Your Immunity to Coronavirus Might Only Last This Long, Study Says

A recent study says those antibody test results might not be the ticket to immunity that you were hoping for.

Many people still believe that surviving a bout of COVID-19 comes with one silver lining: Future immunity from the disease. Some people who were never even sick seek antibody test results in hopes they may have already been infected and were asymptomatic, but still have the antibodies that could make them less likely to get infected again. But how long would that immunity to coronavirus actually last? According to a recently released study, the antibodies in your system may not actually buy you very much time, lasting for only two to three months before levels fall sharply.

The study, conducted by researchers out of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the medical journal Nature Medicine, tested 37 symptomatic and 37 asymptomatic patients. The findings revealed that in both sets of cases, 90 percent of patients saw a sharp drop in antibodies in 8 to 12 weeks after being infected.

A female doctor holds up a test vile of blood

"Antibodies to other coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS, are thought to last about a year," The New York Times reports. "Scientists had hoped that antibodies to the new virus might last at least as long." But this recent study suggests otherwise.

Researchers were quick to point out that such news doesn't necessarily mean that these patients can be infected again. "The neutralizing antibody is what matters, and that tells a very different story," Florian Krammer, MD, a virologist who's done research on COVID-19 and antibodies, told The Times. She referenced the different types of antibodies that remain present in the system, including memory B cells, which can, even in short supply, help you ramp up the future production of antibodies. "If they find the virus again, they remember and start to make antibodies very, very quickly," Krammer said.

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Now, once again, the focus is turning to a COVID-19 vaccine. "These reports highlight the need to develop strong vaccines, because immunity that develops naturally during infection is suboptimal and short-lived in most people," Akiko Iwasaki, MD, a viral immunologist at Yale University, told The Times. "We cannot rely on natural infection to achieve herd immunity." And for more information on what can help your body fight off COVID-19, check out This One Common Ailment Could Boost Your Coronavirus Immunity.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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