Even though the world has been in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year, there are still many questions about immunity to the virus after recovery. Scientists and medical experts have been debating this from the start, and though the exact length of immunity is still uncertain, they all agree that people are likely to receive some level of immunity. While studies have helped them come to this conclusion, they have also been tracking the number of reinfections to help this assertion. If there was little to no immunity, they would expect far higher numbers of reinfections to occur. However, more studies tracking a significant number of people and monitor exposure would have to occur to gain more confidence and understanding of immunity from this angle.
Experts have also been tracking blood samples from those who recovered from the virus, monitoring the four main components—antibodies, memory B cells, helper T cells, and killer T cells—that build an immune response. Medical experts at the La Jolla Institute of Technology, where the study occurred, found that all four of these components persisted for at least eight months after recovery. This exciting discovery shows that the body remembers the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and will likely work quickly to build the proper protection should it be exposed again. With what they have seen, experts who conducted the study believe that an immunity could last for months, with the potential for years even possible.
Eight months may seem like a specific number, but one must remember that scientists are conducting this research alongside the continuous developments of the pandemic, hence the projections rather than definitive numbers. Because the world is still in the midst of the health crisis, experts are trying to make informed predictions based on trends they are seeing and previous research. For example, an earlier study into immunity projected that people who had recovered from the virus could have antibodies for three months. New research has since expanded the length of this antibody response, but this previous study identified a key discovery: even people with mild symptoms had developed antibodies.
With all the discussion of antibodies and immune response, people are still wondering if the presence of antibodies equals immunity. Right now, antibodies should only be a sign that a person was exposed in the past; nothing more should be definitely assumed from that. Experts are hard at work to determine if these antibodies prevent reinfection entirely, or if they simply lower the severity of symptoms should reinfection occur. Until more research is done, anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 and who may have positive antibodies must still follow public health measures, such as wearing a mask and social distancing. Experts believe that antibodies will help provide some form of protection, but until a definitive conclusion is reached, everyone must air on the side of safety.
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is the most important step in getting the pandemic under control. Antibody research teaches medical experts how the body interacts with the virus, and therefore how the vaccine should then teach the body to respond for optimal protection. Together, all of these measures will help the public achieve herd immunity in a safe and effective way, slowing the spread and limiting the chance of a nonimmune person contracting the virus, ultimately bringing an end to the pandemic.
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