Haims: COVID-19 immunity is not a guarantee we’re in the clear
COVID-19 is getting old already. Warmer weather is around the corner and the impulse to get outside, see friends, and be social is hard to resist.
Understandably, people are tired of the stay-at-home order and now the governor’s safer-at-home order. However, what we choose to do as social restrictions subside may have a great impact on what the months ahead will look like.
Not only across this nation but the world at large, many people believe that once someone recovers from COVID-19, they may become immune to reinfection. This assumption is not accurate.
While the World Health Organization has come under criticism lately, its knowledge and ability to compile research from across the world is unparalleled. In a scientific brief published last week, WHO wrote, “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection. As of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans”.
At China Japan’s Friendship Hospital in Beijing, Dr. Li QinGyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment, believes that people who have been infected with COVID-19 develop a protective antibody. However, he also states that it isn’t clear how long the protection lasts.
“The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. “Patients with MERS-CoV infection are unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also addressed COVID-19 reinfection. Last week he stated that there is “a reasonable assumption that when you have an antibody that you are protected against reinfection. But that has not been proven for this particular virus. We don’t know how long that protection — if it exists — lasts “
Clearly additional research and studies need to be conducted to understand if it is possible for people to be reinfected. Until we learn more about COVID-19, it is really important that we adhere to social distancing, frequently washing our hands, and cover our coughs and sneezes.
Around the world, scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine. But, until they do, we must remain vigilant in our safety precautions.
In order to understand what herd immunity is, we must first understand what immunity is and how a virus causes harm.
Our immune system protects us from diseases caused by pathogens like parasites, bacteria, and viruses. It is made up of specialized organs, cells, and tissues that all work together to destroy invading pathogens. When an infectious disease like the novel coronavirus is detected in the body, our body produces antibodies in response to intruding pathogens to fight and remove them. Once the body has fought off a pathogen, it retains a “memory” of it and remembers how to fight it better and faster the next time it presents itself.
When the term “herd immunity” is used, it means that most of a population have become immune to a disease or virus. This creates indirect protection and assists in stopping viral spread because there are so few people who can contract it.
Achieving herd immunity can be accomplished in two ways: by natural infection and allowing the body to develop an immune response to the invading pathogen or, by vaccinations which introduce the body to a form of the pathogen that will not cause the disease but assists the body in generating a protective response in a controlled manner.
Herd immunity for COVID-19 seems like a bad idea before a vaccine arrives. While the threshold for herd immunity varies, many scientists believe that at least 70% of a population would have to be infected with a disease. By definition, when 70% of a population is sick, protection seems absurd.
With a virus that has the potential to affect people very differently, would you risk resocialization if it could mean death?
The repercussions of considering a herd immunity without the development of a vaccine could cause a mortality rate of which we have little comprehension.
Please consider the potential ramification of coming out of the gates too quickly. Until a vaccine is developed, a herd immunity as a preventative strategy for COVID-19 is simply too dangerous. There are other ways of preventing COVID-19 from spreading — wash your hands, refrain from touching your face, and maintain social distancing.