- Coronavirus immunity is still not fully understood, but an increasing number of studies indicate that protection after infection may initially take longer than expected. It is hoped that vaccines will generate the same type of immunity.
- Two independent research teams found that people who developed antibody neutralization after beating COVID-19 were significantly less likely to become ill during redefinition.
- Teams from Oxford and the US National Cancer Institute independently found that COVID-19 survivors were 10 times less likely to be re-infected.
About a year ago, the novel coronavirus was already spreading quietly in Wuhan, but back then it was referred to as a new type of pneumonia that had no known cause. What followed was the world’s worst pandemic in a century. Some 80 million people will be infected with the virus by Christmas 2020, of which more than 1.75 million will have died. These are only the infections confirmed with accurate PCR tests. Many people have survived the illness without being tested, either because tests were not available, they didn’t bother to be tested, or had an asymptomatic version of COVID-19. Many people could have died even from COVID-19 complications without ever having a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
But a year later, the world now has its first COVID-19 vaccines. They are highly effective, according to Phase 3 trials, and can prevent severe COVID-19. The drugs can help the world beat the pandemic, but returning to normal will take several months – and only if a sufficiently large percentage of the population is vaccinated. Vaccines demonstrated that they induce an immune response that is similar to or better than the immune response observed in COVID-19 survivors. What researchers cannot fully explain is the immunity of coronavirus because the virus is still too young.
The best COVID-19 immune study we have so far tells us that patients who survived the illness eight months ago are still protected from redefinition. It is hoped that vaccines will produce a similar immune reaction that may be followed by prolonged protection from serious illness. Now, a couple of new studies are offering some great news in time for Christmas, further hoping that coronavirus immunity might be better than expected. Independent teams have found that people who got COVID-19 are less likely to get re-infected.
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The redefinition of COVID-19 has already been documented, as different countries have reported true COVID-19 redefinitions that occurred several months after the outbreak. But re-defenses are still rare and not fully understood. Some suspect that abuse of the immune system could put COVID-19 survivors at risk of catching the virus a second time. Coronavirus mutations, if significant, could also lead to redefinition.
According to Associated Press, teams from Oxford and the US National Cancer Institute conducted similar but separate coronavirus immune experiments. The conclusions were virtually the same in both cases, indicating that previous COVID-19 infection will protect most people from redefinition. The researchers looked at antibodies against natural infection and found that people were “at a much lower risk … on the same protection regime that you would receive from an effective vaccine” if they got the virus. That’s according to Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute. “It’s very, very rare” to get re-infected.
The studies used two tests, including a blood test for antibodies and a COVID-19 test to detect infection.
The National Cancer Institute looked at 3 million people who had antibody tests from private laboratories in the US. Only 0.3% of people who tested positive for protective proteins also tested positive for coronavirus. About 3% of people who did not have antibodies were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Oxford University Hospitals carried out a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It looked at over 12,500 health workers and of those, 1,265 people had coronavirus antibodies. Only two of them tested positive for COVID-19 in the following six months after infection but did not develop any symptoms. Of the 11,364 workers who did not have COVID-19 immunity, 223 tested positive for the virus during the same period.
Sharpless said AP that it was “very satisfying” to see that the Oxford study had the same results. Both studies found that antibodies are 10 times less likely to get a second infection. As with other studies, more research will be needed to further clarify coronavirus immune duration and redefinition risk. People will have to keep safeguards even after COVID-19 survives.
Antibodies disappear after a while, but that’s where another recent immune study comes into play. Australian researchers found that COVID-19 survivors develop a potent response to the virus in the form of white blood cells B and T that will remember the virus and fight back on redefinition, even if antibodies have disappeared. These immune system components could then generate additional antibodies when redefined.
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