This Is How Long You're Immune to COVID After Recovering, New Study Says
Researchers have found you may get more out of your natural antibodies than originally thought.
Research has shown that those who survive a brush with COVID-19 can suffer long-lasting effects such as brain fog, fatigue, and shortness of breath. But it turns out, there may be a sole potential benefit to having contracted the virus. According to a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, you may be immune to COVID for as long as a year after recovering from the disease.
The new timeframe comes from an analysis of long-term data collected from the health records of more than 15,000 people in northern Italy, which was one of the areas hit hardest at the beginning of the pandemic. Results showed that reinfection among those who had recovered from COVID-19 was very rare: Just five people out of 1,579 who had originally tested positive for the virus—or .31 percent—contracted it a second time, with a long average lapse time of 230 days between infections. By comparison, 3.9 percent of patients who did not initially test positive for the virus at the beginning of the study contracted COVID-19 over the course of the year.
"Natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to confer a protective effect for at least a year, which is similar to the protection reported in recent vaccine studies," the team concluded.
The results are certainly good news. But an editorial from a doctor accompanying the study emphasized that natural immunity is still no substitute for vaccination. In it, Mitchell Katz, MD, of NYC Health and Hospitals, stressed the importance for those who have survived the virus to still get vaccinated themselves. Why? Well, for one, "we do not know if natural immunity to the wild-type virus is equally protective for SARS-CoV-2 variants (viruses with genetic variations)," Katz wrote, referring to the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the U.K., for example.
The researchers themselves also stressed the importance of vaccinations in curbing the spread of COVID, writing that their study "ended before SARS-CoV-2 variants began to spread, and it is unknown how well natural immunity to the wild-type [original] virus will protect against variants."
Katz also pointed out that while natural antibodies were effective, vaccines provided a much more likely path to finally ending the pandemic. "Achieving herd immunity through natural infection is a long and painful process and, historically, the only human disease to be eradicated, smallpox, was eradicated through vaccination, not natural infection," he wrote.