go ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you. I repeat this message regularly and it continues to win people over. Why? Because their doctor knows their medical history and has been entrusted to provide individualized medical advice. I would not purport to be an expert on every person’s complex makeup. Those who do provoke distrust.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article with a review of the research indicating that the immune response produced by the vaccine and immunity produced by recovery from COVID-19 are similarly protective.

“Survivors with an acceptable degree of immunity should not be lumped into the same category as the unvaccinated,” argued COVID survivor Kasie Pasquantonio, a 51-year-old nurse at a large teaching hospital in Boston, in the WSJ. Attorney’s General from 24 states wrote as much in a letter to President Biden last week.

The reluctance of those at the top to adequately address or recognize the fact that people who already had and recovered from COVID-19 have naturally developed high levels of antibodies that are at least equal to or perhaps greater than the vaccine is frustrating and some would argue, dangerous.

Research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a single dose of vaccine in coronavirus survivors immunologically resembles the second dose in people not previously infected, producing antibody concentrations 10 to 45 times higher in survivors than in people not previously infected. It is still too early for research on the side effects they experience as a result.

So, instead of requiring the shot, why not require an adequate level of antibodies? There are multiple ways to prove that easily. Overnight, the percentage of “immunized” New Yorkers could increase exponentially from its current rate of approximately 75%. Imagine people breathing easier when they wake up to positive headlines for a change!

Balancing the responsibility to public safety with respect to the individual, New York State offers unvaccinated state employees the option of weekly testing. It is somewhat more cumbersome, but it offers a choice. Choice, which science shows increases compliance and public health.

It is administratively simpler to require a shot that uploads directly to a database. One, two, done. Therefore, it follows that an employee who makes that administrative task a little harder should lose their job. Wait, whaat?! Has Dr. Fauci or Dr. Chokshi weighed in yet on the public health risks of widespread layoffs? There is an abundance of well-documented science on that, too.

While a one size fits all mandate may have seemed like the simple solution, we now find ourselves faced with its flaws. Shortages of employees in health care, emergency response services, government agencies and businesses across the state are the last thing we need as New Yorkers work their way back from the ravages of the pandemic.

It is disingenuous and flagrantly false when those at the head of government agencies and corporations say that they made this decision to protect everyone as much as possible. It is a borne out fact that science evolves as bodies of research grow. It is perfectly reasonable to offer people an option to safely postpone their shot while they can prove natural immunity, without losing their right to participate in society. Our effort to save people must not do more harm than good.

State Senator Simcha Felder represents Brooklyn’s 17th Senate District. He is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Masters of Business Administration degree in Management from the renowned Zicklin School of Business at CUNY’s Baruch College. Felder also served as a professor of Management at Touro College and CUNY’S Brooklyn College.