Prepare Yourself for "Coronavirus Season" Every Year, Doctor Warns
The virus is not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, according to the former FDA commissioner.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the U.S. for the past four months. More than four million people have been infected stateside, and the numbers keep rising. Even as experts race to finalize a coronavirus vaccine for public use, it's become clear that we're still a long way off from stopping this pandemic. Anthony Fauci, MD, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), recently said, "I don't really see us eradicating it," and now, in a new interview, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, has an even more dire assessment: He says we should be prepared for "coronavirus season" every year.
Gottlieb appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box on July 22 to discuss antibodies, coronavirus vaccines, and herd immunity. And according to the former FDA chief, this coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, "seems more like a seasonal coronavirus, in that you get an antibody response that's robust but it's not as enduring."
For example, a 2016 study published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal found that neutralizing antibodies persisted in 86 percent of MERS patients nearly three years after the 2012 outbreak in Jordan. In comparison, COVID-19 studies have shown that antibodies that work against the novel coronavirus disappear quite rapidly. The most recent was a study from King's College London, which was pre-published on July 11. It found that coronavirus antibodies declined just three weeks after the start of the infection. According to Gottlieb, this means any immunity to COVID will likely only be seasonal.
"People who might have had coronavirus in March or April, by this fall or winter, they may not have a lot of circulating neutralizing antibodies," he explains. "If you get reinfected, [you're] probably not going to get as severely ill as you might have the first time, but you don't get sterile immunity. You can get infected again and then you can pass on the infection."
However, Michael Mina, MD, an immunologist at Harvard University, told The New York Times recently that a drop in antibodies is actually a normal occurrence. "This is a famous dynamic of how antibodies develop after infection: They go very, very high, and then they come back down," Mina said.
The Times cites another recent study out of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore that was published in the journal Nature on July 15. These researchers looked at three different groups of people: those in the first group had been exposed to the novel coronavirus, those in the second had been infected with SARS in 2003, and those in the third hadn't been exposed to either. However, people in all three groups had coronavirus-specific T cells, which can also help your body fight against the virus.
So, what does that indicate? "A level of pre-existing immunity against SARS-CoV2 appears to exist in the general population," Antonio Bertoletti, MD, a virologist at Duke-NUS Medical School, told The Times.
However, if Gottlieb's assessment is right, he says it's possible that "you're going to need a seasonal vaccine" for COVID. This will most likely "become like the flu vaccine where you'll get it in advance of every coronavirus season," Gottlieb suggests. And for more on the COVID pandemic, check out There's Now Proof These Two Things You Do Constantly Spread COVID.