Even though COVID-19 has been rampaging for more than a year, a lot is yet unknown about this virus. Every day scientists are making new discoveries and adding to our knowledge and understanding of the virus. This, we hope, will better equip us in finding ways to make the world population safe from COVID-19.
A new study carried out by the University of Oxford
To further our knowledge about COVID-19 and understanding of re-infection, a study was planned in the UK by some of the most premium academic institutions of the country.
This study was recently conducted by the University of Oxford in conjunction with the Universities of Sheffield, Newcastle and Birmingham with help from the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium and has arrived at a startling finding.
People who have recovered from COVID-19 may still contract the disease from the Alpha and Beta COVID variants. The alpha and beta COVID-19 variants are the ones that wreaked destruction throughout the globe last year. The alpha variant was mostly responsible for the devastation in the US. The beta variant was discovered in South Africa and triggered a spike in that region of the African continent. They are all considered as ‘variants of concern’. WHO has given these variants such a label because these have a high transmissibility rate and can lead to severe infections with far-reaching consequences on health.
Here are a few glimpses from the study and what it says about COVID re-infection:
Sample pool for the study
For the study, researchers collected samples from 78 healthcare workers. These medical professionals are at the frontline of the war against COVID-19. The goal was to observe how their immunity responds to COVID-19 and what are the chances of being infected again even after recovering from COVID-19.
The people from whom samples were taken had experienced both symptomatic (66 of the volunteers) and asymptomatic COVID infection (12 of the volunteers). All of them had contracted COVID-19 very recently. The sample pool also included 8 people who had survived very severe COVID-19 infections.
The samples were drawn every month from the first to the sixth month from the time of the infection. Several types of antibody tests such as Spike-specific and Nucleocapsid-specific antibodies were run on the samples to analyse the body’s memory of the disease and understand different aspects of the person’s immune response.
A new approach was used for the study
For more accurate analysis, machine learning technology nicknamed SIMON was deployed. The involvement of SIMON was a game-changer. Why? Because now, with the help of SIMON, the researchers could get their hands on complex datasets to understand patterns in the sample analyses. This had never happened before.
This means that the researchers could tell with greater accuracy what the early response to the disease is like. With that data, they could also predict how long-term immunity will shape up. This, in turn, helped them realize what the chances of re-infection are.
The conclusions that the researchers came to
Through the avant-garde technology used, researchers came across an immune signature that develops in the first month post-infection. This signature can determine how strong COVID-19 immunity will be in the sixth month post the infection.
The samples of many of the participants showed very weak immune signatures in the first month (26% for symptomatic disease and 92% for asymptomatic disease). That translated to the failure to produce antibodies that can destroy the alpha and beta COVID variants.
The samples of some of the survivors showed no immune memory at all 6 months after the infection. The findings point to an uncomfortable truth that the immune systems of COVID-19 survivors may not be able to shield them from re-infections.
What does this mean for us?
This study has proved that surviving a COVID-19 infection need not necessarily grant a person complete immunity from the virus, especially because new variants too are on the rise. Just because you have contracted COVID-19 once does not mean that you are safe from it. Scientists had already assumed that the antibodies do not last long. This research has proved from another angle that re-infection is very much possible and the only way to save yourself is to get both doses of the COVID vaccine.
This means we should not relax the COVID-19 protocol even after recovering from COVID-19. A very real threat of COVID re-infection exists, especially from the alpha and beta COVID variants and also the newer variants.
It is very important to understand that you need a COVID vaccine (if not vaccinated already) after 3 months of recovery from a COVID infection as you cannot just rely on the immunity acquired from a Covid infection.
Continue following COVID-19 precautions such as hand sanitization and wearing of masks when you are outside. Clean your clothes, accessories, shoes and bags once you come home. Maintain physical distancing wherever possible. And book a slot for the COVID-19 vaccine, even if you had contracted COVID-19 earlier.
Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.