Some COVID survivors have antibodies that attack the body, not the virus

Grant Boone
October 28, 2020

The idea that COVID-19 herd immunity can be achieved naturally, by a large proportion of the population contracting the virus, has been debunked by a United Kingdom study showing that coronavirus immunity is short-lived.

Led by Imperial College London, analysis of finger-prick tests carried out at home between 20 June and 28 September found that the number of people testing positive dropped by 26.5% across the study period, from nearly 6% to 4.4%.

The study, commissioned by the British Department of Health, showed that by June - after the first wave of the pandemic - 6pc of the population had developed antibodies.

Scientists at Imperial College London tracked antibody levels in the British population following the first wave of coronavirus infections, in March and April - and discovered they declined rapidly over the summer.

Scientists involved in the study said this recent evidence - along with previous research about other coronaviruses - suggest immunity may not be cut and dry, and it will be lost over time.

"Our study shows that over time there is a reduction in the proportion of people testing positive for antibodies", said Professor Paul Elliott, head of the program at Imperial.

"We don't yet know whether this will leave these people at risk of reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19, but it is essential that everyone continues to follow guidance to reduce the risk to themselves and others".

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The study backs up findings from similar surveys in Germany which found the vast majority of people didn't have Covid-19 antibodies, even in hotspots for the disease, and that antibodies might fade in those who do.

Three months later, however, the study showed that had dropped to 4.4pc - with most of the decline happening within just six weeks.

Unlike the general population, the study revealed that healthcare workers showed no change in their antibody levels - "possibly due to repeated exposure to the virus", the report said. Experts said the data from the Real-Time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-2) study showed immunity was "waning quite rapidly", which could lead to an increased risk of reinfection. But I'm thinking that 70-something percent is about where we need to be, and it's because I've looked at some of the data.

"But we don't know this yet, it takes time to work this out, by following large groups over many months, and this type of study is ongoing yet hard and slow". Given the death rate from COVID-19, some critics have described such strategies as "genocidal", in that they sacrifice lives that might be saved through quarantine and social measures like paying people to stay home. Vaccines contain immune stimulators, which she says induce durable immune responses in ways that can be different to natural infection.

Alexander Edwards, from the University of Reading, says decreasing antibody levels are not necessarily the same as losing immunity, pointing out that antibody levels naturally decrease as people recover from an infection.

Meanwhile, people aged 75 and over had the lowest prevalence and saw the largest drop, with antibody levels falling by 39 percent.

Findings stemmed from finger prick tests, researchers said.

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