Scripps Research Institute

COVID-19 Survivor Reflects on Year, Participates in Local Immunity Study

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Local bartender and musician, Drew Andrews, is back to work now that Whistle Stop Bar in South Park has reopened.

“I’ve been a bartender here (Whistle Stop Bar) for a number of years, 16 years now, I guess, excluding last year,” Andrews said as he reflected on the year. He was one of the first San Diegans who shared his COVID-19 diagnosis with NBC 7 in March 2020.

“It’s been a long year, a trying year, and so many things have happened. It’s strange now. It feels like it’s yesterday and forever ago at the same time,” recalled Andrews. Shortly after testing positive for COVID-19, Andrews said he joined an immunity study to help local scientists better understand how the body responds to the virus.

“The big question, I guess coming out of the initial stages of COVID, was how long can you be immune for, right?” said Andrews.

The immunity trial he signed up for was launched and funded by UCSD Health, in collaboration with Scripps Research Institute and La Jolla Institute of Immunology. Andrews said he’s been providing blood samples every two months since May 2020. During his latest conversations with researchers he learned his body still recognized the virus more than a year later.

“Even up to a year, the immunity was strong and solid, and I think that’s a big thing,” said Andrews.

Stephen Rawlings, M.D. Ph.D., an infectious disease researcher at UCSD Health, is one of the lead doctors on the study. He said they’ve detected strong immunity in people up to 14 months after being infected. He said herd immunity may be greater than expected but encourages people to get vaccinated for greater protection against variants.

“There is a lot of evidence that the antibodies in people who had coronavirus are not as effective for the variants compared to people who had the vaccine,” explained Rawlings.

He also said those who’ve been infected with COVID-19 appear to be responding to the vaccine in as little as seven days compared to those who haven’t been infected, which are developing considerable antibodies in about 14 days.

Andrews said he’s getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine this week and is encouraging others to get theirs too.

“To be here, out in the sunshine and stuff, and back at the bar and having my life again, it’s a complete change from last year. It’s welcome change,” said Andrews.  

Next on Andrews' post-pandemic bucket-list is returning to the stage for live performances.

According to Rawlings, their research has been recognized across the nation, including by Dr. Anthony Fauci during a pandemic briefing in August.  

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