4 reasons why relying on your immune system to beat COVID-19 isn’t a safe bet
Monday 10 January 2022
If you’re young and healthy, you might think you don’t need help from a COVID-19 vaccine to be safe during the pandemic. Your robust immune system should do its job and kill the virus without you getting much more than a sniffle, right?
While it’s true that you’re less likely to get seriously sick from COVID-19 if you’re young and you don’t already have other health conditions, there are still a few really important reasons that you should get vaccinated for COVD-19 as soon as possible.
1. Your immune system isn’t superhuman (and you can’t make it be)
Did you know it’s not actually possible to strengthen your immune system beyond its normal, healthy capacity? No matter how many oranges you eat, how many supplements you take or how much sun you get (and remember, the sun really can kill you), you can’t supercharge your immune system.
Your immune system is complex and reactive, always tuned in to what’s going on with your body. A healthy immune system is one that reacts in the right way to the right threats, not necessarily one that reacts with the biggest, strongest response.
When it comes to supporting your immune system, it’s all about balance. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular physical activity and looking after your mental wellbeing all promote immune system health and can help you recover more quickly if you do get sick. But doing these things “perfectly” or more than recommended won’t give you a superhuman immune system and won’t give you an edge on beating COVID-19. Even a healthy immune system can be overwhelmed by COVID-19.
Want to learn more about how your immune system works? Listen to our episode of My Amazing Body, featuring an interview with Director of the Queensland Paediatric Immunology and Allergy Service Dr Jane Peake.
2. Your immune system hasn’t met COVID-19 yet
Your immune system is a great learner. When something foreign, like a virus or bacteria, enters your body, it recognises the threat and responds to it. Then it can develop a memory of what it has encountered to prepare a better response when you are exposed again. But, just like sitting an exam without going to class, you can’t expect your immune system to know about something that it hasn’t been taught.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is new, which means your immune system will not recognise it. The only way to give it a heads up? Vaccination.
Vaccines provide a safe way for your immune system to learn about the virus and learn how to fight it off, without you having to get the disease. We now have proof that COVID-19 vaccines are doing their job allowing people’s immune systems to deal with the virus effectively: data shows that most people admitted to ICU for treatment during the recent Delta outbreak in New South Wales weren’t fully vaccinated.
You can read more about how the COVID-19 vaccines work in our blog, ‘COVID-19 vaccines: everything you need to know’.
3. You’ll pass it on to others
It’s possible you could get COVID-19 and not even know about it; some cases don’t have any symptoms at all. If you’re only thinking about your own health, that probably sounds like a win-win. You can get the virus, your immune system will be exposed to it and you don’t actually get sick.
But you’ll still be able to pass the virus on to other vulnerable people, and some of those people will be at risk of getting seriously sick and dying from COVID-19 infection. In fact, in Australia young adults are statistically the most likely to both catch COVID-19 and pass it on. From your grandma, to the pregnant person on your bus, to the petrol station attendant who has diabetes, you could unknowingly pass COVID-19 on to others who could potentially get really sick.
You can still catch the virus that causes COVID-19 after you’ve been vaccinated, but it’s less likely that you will. If you do catch COVID-19, there is evidence to show that being vaccinated reduces your risk of becoming severely unwell and lowers the chance you’ll pass the virus on to other people.
4. You might be at higher risk than you think
It’s not just older people who are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19. There is a long list of conditions that put people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. Even if you don’t now, you might fit into one of these categories in the future.
Pregnancy, diabetes and obesity are all conditions that can impact the immune system and put young people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. These are all things that could develop while you’re waiting for COVID-19 to disappear. And there are other risk factors to consider. Being male puts you at higher risk, as do smoking and living in poverty.
Even though their risk was lower, healthy young Australians have died from COVID-19 infections. Healthy immune system or not, COVID-19 can kill.
So, how can you get vaccinated and give your immune system a helping hand?
Your immune system is amazing, but there’s no guarantee it can save you from COVID-19 without vaccination. Book your vaccine appointment today through the Queensland Government website or talk to your GP or pharmacist.