GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spectrum Health will allow employees to be exempt from its vaccination mandate if natural immunity to COVID-19 can be proven.
The medical organization tells FOX 17 the decision came after a recommendation by its medical exemption committee.
To prove natural immunity, an employee must have a positive PCR or antigen test for COVID-19 from a lab certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988, plus a positive anitbody test. Both results must be from within the past 3 months.
Spectrum Health announced on July 28 that employees must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 within 8 weeks of a vaccine being approved by the FDA. Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was approved on August 23, making October 18, 2021 the deadline for Spectrum Health employees to be vaccinated.
Spectrum Health's medical exemption committee cited new research in its recommendation to provide the natural immunity waiver. In a statement to FOX 17, Spectrum Health noted that evidence from recent studies show a previous case of COVID-19 helps prevent catching coronavirus again and limits the risk of having severe symptoms if a person is reinfected.
The committee did note it is not clear how long a previous infection provides significant protection.
The medical exemption committee will continue to evaluate new information on natural immunity to COVID-19. New evidence may lead to changes or end of the waiver policy.
Spectrum Health did not say how long the temporary waiver will last.
Read Spectrum Health's full statement below.
As previously communicated [newsroom.spectrumhealth.org], Spectrum Health is requiring team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Religious exemptions will be accepted consistent with Michigan law. Medical exemptions have been determined by clinical, vaccine and infectious disease experts on our medical exemption committee, consistent with the FDA label and available research to-date. As new research has emerged, the medical exemption committee has recommended to allow a temporary exemption for those who have had a positive PCR or antigen test for COVID-19 from a CLIA-certified lab plus a positive qualitative antibody test within the past three months.
While we still recommend vaccination for people with prior COVID-19 infection, according to this new research, there is increasing evidence that natural infection affords protection from COVID-19 reinfection and severe symptoms for a period of time. Current studies are not clear on how long natural immunity protects from reinfection.
Vaccine trials and real-world data have shown that it is safe for previously infected individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine; side effects following vaccination were no greater in this group.
Should evidence in the future demonstrate significant waning of this protection, demonstration of longer-lasting protection, or evidence of a validated quantitative antibody titer result confirming immunity, then the deferral requirements will be updated (either canceled, extended or modified).