Study Suggests COVID-19 Survivors Could Have Temporary Immunity

Data shows sufficient immunity could last at least eight months, probably even years.

While COVID-19 cases in San Diego County and across the country skyrocket, there's a new study from local scientists shedding light on immunity.

Prepared by researchers from the La Jolla Institute of Immunology, UC San Diego and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the study suggests that once you've had the disease, you could be sufficiently immune for at least eight months, probably even longer, thanks to various cells and antibodies that help make up your body’s "immune memory."

“The first time you get exposed to a virus, you're at a disadvantage. You've never seen it before and so the virus gets a head start. It starts growing and it starts making you sick and your body has to figure out how to fight that virus and catch up," explained Professor Shane Crotty, Ph.D. a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology and senior author of the study.

The research was derived from studying the bloodwork of 185 people, mostly from the San Diego area, who’d contracted coronavirus.

Should Dr. Crotty's research be confirmed, what would that mean for possible future vaccines and how often people might have to take them?

"The fact that we saw immune memory, which is a fairly normal thing to see after viruses, certainly indicates that at least some of the vaccine should be able to elicit immunity memory. So for which one and how long, that question has to be answered for each vaccine," Crotty explained.

And while a vaccine is likely close to being released, one of  President Donald Trump’s pandemic advisers has pushed the controversial herd immunity strategy.

Dr. Crotty said the concept of herd immunity could be deadly.

"There’s a lot of variation from person to person. So while most people have multiple parts, multiple kinds of  immune memory, not everybody has the same parts of the immune memory. There were a few people, like 3 to 7%, who don't have much memory after an infection. The best statement I’ve seen on it is that, you know, herd immunity is not a strategy, it's definitely a failure because it would be just an extraordinary number of deaths," he said.

There have been nearly 1,000 coronavirus deaths in San Diego County and 250,000 nationwide since the pandemic began, but that’s not stopping pandemic fatigue from setting in as infections soar.

“None of our data suggests people won’t get re-infected at all. But that their immune system should be able to control that infection and keep them from hospitalization. But even if you've been infected before, it definitely still makes sense to, wear a mask and behave responsibly and get that vaccine," Dr. Crotty said. 

The study has been submitted to a scientific journal for peer review.

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