The COVID-19 battle rages on, and with no end in sight. Numbers continue rising and many people are looking toward herd immunity as our last hope. Could the masses of infections actually benefit us in the long run? Some researchers are warning us not to hold our collective breath. Studies seem to indicate that a long-term immune response against COVID-19 might not exist, which means reinfection may be possible, herd immunity may not be realistic, and a vaccine might not help. Because we might not be able to count on our immune systems alone to tackle this pandemic, we might not see reductions in cases until the majority of us take mask-wearing more seriously. Let's look at the details.
In an article set for publication in BMJ Yale, researchers share their findings on long-term antibody tests from several COVID-19-positive patients. The results aren’t promising. While some of the more severely ill patients showed antibody readings throughout the 94-day testing period, many people with moderate illnesses had tests that were back at baseline within 60 days.
This means most people may only make antibodies against this virus for a very limited period of time. A study recently published in Nature offers similar results. If they’re correct, then herd immunity may be next to impossible to achieve. There’s a certain threshold we have to meet before our collective immunity is strong enough to protect the community at large. If we can’t sustain COVID-19 immunity until the virus runs its course, we risk another wave of illness merely through reinfections.
That’s not all. One study indicates SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could have strategies to hide from the immune system and persist in the body for weeks, even alongside an active antibody response. So persistent infections and relapses could also be contributing to the pandemic’s continued hold. Considering these obstacles, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to contain this mess without taking drastic measures.
We weren’t able to flatten the curve, so we’re now once again seeing record infection and death rates. Because long-term immunity is unlikely (which makes the likelihood of an effective vaccine low as well), our options are limited. We may have no choice but to work together, and that might require that we all live with the hassle and discomfort of wearing masks for a very long time.
According to a report in Infectious Disease Modeling, if just 80% of the population wore masks that were just 50% effective, we could prevent up to 45% of projected future COVID-19 deaths. Other estimates are even higher, but masks only work if enough people wear them. Remember that up to 50% of people infected with the virus show no symptoms, so it’s not safe to go mask free just because you feel well. You could be spreading the virus without even knowing it.
We’ve hit a crossroads in this pandemic, and we can’t fight it with sheer strength of will alone. Our immune systems might not be equipped to eradicate the virus without a little help, so it may be time for us to shift gears once more and get serious about masking up. If COVID-19 immunity won't pan out, we all need to get behind stopping it before transmission.
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