People who contract and recover from COVID-19 may not maintain their immunity for longer than a few months, reports The Guardian. According to King’s College London, research suggests that the virus could repeatedly reinfect people, like the common cold.
In the first study of its kind, scientists analysed the immune response of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers and found levels of COVID-19 antibodies peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms. They then rapidly declined.
Science writer, Ian Sample, writes for the Guardian that “blood tests revealed that while 60% of people marshalled a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the virus, only 17% retained the same potency three months later. Antibody levels fell as much as 23-fold over the period. In some cases, they became undetectable”.
There are currently multiple other coronaviruses in widespread circulation – which merely cause the common cold– for which immunity isn’t permanent. This study implies that SARS-COV-2 may be following that same pattern. These findings have massive implications for the future development of a vaccine, and also for those communities who were hoping to rely on herd immunity.
While there’s hope that re-infection would be less severe for patients, the fact that COVID-19 immunity is only temporary poses a threat to the containment of the virus in that people could catch and transmit it to others more than once – all the while believing they’re immune.
Prof Stuart Neil, a co-author on the study told The Guardian:
“I cannot underscore how important it is that the public understands that getting infected by this virus is not a good thing. Some of the public, especially the youth, have become somewhat cavalier about getting infected, thinking that they would contribute to herd immunity. Not only will they place themselves at risk, and others, by getting infected, and losing immunity, they may even put themselves at greater risk of more severe lung disease if they get infected again in the years to come.”