Actress and wellness coach, Pooja Bedi is the latest celebrity to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The 51-year-old made the announcement on social media, revealing that she’s been down with COVID for a while, and has tested positive for COVID along with her partner and house help.
While there have been several accounts of people testing positive for COVID despite being vaccinated (what is now referred to as breakthrough cases), what’s so different about Pooja’s case is that she caught the virus and remained unvaccinated, by choice- something which, though, is her personal decision but has divided views.
Also read: Six of the biggest COVID-19 vaccine myths debunked
Recounting her symptoms including persistent coughing and passing out due to immense fatigue, Bedi maintained that she was counting on her body's natural defenses to fight the infection, and gain immunity.
Posting a video online, she added,
“Hello everyone! I have been wondering why I have not got the coronavirus till now. It is so infectious and everyone, at some point is going to get it. Well, voila! Seems that I have now caught it. I have tested positive.”
Adding that she confused her symptoms to be that of a dust allergy, the 51-year-old said that while the virus was actually bad, she still didn't take it to be reason enough to take the vaccine, coming out as an anti-vaxxer.
“We must know that 99 percent of people who caught coronavirus before the vaccines came out, have survived. And, 99 percent post the vaccination have also survived. We need caution, not panic. The fact is, we have tools and aids on our side. For me, it was a choice that I took. I know that my immunity will naturally rise up and I want to rely on my natural immunity. Each one of you, go make your own choices, this is my chronicled journey."
Why being an anti-vaxxer can be risky during the COVID-19 pandemic
Bedi is the latest one to be turning vocal about her anti-vaccine stances, globally. While anti-vaxxers, i.e. people who believe vaccines aren't natural, safe and infringe on human rights have been actively campaigning against legalization and the experimental nature of the COVID-19 vaccines, the numbers have been rather skewed in India. However, the numbers are slowly rising, and it is believed that the ones who do not take the vaccine, or vote against it could be the ones to drive the surge of cases ahead.
While on one hand there are many who believe that not getting the vaccine is actually Bedi's personal choice which should be left to her, there are many who believe that not believing in the vaccine, or being staunchly anti-vaccine carries a greater risk at this stage of the pandemic. Not only do they put their own health at risk, but , with their views, expose the ones around them to risk as well.
What makes Pooja Bedi's stance so questionable
It's not the first time Bedi has been criticized for her response to the COVID-19 crisis. From openly flouting rules, travelling to her home in Goa at a time when tough restrictions were imposed, to the time when she claimed to not wish to live a life in masks or be jailed, Pooja Bedi's comments have been long questioned. Her recent illness, and views on still being unvaccinated have once again divided people. The comment section on her video, and other posts are proof.
Some also feel that being a public person, a celebrity and an anti-vaxxer can be a double edged sword. While we often count on celebrity responses to believe in something or feel relatable, many people feel that a celebrity who'll openly express his or her views against vaccinations can actually have the power to negatively influence people, which is not just bad, but also incredibly risky, considering that we are living in times of a pandemic, and COVID-19 is a much graver disease than a cold or flu. Pooja's personal views, for example, on a public platform like Instagram, can influence people poorly, deride them into taking right decisions.
What is also problematic with Pooja's opinion on COVID-19 vaccines is that they are quite one-sided. While she believes that her body's natural defenses will help her overpower the SARS-COV-2 virus, and make her gain natural immunity, it also needs to be remembered that relying on natural immunity cannot be an option for everyone. For someone who's severely immunocompromised, has poor immune function, comorbidities, or has a severe COVID-risk, depending on natural immunity alone cannot help, and additional defenses like vaccinations are actually required.
Does natural immunity actually protect you for long?
Apart from Bedi, there have been multiple accounts and beliefs amongst people believing that they do not require a COVID-19 vaccine (or other vaccines) if they have caught the illness once, since they'll have natural immunity.
However, not only has this claim been questioned and recovered people asked to get the vaccine at the earliest, natural immunity can wane over time and put you at risk again.
Artificial immunity, much like natural immunity works in a similar manner to dole neccessary antibodies into action with the help of a vaccine. While natural COVID antibodies, post exposure to the antigen tend to stay on for a maximum of 3-4 months (and can deplete quicker for those who are immunocompromised), vaccine-driven immunity can strengthen the protection, and provide additional benefits about reducing COVID severity and mortality risks. These risks have been evaluated and studied in laboratory-based studies, and there are ample real-world data to back it up. In fact, amongst those who have contracted breakthrough infections, symptoms have been milder, and easily resolvable too.