Can You Get Coronavirus More Than Once? WHO Says Yes
It's too early to believe one can develop immunity from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a disconcerting warning that's changing the way experts previously thought about COVID-19 and immunity. Amid reports of individuals contracting the coronavirus a second time, WHO published a scientific brief late last week warning that "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 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans," the WHO report states. There are studies that show that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies to the virus, but some of these people have very low levels of neutralizing antibodies in their blood, which WHO believes suggests "that cellular immunity may also be critical for recovery."
This is a big change from what Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in late March on The Daily Show. "I feel really confident that if this virus acts like every other virus that we know, once you get infected, get better, clear the virus, then you'll have immunity that will protect you against reinfection," Fauci said. "So it's never 100 percent, but I'd be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection."
In their new report, WHO also warned that an "immunity passport" already used by some countries is not a reliable method to stem the outbreak of the virus.
At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an "immunity passport" or "risk-free certificate." People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission.
The Chinese government, for example, has reopened parts of the country by insisting that all citizens download an app to their smartphone that is managed by national resources and indicates an individual's overall health with respect to the coronavirus. If one has a clean bill of health, the citizen is granted a COVID-19 passport that enables more freedoms than those who have not been cleared.
There have been discussions about a similar national tracing or database program in the United States. And while that may help in regards to safety, it has also raised questions about personal privacy and concerns over "big brother" governmental oversight.
Either way, it appears that tracking whether or not one has had the coronavirus may be a moot point, as we still do not yet know if people can truly be immune to COVID-19. And for more answers to your burning COVID-19 questions, check out 13 Common Coronavirus Questions—Answered by Experts.