2557: Immunity

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This plan may sound appealing to people who know a little about the immune system, but the drawbacks are clear to people who know a lot about the immune system and also to people who don't know anything about it.
Title text: This plan may sound appealing to people who know a little about the immune system, but the drawbacks are clear to people who know a lot about the immune system and also to people who don't know anything about it.


This comic is, although not specifically referenced, another entry in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A common issue posited by people opposed to vaccination, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that there are other ways to become immune to diseases caused by viruses or bacteria — most notably, contracting the disease "naturally".

Cueball, by way of questioning, points out to White Hat that this makes no sense. Contracting the natural disease is the thing people are trying to prevent. Diseases are bad.[citation needed]

Although there are plenty of instances where someone has already recovered, and therefore is in possession of natural immunity, it would be better to have that immunity without getting sick at all. Especially with a disease like COVID that can cause permanent damage even to those who eventually clear the virus. Vaccination provides similar immunity without the negative effects of infection. While explaining that getting infected is the best way to avoid getting infected, White Hat thus realizes the circular logic presented by anti-vaxxers (2806: Anti-Vaxxers), and thus stops mid sentence.

The title text elaborates on this by pointing out that people with no understanding of the immune system will understand that contracting a disease to avoid contracting a disease is a bad idea, and that people with a strong understanding of the immune system will understand the specific ways it can fail (and that vaccines provide a greater benefit for less risk). It is thus only people with a limited understanding of the immune system, who know that infection can provide immunity but haven't thought out the disadvantages of catching the disease, who would make a claim such as White Hat does.

The comic does not specifically reference vaccines and anti-vaxxers. It could also be about people who refuse to wear masks and social distance during the pandemic, who do not understand how much they are putting other people at risk. White Hat may even be fumbling an explanation of his previous 2515: Vaccine Research into why vaccines are good.

Older folks may be familiar with the "infection gives you immunity" trope due to their experience with so-called "childhood diseases". Before there were vaccines for e.g. measles, mumps, and chickenpox, it was seen as preferable for young children to contract these diseases, because the risk of serious illness is greater for those who get "first infections" later in life. Children run a comparatively smaller risk of serious illness in return for (usually) life-long immunity. Note that this only ever made sense for children whose immune system is still flexible enough to adapt, and not for 30 something fitness bros. Furthermore, the trope has outlived its context. Small as the risk to children of serious illness from measles, mumps, and chickenpox might be, vaccines all but eliminate the risk of contracting serious symptoms at all, so there is no sensible reason to subject oneself to infection.

The trope, moreover, is misapplied to COVID-19, because, on present evidence, immunity from infection is short-lived (which, at least at the time of this comic, was exacerbated by the fact that variants with sufficiently different spike proteins to at least partially evade natural immunity (such as beta, delta, and omicron) were arising at a rate of multiple per year), so there is no benefit to be gained by running the risk of winding up in the hospital - or the morgue. The better comparison is to influenza, which people get vaccinated against every year. Instead of childhood diseases, think of diseases that had a high probability of serious illness at any age, such as poliomyelitis and smallpox, for which few accepted the "infection gives you immunity" trope (even though, for those diseases, infection typically yielded life-long immunity), and there was far less resistance to effective vaccines once these became available.


[White Hat has raised his hand, palm up, as he addresses Cueball.]
White Hat: See, it's good to get infected, because it gives you immunity.
[White Hat has lowered his arm.]
Cueball: Why would I want immunity?
[Same setting.]
White Hat: To protect you from getting inf...
White Hat: ...wait.

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well, if you look at society as a whole it makes more sense. the reason we have so many mutations is that we have a significant portion of the populous with no immunity 20:49, 20 December 2021 (UTC) mark ifi

But the mutations come about from the virus replicating a lot, i.e in people with the virus. It still doesn't make sense to catch it, because you have a chance of your infection being the one that produces a terrible mutation 22:02, 20 December 2021 (UTC)
That isn't how mutations work. Mutations are able to propagate strongly only in environments where there is something killing off the parent species, and where the mutation provides better survivability. Like a functioning immune system attacking the parent virus, but a mutation allows something to slip by. Thus, people with the partial immunity provided by either vaccines or infection, are the ones more likely to create a mutation than new patients with no inherent immunity, or people with natural immunity from previous bouts with related diseases.Seebert (talk) 14:11, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
Luckily we have Randall's subtext to warn us about that middle category of people who know a little about how immune systems work, enough to be dangerous. (1) viruses are not bacteria: antibiotics killing 'ordinary' bacteria leave space for 'nasty' bateria to proliferate; unless you plan on destroying your respiratory tract, there's plenty of space for all viruses and their mutations; (2) viruses have a chance to mutate as soon as they take over a cell; no need to eliminate the parent, all you need is for the mutation to be more effectively infectious when spat out to infect the next victim; (3) anybody catching the virus will pass it on if it replicates; 'partial immunity' makes no difference to short-term reinfection, only to longer-term illness (at which point most sensible people will avoid contact) and ICU usage and death; the only possible negative to partial immunity is that people catch it, don't feel too sick and keep breathing over everybody else; (4) I suspect this comic will sound the death-knell for explainxkcd as it used to be, because even 'named' contributors are coming out with mad anti-vax arguments, and (5) editors, please feel fee to delete all of the above starting at (1) if you feel it to be necessary. I'd prefer you kept the first phrase though... 00:25, 23 December 2021 (UTC)
Even immune system without vaccine or prior infection is killing Covid a lot, providing plenty of opportunities for more effective mutation. And infection typically last LONGER if patient is not vaccinated, providing more TIME for virus to mutate. So, mutation can occur in both vaccinated or unvaccinated, with hard to compare probabilities. It's true that mutation from someone vaccinated has higher CHANCE to be vaccine-resistant, but on the other hand, seems omikron is from unvaccinated population ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:32, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

I can see this one annoying a lot of people. It's the lot of people who can already be annoying, so I don't think that's a big problem. (A few, who misread it as about vaccination giving immunity, may actually think it supports them. I'm not sure we can do anything about that either.) 21:51, 20 December 2021 (UTC)

Would you kindly provide a link to the "Mount Stupid" comic for reference. -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

    mount stupid: https://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2475 ˜˜˜˜

To be fair, if the vaccination would only protect you for ONE infection it wouldn't be worth it. The idea about immunity is that immunity trained by either vaccination or infection will then protect you from multiple following infections. The problem with it is that in case of covid (or flu), the immunity wanes off with time AND the virus mutates into new variants the immunity doesn't work as well against. Sure, it still makes sense to vaccinate, but just because the virus spread so much you are very likely to catch it. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:32, 20 December 2021 (UTC)

Are you making the mistake (without the other baggage) I mentioned above about misreading the comic? This comic isn't about the vaccination at all. It's about infection. 22:51, 20 December 2021 (UTC)
Infection is the normal method of vaccination. Until recently with mRNA vaccines, almost all vaccines were about infection- either with the disease itself, a weakened version of the disease, or a related disease.Seebert (talk) 14:11, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
As far as I know, while some vaccines do use a weakened live virus, many use essentially sliced-up spike proteins that are unable to spread. However, historically, the first true vaccination (as well as the earlier variolization), did use an unweakened live virus (smallpox for variolization, cowpox for the first vaccination). Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, though. 16:36, 22 December 2021 (UTC)
(And, to add, if the vaccine just protected against ONE infection, where that one infection was sufficiently dangerous, it would indeed be worth it. Better than chancing the infection on a naïve immune system and hoping to come out the other side with a similarly infection-specific immune effect (c.f. annual flu waves) but without the QC and care given to the vector.) ((See, I knew it'd spark response, didn't intend to say much. Maybe I should just stay out of this until it blows over.)) 23:01, 20 December 2021 (UTC)
Of course it is about the vaccination - this supports Randall's earlier statements for being pro vaccine, that you should get the immunity from vaccination and not from infection! --Kynde (talk) 08:24, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
Hmmm, no. It's about COVID (and that by inference). It doesn't mention the vaccine. The conversation might have been about the vaccine, but the comic (and its discussion of what it is sensible to do, or not) is vaccine free. It's "anti-infection", but not directly "pro-vaccine". (He, I and you are all sensibly pro-vaccine, I think. The comic itself is only vocal on that subject by omission and a chain of logic that will never occur to those stuck at the original fallacy.) 13:06, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

People who know a lot about the immune system could also be referring to people who are aware of possibilities like the varicella zoster virus which causes chickenpox, but stays dormant in your body after you recover and can come back later as shingles. This is less likely to happen if you get the vaccine to prevent chickenpox in the first place. --Norgaladir (talk) 00:32, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

A vaccination doesn't necessarily give you immunity, e.g. with the Covid or influenca vaccines, so you still can get infected. But being vaccinated reduces the risk of suffering complications like death that can ruin your and other peoples' life. 07:59, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

...significantly reduces the risk, in fact. It likely also (though it's a harder thing to establish) reduces the catch-and-transmit rate, thus yet another thing to do to help others, even those you'll never meet directly, who are unable or (ugh!) unwilling to think this far ahead. Unmitigated (and, especially, sought-after) 'natural' infection as represented in the comic just helps spread the thing further and faster and does a gross disservice to onward contacts, contacts-of-contacts, etc, etc. Excuse my preaching to the choir here, but it needs to be said. 13:06, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
You're not preaching to the choir exclusively, plenty of lurkers (like me) are reading along. 17:01, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

While trying to update the explanation for 'neutrality of tone' and address some infectious disease history, I came across this Infectious Diseases in Critical Care article from the NIH published January 3 of 2020 which includes a comparison of smallpox, measles, SARS-1, and MERS-cov illustrating how significantly vaccination has reduced global infections. Check out the graph of measles from 1980. 13:46, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

My hero is the person who added the citation needed to "Diseases are bad", as well as those who realize that vaccination is largely a form of infection on purpose (within one of the following five options: infection by the disease itself, infection by a weakened disease, infection by a killed and inactive version of the disease, infection by a related less dangerous disease that shares some characteristics with the original disease, infection by a laboratory created RNA strands that mimic the disease being attacked). Therefore, catching the disease on purpose, is a form of vaccination. Israel did a study on infection by the disease itself and found 6.7 times stronger immune response than other forms of COVID-19 vaccination. [1] Seebert (talk) 14:11, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

This should indicate that a better (at preparing your immune system to resist future infection) vaccine (process) may be possible. Without saying that current vaccines are ineffective. 17:06, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
I like how you make sure to use the "laboratory created" modifier for the RNA vaccine, but not the other types. As if they all grew on trees or something. Here's a hint: all vaccines were created in a lab, though many were created more directly by modifying an existing virus, in that lab. PotatoGod (talk) 21:15, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

I would like to add that the comic criticizes only a part of anti-vaxxers population that show the circular logic presented. There are other parts, e.g. those who are not quite sure if the cost/benefit (or rather risk/risk) calculus is right for the rapidly developed and hastily officially approved (in comparison to long-established vaccines against other diseases) and/or novel (mRNA) vaccine products, fearing long-time side effects of the vaccine. On the other hand, long-term effects of the disease itself are also not known yet, even if some middle-term ones are known or being investigated already. There are still other parts like those who oppose governmental obligations or pressure to vaccinate against covid and related restrictions, and take the refusal as a personal freedom stance. There may be others. -- 15:09, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

This very much feels like a straw man. I get that it's a webcomic, but can we talk about this? The description says that natural immunity is "short lived" (as in, how short-lived, and how much compared to vaccination?) but meanwhile I hear like one in five COVID hospitalizations were vaccinated patients. Are there studies on reinfection with COVID in vaccinated vs non-vaccinated patients? It seems to me from the latest comics that Randall is frustrated. I think everyone is frustrated. Citation needed, haha. But I get tired of reading "haha the other side is dumb" from both sides of every damn issue these days, and the bigger the impact an issue has, the more furious the mudslinging. One could, for example, make the same "circular argument" jab at trusting the FDA in this example, or in a more agnostic case, the value of a college degree or a certification: Ex. "we're qualified to make decisions about what's right or smart for the populace because we're a bunch of people who say so, and we have a pretty looking seal to prove it, and also please keep giving us a lot of money." I mean, for those of us who have been to college, haven't we all churned our way through that just to get into the workforce and discover that it's completely different than what we actually needed to know? Would we call people "anti-uni's" and laugh at their incompetence for questioning the system? Even at the unlikely minimum of "anti-vaxxers (or x-person who disagrees with me) are 100% dumb and wrong and that's a fact", isn't the discourse important? I understand that the opposite extreme is "I'd rather let my child die of Polio than trust another human being", but isn't that just another straw man? When are we going to stop polarizing? Thoughts? 16:28, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

It might be Randall is (intentionally or accidentally) touching on your point by making this comic's thesis ambiguous. People who aren't thinking deeply about the topic on both sides will initially think it confirms their worldview, until they see more discussion on the matter. So the comic's ambiguity might prompt more discussion by and between both sides. 17:18, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
Re: "I hear like one in five COVID hospitalizations were vaccinated patients." ....if less than one in five people are vaccinated, this is a problem. Either it means there is a problem with the vaccine (unlikely) or that the vaccinated are putting themselves more at risk thinking they are more 'virusproof' than they are. If more (and hopefully significantly more) than 20% of the populace are vaccinated then this is actually a positive sign for the whole issue - even if there's still social hubris underestimating the precautions they still may need to take. 17:34, 21 December 2021 (UTC)
At least in the US, significantly more than 1 in 5 people are vaccinated. It's a little over 3 in 5 fully vaccinated. But I would suggest that even that isn't necessarily the statistic to look at - pretty sure covid is still more likely to be serious for older people and folks with preexisting conditions, all else being equal, and those populations have an even higher vaccination rate. 78% of folks 50-64 are fully vaccinated, and 84% 65+, per the CDC. So that makes the 1 in 5 represent *even less* risk. 18:30, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

(Re: The "Why does my IP keep changing?" asked as an Edit-comment (see page history)... Because your gateway/pathway between yourself and the site goes through a limited and shared set of possible IPv4s. There's no guarantee you'll get the same IP (or even obvious range!) between edits, nor that your current IP won't be used by someone else in a few minutes. It's just a technical thing that greases the wheels of the Internet, even if it has funny repurcussions for some things like this.) 17:34, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

"However, what Cueball (and by extension Randall) fail to note is that bad or not, there are plenty of instances where someone has already recovered, and therefore already in possession of natural immunity." - Isn't that what the comic is about? I'm confused as to why this is on the explanation page? --enchantedsleeper (talk) 19:45, 21 December 2021 (UTC)

I think people are overcomplicating this. A common anti-covax trope you sometimes see is that natural immunity is "better than" the immunity provided by a vaccine. But it is a total non sequitur The *only way* the vaccine could prevent you from acquiring the coveted "natural" immunity would be if it saved you from getting infected in the first place. If you never end up infected, then I guess you didn't need the natural immunity after all. If you do get infected, well now you have it. There is no sense rushing out to get infected on purpose, which is the equivalent of refusing a vaccine. Of course, people can have many other reasons for not vaccinating, but this particular "reason" truly makes no sense.

To add to the pile: if you get infected, you don't have to *worry* as much about future infections. It's over with (at least psychologically). Balloon popping is bad, but it's the anticipation that's the worst part for me. 00:39, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

That depends on if it's a "you only catch this once" thing. That's not so certain. Probably[citation needed] you can't catch a particular greek-letter-version twice, but you've got a dozen other (and potentially more later) greek letters to maybe/maybe-not fend off in future, with some variants clearly being able to at least possibly get past the protection (viral or vaccinal) that come from others.
And they also say Omicron is only half as lethal (or hospitalising) as Delta, but that may just be because many Omicron-catchers had already made themselves infectees of Delta/whatever so they 'only' get the half-unsure vulnerability of the partially-naive/partially-protecting Delta-trained immume system of those that survived the prior round.
And once you have more than twice as many Omicron infections because "it's not as bad as the other one", that still gives you more deaths than the 'more fatal' prior version. If you're thinking you're doing the Cowpox/Chickenpox thing of deliberately 'pre-infecting' yourself then you're just giving it more people to try to kill, yourself and any collateral infectees and (even if your individual chances are better, for whatever reason) it results in worse total statistics than if you'd been sensible until everyone possible had at least been able to be given a non-disease lesson in at least a similar-looking thing.
...Oh, I don't think half the questions about all this have been answered, and won't be tied down for a while yet, but some supposed answers are clearly wishful thinking and should be easy dismiss as quackery. 01:27, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

Soooooo what's unfinished about this? It's almost a month old and the "incomplete" tag doesn't say anything descriptive about what needs to be done. And it looks pretty complete to me... 07:08, 19 January 2022 (UTC)

Depends on what people need. Some might understand it all, others might take more informing. (Not that I'd know how or if I should put it in the Explanation body, but there's situations like this that illustrate potential complications to the viewpoint this is tackling.) 17:52, 19 January 2022 (UTC)

I see no reason to get jabbed with an experimental mRNA cocktail for a disease that almost certainly will not kill me...if it even affects me. How sure can you be of its efficacy when the experts didn't even know it would require multiple boosters when it was first available? The fact that almost all dissent toward "the narrative" is censored rather than argued makes me even more skeptical and determined. I'm sure we can all agree now that masks were almost completely worthless the whole time, right? But it's only now that we're able to even say that without fear of retribution. Anyway, this comic will NOT age well. 20:22, 26 April 2022 (UTC)

Let's say it won't harm you, if you catch it (not a sure thing, but, let's assume you know this to be true). But you catch it, and pass it on to someone else, and thus you have hastened someone else's death. But it does not affect you, so never mind.
As for mRNA vaccines being experimental, well they've been studied in humans for over 20 years, based upon a decade or more of prior trials, and have been theraputically used (for other things) for the best part of a decade. The general mechanism is well known.
But still, tailoring it to deal with the very real new threat (though of course you can shrug it off like a mild hangover, I hear) was done very thoroughly, all the usual safety tests were done with haste but not rushed or skipped (just compressing the "dead time" usually inevitable between stages, except when pausing to rule out silly things like death by car-accident cannot possibly be connected to the study an individual took part in, etc).
This did mean that they did not have the fuller information on 'immunity decay' (or, of course, how new variants might sneak around the protections provided) but boosters were always imagined necessary eventually to remind the body to look out for a half-forgotten or only partially matching pathogen signature. In part, the problem was whether to get boosters to people at the recommended interval (different for different products, but a few weeks to a few months was already suggested as of the first widespread injections) or to prioritise supplies towards first-injections in the wider population not yet previously having been called to be jagged.
And you seem to be arguing about the mRNA vaccines, but seem not to have said anything about having had one or other of the other varieties (which ones will depend upon your locale, but there's now a wide range of them in most countries), so either you aren't aware of them or you're equally skeptical but only think you have arguments on that one type that you consider the archetypal demon-seed.
And, as for arguments being censored, I know that plain wrong 'information' has been discouraged, to prevent the viral spread of dangerous lies, but here's me countering your points, arguing (or informing, I would prefer, but YMMV) vs. your frankly old-hat narrative that I certainly don't think should be deleted, but am happy to present (what I think is) more of a truth than your viewpoint is.
And, no, I don't think the reaction to the Pandemic was done correctly. Often those in power made huge errors, but it could have been worse. Especially if no-one had had vaccines to be given, mRNA or otherwise.
Have a nice life, and remember that you're still at some (perhaps small) risk of illness or death, as are your loved ones and others in your community. You perhaps don't need to be scared of it, but be cautious. Especially if you aren't vaccinated. And even if you caught an earlier version (knowingly or otherwise) and were personally lucky. Hopefully you never get to know that you were the reason for someone's fate, in one or other bad way. But be lucky! 22:47, 26 April 2022 (UTC)