Very early on in the pandemic, in February 2020, James Hamblin of The Atlantic passed along Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch’s view of what was to come, in a piece entitled “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus”.
Lipsitch predicts that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said.
Last month, Katie Camero of Miami Herald reported on some early studies which perhaps point to a way to know whether or not Lipsitch and Hamblin were right.
Early studies and countless personal stories show previous infection with the coronavirus may open the floodgates for more intense reactions to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as opposed to the second, which the majority say causes stronger side effects.
That’s because the first vaccine dose — or single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — works as a booster to the lessons already learned from natural infection, which may carry with it inflammatory responses such as fevers, chills, headaches and muscle aches.
In a study described by Camero from researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, subjects who’d had COVID prior to being vaccinated experiences “side effects such as fatigue, headache, chills and fever” which were “similar to those usually felt after second doses”.
The short version is that for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the first dose is a sort of introduction for your immune system, while the second dose prompts your immune system to lock in its recognition and response. In essence, for those who’d previously had COVID itself, that functioned as the introduction, with the first vaccine dose prompting the lock-in.
As I write this, it’s five days after my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. While I’ve had some, for lack of a better term for it cognitive malaise and muscle tiredness, it simply hasn’t compared to the five straight days of overwhelming mental and physical fatigue after my first dose.
If I did have COVID, making my first dose the immune system lock-in, it would have to have been either a mild case or completely asymptomatic. Many of the expected symptoms of a mild case might have been indistinguishable, to me, from something like seasonal allergies and/or my bouts of autistic fatigue.
I would guess that at this point there’s no way to tell; presumably antibody tests would show positive due to the Pfizer vaccine. Still, I’ll be curious to see further studies on how those who’d had COVID experienced their vaccine doses. As it stands right now, this study does have me wondering if I’d had it, and if so, when.