COVID19: United Kingdom study dispels herd immunity theory

Grant Boone
October 28, 2020

Protective antibodies in people who have had Covid-19 wane "quite rapidly", according to researchers.

"We don't want to transfuse the virus, just transfuse the antibodies", said investigator Andre Finzi, PhD, in a statement.

Helen Ward, professor of Public Health at Imperial College London, said this could indicate "ongoing transmission" of coronavirus in those settings or "repeated exposure".

However, experts believe more work is still needed before any conclusive evidence on long-term immunity and also how the novel coronavirus would react to a viable vaccine that clears clinical trials to be rolled out against COVID-19. In September, only 44 per 1,000 people were positive.

However, "it is not yet known whether the antibodies confer an effective level of immunity or, if such immunity exists, how long it lasts", specified the researchers, stressing the importance of continuing to respect the sanitary instructions.

"This study is a crucial part of the research, helping us understand how Covid-19 antibodies evolve over time", welcomed the Secretary of State for Health, James Bethell. Participants between the ages of 18 to 24 saw a 14.9% decline in antibodies, while those ages 75 and older saw a 29% decline.

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.

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Not least, it means there's a risk we could catch Covid-19 several times.

The study found that antibody levels fell by 26.5 percent overall during the three-month period. Additionally, the decline in antibodies was also seen in asymptomatic people or people who didn't report a history of COVID-19.

Antibodies play an essential role in our immune systems, and they prevent viruses from entering our cells.

The concept of "herd immunity" has always been touted as an alternative strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to lockdowns while awaiting development of a vaccine, however, there is mounting evidence that runs contrary to this proposal. Declining prevalence of antibody positivity to SARS-CoV-2: a community study of 365,000 adults MEDRXIV-2020-219725v1-Elliott.pdf.

"On the balance of evidence, I would say it would look as if immunity declines away at the same rate as antibodies decline away, and that this is an indication of waning immunity".

Scaled up to a nationwide level, it meant the proportion of the English population with antibodies dropped from 6.0 per cent to 4.4 per cent, according to the study. London has maintained the highest prevalence of antibodies across the different rounds, with 9% testing positive in round three, compared with the South West which consistently had the smallest proportion.

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