Raise your hand if you had a COVID vaccination and also got COVID. I see those hands. If you got COVID after you got the shot, usually you hear that you didn’t get a really bad case of COVID because you had increased immunity from the vaccine. But the Centers for Disease Control currently refuses to say you have increased immunity if you recovered from COVID even though everyone knows the obvious. When you have recovered once from COVID, your body is better prepared to recover again.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health recently reported that about 60% of our rural counties are fully vaccinated and our two largest counties, Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties, are more than 80% fully vaccinated. Around one million of the four million people in Oklahoma have also recovered from COVID-19. The key issue is the ability of your body to fight off the virus when you are exposed, either through natural immunity, vaccine immunity, or both.
An Israeli study has demonstrated that natural immunity is more powerful than vaccination immunity. But, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not recognize the study from Israel or mirror the study in America. Meanwhile, President Biden is going to court to argue for power to fire Oklahomans who choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even if they already recovered from COVID and they have natural immunity.
Just to be crystal clear, anyone can spread the virus, whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated. Both the vaccine and natural immunity provide some level of protection from severe COVID in the future. We can all argue how much and how long natural immunity lasts versus vaccine immunity, but until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually releases the data on natural immunity instead of sitting on it, we are all speculating.
I joined Senator Braun of Indiana to introduce the Natural Immunity Transparency Act, which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to provide critical data to Congress on where we stand with natural immunity from COVID-19 in the U.S. based on infection data so people can make better informed decisions.
Some of our service members believe their Commander-in-Chief is ignoring their natural immunity as well. In a very rare move, some service members are suing the military because they say they should receive an exemption from the vaccine requirement if they recovered from COVID-19. Despite President Biden’s Executive Order requiring all service members to be vaccinated or face discharge, they argue in the suit that Army Regulation 40-562 gives their branch the ability for documented survivors of the infection to receive a medical exemption from vaccination because of acquired immunity.
Originally, the Biden administration was going to give service members a dishonorable discharge if they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine. After several of us in Congress forced the issue in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the Administration backed off. Our provision to protect service members from facing a less-than-honorable or dishonorable discharge, if they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, is now law. But, service members want to serve their country, not get any type of discharge.
That also doesn’t solve the issue of religious accommodations. I have consistently called on our service branches to provide religious accommodations for those who do not want to receive the vaccine for religious reasons. To date, the Department of Defense has issued very few religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate despite thousands of requests. Recently, I sent Secretary Austin a letter demanding answers on religious accommodation and I have asked the Department of Defense Inspector General to audit the process and be sure it is conducted fairly and in accordance with the law.
It is even worse for federal workers who requested a religious accommodation. They are forced to fill out new forms to note how religious they are currently. Leadership of each agency has new assigned powers from the administration to determine if their employees are religious enough to get an accommodation.
As if the Biden inflation rate of 7.5% wasn’t bad enough, Biden is actively working to create job uncertainty for millions of people who are struggling to pay for their groceries during this administration.
The federal government should not withhold data on natural immunity just so they can play their dangerous game of “chicken” with the American people. It’s time for transparency and for the freedom to make personal choices on personal matters.
• Senator James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, serves on four committees critical to Oklahomans: Finance; Energy and Natural Resources; Indian Affairs; and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He is the Ranking Member of the Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee, which covers the federal workforce, regulatory reform, border security, management, and operations.