Pharmaceutical companies have been scrambling to find a weapon against COVID-19 because it's just plain terrifying. Recent reports on long-term immunity to COVID-19 have been discouraging, with studies showing antibody levels usually declining within months of the infection clearing and most recently some reinfections happening. But there’s no need to give up all hope yet; the news might not be as bad as it looks on the surface.
Our immune systems are complicated, and COVID-19 is relatively new—and also complex. This means we still have a lot to learn about how the virus works and what we should expect in the long run. Studies have revealed that major components of our immune response to this infection can disappear surprisingly fast, possibly within a few months, which has led some researchers to question whether an effective vaccine is even possible.
But these findings could be shortsighted. Other research is showing that there's more to the story beyond what we test for currently, so just because a certain antibody doesn’t show up on a specific test, doesn’t mean all protection is forever lost—the truth is, we don't know yet.
For example, a look at other deadly coronaviruses shows patients who’ve recovered from SARS and MERS often see similar drops in serum antibody levels, but other tests show T-cell protection even a decade after recovery. So it's likely that the typical antibody test only looks at one piece of the immune system puzzle, and long after that one piece may have vanished, numerous other pieces might still remain. Here's why...
Some of us who’ve never even been exposed to the 2019 coronavirus may have some protection against it. According to one study, people who’ve recently had any one of a handful of coronaviruses—such as those that cause the common cold—may already have antibodies that can identify SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Given coronaviruses are responsible for around 20% of cases of the “common cold,” it’s safe to assume many people fall ill with some type of coronavirus infection about once every 2-3 years.
If this is the case, infection rates could reflect a revolving window of immunity; people who’ve had COVID-19 or another coronavirus within the previous year or two might experience a milder illness if they do contract the deadly virus, or they might not suffer any symptoms at all—and this might explain the high number of asymptomatic carriers this virus seems to have created. Could it be then that the key to herd immunity might not lie in vaccines or mass COVID-19 infections, but rather a mass willingness to catch a common cold?
We still have a lot to learn about this new infection, but we have one advantage: We can draw on what we know about its close cousins, and that might lead us to a common immunity link. The answer may even be as simple as using one virus to protect the world against another. Research is still unfolding but anything that gives us hope makes us happy. In the meantime, please mask up and take care of each other out there.
Copyright 2020, Wellness.com