COVID-19 antibodies only last a few months: what does that mean for immunity and future vaccines?

The South Dakota Department of Health has had their hands full these past couple months looking...
The South Dakota Department of Health has had their hands full these past couple months looking into positive COVID-19 cases.(Dakota News Now)
Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 10:07 AM CDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Researchers around the world have been studying patients who recovered from COVID-19 to see how their immune systems fought off the virus and what antibodies are left in their system months later. All the results have shown that those that have recovered, or have even been exposed to the virus, do have antibodies in their system, but they’re only strong for a few months.

“The things that we do is focus on the antibodies because they are easy to detect. We can just take a drop of blood and test for these antibodies, but the antibodies are only one part of your immune system. The other half of your immune system is called T cells or Cellular immunity,” explained Dr. Michael Teng, a USF Professor of Molecular Medicine who specializes in virology.

These cells are the ones who actually clear the initial infection, and become memory cells in your body.

“These are cells that remember that they have seen this virus before and that they can fight it, but they go into a long-term hiding out in the bone marrow waiting for you to get infected again,” Dr. Teng continued.

So do these antibodies and memory cells prevent you from getting COVID-19 again like many originally thought?

Doctors say COVID-19 is like the flu, RSV and any other virus - it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is immune to contracting the virus in the future.

“These antibodies are just preventing you from getting a severe case, so you can get infected again, but you don’t get a full blown COVID case where you’ll have to go to the hospital,” Dr. Teng explained.

Even though antibodies do leave quicker in those infected with COVID-19, future vaccinations will still be able to prevent illness.

“The vaccines are not just going to make antibodies for you. The vaccine is also geared to make T cells for you, so now you activate both arms of the immune system response and both of those arms will prevent you from getting infected the next time,” said Dr. Teng.

Having antibodies doesn’t make you immune to COVID-19 moving forward, but you have less of a chance of getting sick again. Plus, just as important, it means you can donate your blood plasma to help those currently fighting the virus.

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