Vax Fanatics and Natural Immunity

There’s a touching section in Alessandro Manzoni’s classic novel The Betrothed, which focused on the vicious plague that consumed Milan and the Lombardy region in the 1620s. Renzo, the main character, watches a young Italian mom hand over the lifeless body of her precious daughter to a monatto, i.e., a worker tasked to collect the dead and pile them on carts. Manzoni narrated:

A woman was stepping out of those doors, towards the carts. She was young, though no longer in the very first bloom of youth, and there was still beauty in her face, a beauty veiled and dimmed but not destroyed by unbearable emotion…. 

In her arms, she bore a little girl, perhaps nine years old, dead, but very neatly attired, with her hair carefully parted in the middle, and a spotlessly white dress, as if loving hands had adorned her for some special occasion, some long promised reward…. 

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A loathsome monatto went up to take the child from its mother’s arms, though his bearing showed an unusual degree of respect, an involuntary hesitation. The woman drew back, though without any sign of anger or contempt. 

“No!” she said. “You must not touch her yet. I must put her on that cart with my own hands. Here! Take this.”

She showed him a purse which had been hidden in her hand, and dropped it into his outstretched palm. 

“Now promise me this,” she went on. “Not to touch a stitch of her clothes; not to let anyone else dare to do so; and to lay her in the earth exactly as she is.”

I’ve thought of that passage in our own time, as we face a virus bad but not nearly as brutal as that which ravaged Milan four centuries ago. The Italian mom’s abiding faith in a better world, one unseen, in life after death, is something so utterly contrary to our day. She was sure her sweet Cecilia was headed to a superior place, as they all were. She dressed her beautifully, like a young bride, for Heaven. She would see her there soon, asking her intercession in the short interim. Death was an exit to eternity.

What strikes me lately about this passage, however, is the thought of the monatto addressed by that Italian mom. The monatti (plural) had acquired immunity from the brutal virus, as had the protagonists of The Betrothed, Renzo and Lucia. Hence, what did these people with immunity do? Renzo and Lucia helped the sick. The monatti, tough guys chastened by the ravages of what they had witnessed, picked up the diseased corpses and drove the death carts. 

Above all, these individuals of that time and place took on these roles during the pandemic because they had acquired natural immunity.

I’ve been thinking about them because I imagine how they would be treated today by the vax fanatics of our COVID-19 era. They would be bullied and shamed as “anti-science” morons, as selfish “anti-vaxxers.” This would puzzle them. Why should they get jabbed? They possessed natural immunity, and not without suffering. They were part of herd immunity. They need not be harassed to forcibly join the vaccinated; they were in the herd immunity group.

By “vax fanatics,” I don’t mean normal-thinking people generally supportive of vaccination. I personally have never opposed vaccination. Quite the contrary, I once worked in immunology. By vax fanatics, I mean the aggressors who refuse those begging for medical or religious exemptions from the vaccine. I mean those who insist that every five-year-old be vaccinated against a disease that rarely kills healthy children. (From the beginning, medical authorities have understood, correctly, that COVID-19 is rarely fatal for healthy children.)

I mean those demanding that 19-year-old girls with a potential graver risk of myocarditis or pericarditis (see even the CDC’s warnings on this, and now a major new study published in JAMA) than of dying of COVID-19, be vaccinated against their will. 

I mean the intolerant “My Body, My Choice” liberals taking away your choice. Above all, I mean the vax fanatics who demand that people like myself, and those in my family, be forced against our will to take vaccines when, in fact, we already have immunity. I mean the people who will not let us instead show proof of antibodies as a perfectly reasonable alternative to showing proof of vaccination.

As I’ve noted at length, if I hadn’t contracted COVID-19, I’d be thinking differently about a vaccine for myself, though I still would never dare force individuals to take a needle against their will, especially when everyone else can choose to be vaccinated. This is truly a matter of liberty and conscience. 

Like my Church teaches, as stated unequivocally by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and officially affirmed by the American bishops: “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation,” it “must be voluntary.” Had I not already had COVID-19, I’d be awaiting Novavax rather than getting jabbed by Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson—especially the first two, which are mRNA based and, frankly, not even “vaccines” in the conventional sense. 

But I need not consider a vaccine, given that I have natural immunity created by the real virus itself rather than the always-inferior artificial immunity generated (assuming it works) by the still-experimental vaccines. (There’s a saying among immunologists: when it comes to immunity, “infection over injection.”) 

As I noted here previously, citing merely two current major studies, COVID-19 survivors have long-lasting immunity. To quote one of the studies, a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature, patients who have recovered from COVID-19 develop “long-lasting immunity,” namely with “antibody-producing cells” that “live and produce antibodies for the rest of people’s lives.” Or consider the major study by Cleveland Clinic, conducted on 52,238 employees, which concluded categorically that individuals who had COVID-19 “do not get additional benefits from vaccination.” (See this analysis for a nice roundup of current research on the superiority of natural immunity over artificial immunity.)

The herd immunity folks are the great forgotten group in the whole vaccination debate. Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci never mention them. Far worse, they don’t even get asked about them by our scandalously lousy and sickeningly biased media. And yet, there is no greater group (literally) being forgotten right now.

The number of people officially listed by the CDC as having tested positive for COVID-19 is 35 million. In reality, as nary a soul in the medical profession doubts, the real number of Americans who have been positive for COVID-19 is absolutely, without any question whatsoever, at least three to four times that amount. Personally, in my family, at least eight of us had COVID-19, but only two appear on CDC rolls as having officially tested positive. And my family is far from unusual. 

In fact, the CDC estimates that at least 120 million Americans have had COVID-19. That chunk of data is incredibly important, with huge implications for the current debates. And yet, it doesn’t get acknowledged.

That figure means that when added to the estimated 165 million now fully vaccinated (soon to be 190 million among those awaiting a second jab), somewhere around 300 million Americans (out of a population of 330 million) are protected via natural or artificial immunity. And among those in neither category, a large number of people are awaiting safer vaccines, quite rationally so.

(For the record, there is no reliable data to assume that the current vaccines developed prior to the mutation of the Delta variant are more effective than the natural immunity of COVID-19 survivors. No one can say that definitively, just as no one in 2019 could yet know how effective natural antibodies or artificial jabs would be against the virus.)

The natural immunity people—once cherished by our society as the long-awaited herd immunity element that would bring us to the promised land—are suddenly the great forgotten. They are not being recognized by the mad vaxxers. Worse, rather than being thanked for their suffering and contribution, they are being shamed, often with demands for their isolation, as some sort of reviled class. The vax fanatics, absorbed by vax hysteria, are after them like a mob. 

Like Vladimir Lenin’s decree against the “harmful insects” of Soviet society, or Saddam Hussein’s campaign of dehumanization against the “monkey-faced” Madan Arabs, they are being called out as threatening the lives of others (in the words of the Connecticut governor), including the vaccinated. Joe Biden wants to come after them “door to door.” They are the scapegoat class, the group to be blamed as responsible for the suffering of everyone else—yes, even the vaccinated.

It is perplexing. But this is how a mob behaves. 

As for the monatti and Renzo and Lucia, they too would be perplexed. Then again, pretty much everything about our modern society, including how we understand life and death itself (just ask that Italian mom), would perplex them.

[Image: St. Sebastian during an outbreak of the plague by Josse Lieferinxe]


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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