In yet another blow to Republicans who have waged war against COVID-19-related safety measures, Colorado House Democrats have voted down a bill that would have exempted employees with “naturally acquired immunity” from their employers’ COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates.
The Naturally Acquired Immunity COVID-19 bill, backed by state Rep. Mark Baisley (R-Roxborough Park), falsely stated that “natural immunity” – also known as post-infection immunity – offered superior protection against SARS-CoV-2 compared with mRNA vaccines.
“What ultimately defends our bodies from COVID-19 is antibodies,” Baisley said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s meeting of the House Health and Insurance Committee. “What we refer to as natural antibodies, natural immunity, is a more direct response to the actual signature of the virus [than a vaccine].”
A bevy of witnesses provided testimony in favor of Baisley’s measure. That lineup included an OB/GYN physician who was fired for refusing a COVID vaccine, a chiropractor, a natural-health advocate, and impassioned representatives from Stand for Health Freedom. Also present was a man who claimed to stand for the “rebels, revolutionaries, resistors, radicals and rainbow healers” of Colorado.
Some witnesses, their voices shaking with emotion, testified that they had faced “discrimination” over their choice not to get vaccinated, and they pleaded with lawmakers to allow them to choose (or decline) medical treatments for themselves.
To bolster support of the bill, Baisley and several of his witnesses cited an August 2021 pre-print study from Israel whose findings appeared to show natural immunity to be more effective than vaccinations in preventing COVID.
Crucially, though, the Israeli paper has neither been peer-reviewed nor published in a reputable publication, and an infectious disease expert at Nebraska Medicine identified major sources of bias within the study’s methodology. An independent fact check also confirmed that the study had numerous limitations.
Much of the other research cited by Baisley’s witnesses came from Pandemics – Data and Analytics (PANDA), a South African group that outspokenly opposes COVID-related lockdowns and has been a known spreader of disinformation about the pandemic.
A panel of experts opposing the bill – which included an immunologist and an ICU physician – agreed that the proposed bill flies in the face of scientific consensus.
Several of the experts also called Baisley’s bill harmful and misleading, warning that it would undermine public confidence in the vaccine and contribute to a vast sea of pandemic misinformation.
“Uncontested evidence shows that COVID infection is 10 to 15 times more likely to cause severe illness and death in unvaccinated individuals,” said Dr. Amanda Jichlinski, a pediatrician, in a testimony. “[Baisley’s] measure references unsubstantiated studies and blatantly misrepresents or ignores studies that support vaccination requirements.”
In separate testimony, immunologist Dr. Amy Bernard addressed numerous “dangerous inaccuracies” within the bill, such as an unfounded claim that it’s dangerous for people to receive a COVID vaccine when they already have natural immunity.
“This is actually the reverse of what is recommended,” Dr. Bernard said. “The CDC states that substantial immunologic evidence suggests that vaccines after infection significantly enhance protection and further reduce the risk of reinfection.”
The last expert to testify against the bill was Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonary critical-care physician with Denver Health who has cared for COVID patients in his ICU after they relied on natural immunity for protection.
“[These patients] actually sought out COVID at COVID parties … They had post-infection immunity, and they were in my ICU waiting to get intubated,” Dr. Mehta testified.
He said Baisley’s statements that post-infection immunity was superior to vaccination were “wrong, irresponsible, and frankly, these are forms of vaccine misinformation.”
Evidence shows that people who’ve been sickened with a disease develop antibodies that protect them from re-infection, but there’s very little data to suggest that this type of immunity is in any way superior to that provided by vaccines.
Research from UCLA Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Nebraska Medicine suggests that natural antibodies develop after COVID infection, but these antibodies may or may not protect against re-infection, and any protection they do offer may wane within 90 days. Vaccine-induced immunity is thought to last longer, around 6 months.
Furthermore, each person’s immune response to the virus is unique and unpredictable – some people mount a strong immune response, while others barely mount any at all. In one study from the CDC, 36% of the COVID cases analyzed didn’t generate any protective antibodies that would reduce the odds of re-infection.
Meanwhile, vaccines reliably trigger an immune response without sickening patients.
Dr. Bernard said in her testimony, “I know through years of experience that vaccines are safe and effective. Within scientific and medical communities, there is no controversy about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.”
The House committee vote Wednesday afternoon was split along party lines, with all four Republican Representatives voting in favor of Baisley’s bill and all seven Democratic Representatives voting against it. The measure has been postponed indefinitely.