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No right answer: officials need discretion on whether to allow natural immunity exemptions
  1. Dorit Reiss
  1. UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dorit Reiss, UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, California, USA; reissd{at}

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In their thoughtful, nuanced and interesting discussion, Jonathan Pugh, Julian Savulescu, Rebecca Brown and Dom Wilkinson argued that officials should recognise proof of prior infection as a valid exemption from vaccination requirements.1 This commentary agrees with parts of their analysis, but argues that the case for the exemption is less clear than the authors suggest, and the better approach is to allow officials flexibility: an exemption for natural immunity may be appropriate or may not.

In part, the disagreements may stem from different experiences in different societies. The authors are in the UK, and their experience may differ from the USA in multiple ways, three very glaring. First, the UK broadly used the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has higher risks than the mRNA vaccines, so our assessment of vaccine risks differs. Second, the UK has universal health insurance, so some of the access to testing issues that I raise concerns about may not apply there. And third, the risk of fraud or misrepresentation may be less in the UK—and other countries—than in the USA, where real concerns about, for example, fake vaccine cards have led to multiple arrests.2

Another issue is that information about COVID-19 changes fast—what was known when the authors wrote may no longer fit the current picture.

The article

In their article, the authors argue that it is ethically imperative that COVID-19 mandates exempt those with natural immunity. The authors argue that those who have become immune through infection are ‘potentially equivalent’ to those who were vaccinated, and refusing them an exemption is ethically unjustified—they call this the ‘unnaturalistic fallacy’. The authors convincingly conclude that existing data suggest that previous infection leads to durable immunity for at least several months and protects against reinfection (if not perfectly). The …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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