When the coronavirus crisis first began, there was a lot of hope that at least those who survive the disease will develop immunity to it and won’t have to worry about catching it again. However, it has become painfully apparent that it doesn’t work that way at all. In fact, a trio of studies that have been released recently illustrate just how fleeting the immunity offered by coronavirus antibodies truly is.
The newest study comes out of London, where COVID-19 patients’ immune responses were analyzed. The researchers discovered that the levels of antibodies that could kill the virus dropped quickly after peaking a few weeks after the patients first exhibited symptoms. At the peak of their battle against the disease, 60 percent of the patients had a “potent” antibody response; two months later, however, only 16.7 percent of them had such a response.
For some patients, the antibody response against the virus went on to become undetectable. The study’s lead author, Katie Doores, said that although people are producing reasonable antibody responses to the virus, that response is fading quickly.
Meanwhile, a large study carried out in Spain showed that antibodies disappear just weeks after people test positive for the disease, deflating hopes for the possibility of attaining herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population becomes immune to a certain disease, either by already getting sick or through vaccines, to make it unlikely to spread throughout the community. The study, which was published in the journal Lancet, found that 14 percent of those who tested positive for antibodies did not have any antibodies just weeks later.
The study involved more than 60,000 participants, who answered questionnaires about symptoms and were given antibody and blood tests.
The report stated: “At present, herd immunity is difficult to achieve without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems.”
A different study, this one from China, found that antibodies faded quickly in people with COVID-19 symptoms and asymptomatic patients alike. The scientists found that more than 90 percent of people in both groups experienced deep declines in their antibody levels two to three months after the onset of their infection. Among the asymptomatic group, 40 percent tested negative for antibodies just eight weeks after being released from isolation.
Vaccines aren’t the answer
Of course, it goes without saying that if antibodies do disappear this quickly, any vaccine that is developed would have to be administered repeatedly throughout the year if people wanted to gain any amount of protection whatsoever. Most people don’t want to get even one vaccine, much less various shots throughout the year.
Making matters even more complicated is the fact that even if a coronavirus patient does develop antibodies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have any immunity at all. Writing for CNN, Dr. William Haseltine said: “Only 15 percent of those who test positive for antibodies make the neutralizing antibodies necessary to develop immunity.”
Unfortunately, it looks like COVID-19 is much like many other types of coronavirus. The antibodies for other common coronaviruses generally disappear completely within somewhere between four months and a year, which is why people can catch the same one every year.
Vaccines may not offer much protection from the disease after all, and their long-term effects will be largely untested as they are rushed to the market. These studies underscore the importance of preventing the disease naturally. Wear a mask when you’ll be around others, and don’t forget that washing your hands frequently remains essential. One of the best lines of defense is keeping your immune system up. Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, and make sure you get plenty of Vitamin C, zinc, and Vitamin D from the sun.
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