This One Hope Doctors Had About Coronavirus Is Slipping Away, Expert Warns
As the coronavirus surges, some experts are less optimistic about the future of the pandemic.
Coronavirus cases surpassed 11 million worldwide this month, fueling experts' already significant concern about the future of its trajectory. For many, immunity is the one hope for ending the pandemic, be it from a vaccine or antibodies developed after recovering from COVID-19. However, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, is warning people that it may not be a "safe bet" to count on coronavirus immunity to be the likely solution.
"Immunity to this thing looks rather fragile—it looks like some people might have antibodies for a few months and then it might wane, so it's not looking like a safe bet," Altmann said during CNBC's Squawk Box Europe show on July 6. "It's a very deceitful virus and immunity to it is very confusing and rather short lived."
Altmann said that herd immunity—where exposure to the virus is encouraged to help build immunity throughout the population—as a way to eradicate the coronavirus is "probably never going to work," stating that in towns and cities that have had COVID-19 infections, only about 10 to 15 percent of the population was likely to be immune.
Altmann's warning is not a new one. As a new virus, experts have long admitted to not knowing much about how coronavirus immunity works. In fact, a study published in Nature Medicine on June 18 and executed by researchers out of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 90 percent of patients—both symptomatic and asymptomatic—saw a drop in antibodies eight to 12 weeks after being infected.
So while antibodies to other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, are thought to last about a year, The New York Times reports, this study suggests that COVID-19 antibodies may only last two to three months. Even White House health advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, expressed concern about the "durability" of a coronavirus vaccine in early June, saying that if COVID-19 reacts like other coronaviruses, "it likely isn't going to be a long duration of immunity." And while some experts predict a vaccine by the end of the year or at least by 2021, Altmann says it's hard to predict anything about a coronavirus vaccine right now.
"The devil is in the detail, vaccines aren't that easy," Altmann told CNBC. "There's more than 100 in trial at the moment and many things can go wrong along the way. I place no bets at the moment myself."
Altmann said that he was expecting a second wave of COVID-19 soon, and despite more health officials being better prepared for the virus now, the resurgence of coronavirus infections is still "very, very scary."
"Anybody who thinks that it has got more mild or gone away or that somehow the problem's going to solve itself is kidding themselves," he said. "It's still a very lethal virus, it still infects people very, very readily. And I think humanity isn't used to dealing with those realities." And for more about the trajectory of the coronavirus, check out The CDC Is "Highly Concerned" About COVID-19 in the Fall. Here's Why.