Why antibodies may not safeguard you against COVID-19 reinfection

Dr Anita Mathew, Infectious Disease Specialist at Fortis Hospital, says getting a COVID-19 vaccine may prevent you from getting seriously ill even if you do get infected

Even though there is a lot that we already know about the coronavirus, there are still some things that need to be understood. Around the world, there are many misconceptions about the virus, with the most prominent one being that once a person has been infected, there are less chances of them getting reinfected because of the presence of antibodies. But, we have read in the news about people getting infected again, and Dr Anita Mathew, Infectious Disease Specialist at Fortis Hospital, Mulund, says that much research is required to understand how long the antibodies developed after a recent COVID19 infection will protect a person, if at all – and if the antibodies are even strong enough to fight reinfection.

It has been noted that if SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) follows the footsteps of other pre-existing coronaviruses, reinfection will be common — and will not remain to be a one-off case study, she says.

“Researchers continue to state that the life and strength of antibodies needs to be studied deeply; this would require conducting large studies with a wider range of people who have recently recovered from COVID-19. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is studying the reinfection episodes among those who have been treated. While more data-driven facts are awaited, it needs to be understood we cannot take antibodies for granted; they do not make for an ‘immunity passport’ as the World Health Organization (WHO) aptly put it,” the doctor explains.

She says while it has been established there is no fact-based understanding about the ability of our antibodies in fighting reinfection, it is important to discuss the next phase of beating the virus — vaccination.

“There’s a need to take a closer look at how the vaccine deployment programme will progress, how soon each of us will get the jab, and why it is important to get vaccinated.”

* The rollout: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), India, recently released detailed guidelines about mass vaccination that will commence once a regulatory board approved vaccine gets the authorization.

* The priority: While this vaccine may be made available for emergency use, the phase 1 rollout is aimed at healthcare workers, frontline workers, people over 50 years, and those under 50 years with comorbidities.

Why get vaccinated?

Dr Mathew says getting a COVID-19 vaccine may prevent you from getting seriously ill even if you do get infected, and it will protect people around you, particularly those at high risk.

While we wait for the regulator-approved vaccines, let’s continue to safeguard ourselves and our loved ones — it may be a few months before you get the jab if you don’t fall under the aforesaid category. Stay safe, positive, and if you’ve been infected before, don’t take antibodies for granted!” the doctor concludes.

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