TRENTON – New Jerseyans who have recovered from COVID-19 should be treated the same as vaccinated residents under any vaccine-related rules in the state, says a Morris County state senator.

Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, said he will introduce legislation recognizing the value of natural immunity to the coronavirus from past infections when the Legislature returns in November. He said it will be modeled on the public health policy used in Israel.

“Right now, we have public policy based on political science where they assume one size fits all. You either get the shot or you don’t,” Pennacchio said. “And we’re questioning whether or not you really need that shot if you have natural immunity in your body.”

Pennacchio said he opposed any ‘vaccine passport’ approach that restricts access to workplaces or public places to people who are vaccinated but that residual protection from past infection has been historically, scientifically proven.

“It would give them legal ground to say, ‘No, I don’t need a vaccine’ if your employer says that you have to work, or ‘No, I don’t need a vaccine’ if I want to go into a shopping area or an entertainment area or a gym,” Pennacchio said.

Israel’s “green pass” allows for both vaccinated and recovered COVID patients to access restaurants, gyms, theaters and other venues.

Pennacchio said countries in Europe including France, Germany and Italy are recommending a single vaccine dose to people if they’ve had symptomatic COVID. He said a recent Israeli study – which has not been peer-reviewed – says natural immunity may be 13 times more protective than two Pfizer doses.

Most health experts have said natural immunity offers protection but not as much as vaccinations, and studies haven’t determined how long such immunity may last.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study last month of Kentucky residents with previous COVID infections found that people who were unvaccinated had 2.34 times the odds of reinfection compared with those who were fully vaccinated.

Pennacchio said he is not discounting vaccines for certain populations, such as people over age 60, people with comorbidities and people who work with the frail and elderly.

“Vaccines have shown that they have a place in this COVID therapeutics and medicine. Very, very rarely do you have to be hospitalized if you have a vaccine,” he said. “But one size should not fit all. If we’re concerned about making sure people don’t get sick and don’t get COVID and don’t spread it to others, you have to take a look at what historical medicine and science has taught us.”

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Most importantly right now, Pennacchio said, is bringing the topic to the public’s attention.

“Let’s have this debate,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a public debate on whether or not you should or should not be vaccinated if you had COVID. That’s healthy for everybody. It’s the right thing to do.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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