If you’re one of the fortunate ones who have had COVID-19 and fully recovered, it’s comforting to think that the worst is over and done with and you’re now immune—free to carry on your life without having to worry about getting sick from the virus. The thing is, that might not be the reality, and you might be able to catch COVID-19 again, reports Business Insider.
That’s according to a small, new study published yesterday in the journal Nature Medicine. In the study, the researchers found that people infected with COVID-19 quickly developed antibodies but that these antibodies declined as time went on. The study found that this was true for people who experienced COVID-19 symptoms and for people who were asymptomatic.
By just eight weeks after recovering from COVID-19, 40% of asymptomatic people saw their antibodies drop to undetectable levels. And for 13% of people who showed symptoms of COVID-19, the antibodies in their blood dropped to undetectable levels within eight weeks as well.
These findings are a cause for concern because they suggest that, for at least some people, the body may lose the ability to fight off reinfections by the virus that causes COVID-19. This would mean, essentially, just because you’ve had COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t catch it again. And if that’s the case, the whole concept of “immunity passports” goes out the window.
But even more worrying is the rapid decline of antibodies in the blood doesn’t bode well for finding a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. As Dr. Anthony Fauci noted in a live stream in early June, “If the body is capable of making an immune response to clear the virus in natural infection, that’s a pretty good proof of concept to say that you’re going to make an immune response in response to a vaccine.”
Of course, this also means the opposite is true. That if the body is incapable of making a lasting immune response that clears the virus, it’s possible a vaccine won’t be able to do that either. And if that’s the case, it’s possible a new COVID-19 vaccine may be needed every year, much how like we need a new flu vaccine every year.
The good news is that none of this is certain yet. The study that showed rapidly declining antibodies used a very small sample size: It used a group of just 37 symptomatic people and 37 asymptomatic people. It’s also important to note that antibody tests can be inaccurate, and some research has given hope that even low levels of antibodies might be able to stop reinfection. But the simple truth is, scientists just don’t know for sure yet. The disease and virus are still too new. However, even if a vaccine can be found, many experts now think it won’t be until 2021 at the earliest.