United Kingdom study reveals that antibodies have declined in the population

Grant Boone
October 27, 2020

The only way that the pandemic will end is when a sufficient percentage of people become immune to COVID-19, most by being vaccinated plus a lesser number of people who have been infected with the virus and recovered.

"It remains unclear what level of immunity antibodies provide, or for how long this immunity lasts", said Paul Elliott, of Imperial's School of Public Health.

The latest findings, part of the government-backed Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) studies, suggest a decline in the level of immunity in the population in the months following the first wave of the pandemic, leading to the second wave now underway across the UK.

Professor Graham Cooke from Imperial, who also worked on the study, said: "The big picture is after the first wave, the great majority of the country didn't have evidence of protective immunity".

While the number of people testing positive for antibodies declined gradually in the population regardless of employment type - the number of health care workers testing positive for antibodies didn't change over time.

Prof Wendy Barclay, the head of infectious diseases at Imperial, said the findings suggested Covid-19 was likely to work in the same way as the common cold, meaning it could reinfect regularly.

Latest data from the REACT2 study, published Tuesday, showed that in a random sample of more than 365,000 adults in the United Kingdom from June to September, of the more than 17,500 who tested positive, the presence of antibodies fell in subsequent tests for all age groups.

Experts said the results show a vaccine is needed to protect large numbers of the population, and so-called "herd immunity" is still a "long, long way" off.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed over the months, the question of how long the antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are present in the body has had varying answers. Ireland Records immune response lasting for four months from the time of infection.

The decline was largest in people who didn't report a history of COVID-19, dropping by nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) between rounds one and three, compared to a decrease of 22.3 per cent in people who had an infection confirmed by lab testing.

The goal now, Burgers commented, is to use that same test to measure antibody responses and see how long they last in patients who have been previously infected.

Scientists at Imperial College London tracked antibody levels in the British population following the first wave of COVID-19 infections in March and April.

While the loss of antibodies was slower in 18-24 year olds compared to those aged 75 and over.

The rapid waning of antibodies did not necessarily have implications for the efficacy of vaccine candidates now in clinical trials, Imperial's Barclay said.

The team said that, even if a person tests positive for antibodies, they still need to follow national guidelines including social distancing and wearing face coverings.

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