COVID-19 Immunity May Last Years

In a year where it has sometimes felt like the punches don’t stop coming, there have been glimmers of hope recently. We have gotten good news. There have been promising results with two COVID-19 vaccines. The FDA has approved an at-home test. And now, it seems that people who have recovered from the virus are immune to it for longer than thought.

While it is possible to be reinfected with COVID-19, it’s incredibly rare. Thus far, there have been 25 reinfections around the whole world. And some of those cases may have actually just been “lingering positive tests from the initial infection,” according to Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health.

New research suggests that, for almost everyone, immunity from COVID-19 caused by recovery lasts at least six months and possibly for years. Other studies that looked just at antibodies have suggested that immunity faded far more quickly. The new research considered antibodies, T cells and B cells along with other aspects of the immune system. The presence of B and T cells is a good sign. B cells can be seen in a person over 60 years after they were vaccinated against smallpox. T cells also decay slowly.

This could be great news for a vaccine! The early results of the vaccine studies have been excellent. Two have been proven to be safe and very effective. But, how long they will remain effective is a question. For some vaccines, you need them once in your life. For others, like the flu, you need it yearly. There is a worry that COVID-19 might require frequent vaccination. If being infected by COVID-19 once makes you immune to it for a long time, being vaccinated against it should also last a long time. The researchers hope the presence of B cells might be a good sign.

The people in the study were sick with COVID-19 eight months before, and most still had enough of immune “memory” that they could have been protected. Most of them had only had mild cases. Other research about SARS, closely related to COVID-19, found people who recovered are still immune 17 years later.

That amount of memory would likely prevent the vast majority of people from getting hospitalized disease, severe disease, for many years,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology who co-led the new study.

The people in the study had been varying levels of “sick.” A vaccine should have a more controlled response. Your own body and other factors can change how much coverage you get from a vaccine. On average, we should have a more uniform response. If this research is proven to be accurate, these vaccines might be even more key to fighting the pandemic than we knew or hoped! It is possible that that the vaccines could give us long-lasting immunity that protects us for years. That could help us move on as opposed to having mass seasonal COVID-19 outbreaks. With the crazy turns this year has taken, we’ll wait and see, but we’ll keep hoping for the best!

Banner image: Pixabay via Pexels
November 20, 2020
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