Since the start of the pandemic, scientists have vigorously worked around the clock, conducting research experiments and clinical trials to fully understand how this relatively new virus affects us. How long do our antibodies last? Should I get vaccinated? Can natural immunity protect me forever? The UTHealth School of Public Health, located in Houston Texas, conducted a research experiment on 57,000 volunteers (over the age of 20) across the state to grasp a better understanding of natural immunity and the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in our system.
In October 2020, these volunteers enrolled in the Texas CARES survey to provide resources to understand antibody quantities over time. Researchers used blood-drawn samples from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 17, 2021, to analyze the data around levels of antibody presence. Some of the variables identified from the data analysis are age, body mass index (BMI), use of smoking and vaping products, and the severity of the previous infection. Suppose you are exposed to Covid-19 for a greater period of time. In that case, you are much more likely to have a more severe infection which would drastically increase the number of antibodies you will eventually produce. The opposite goes for someone who is very briefly exposed to the virus. However, even with these indicated variables, all volunteers showed a similar rate of decreasing antibodies over time. “Our research shows that the level of antibodies in those previously infected increases for the first 100 days post-infection and then gradually declines over the next 500 days and beyond” (Michael Swartz, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair of biostatistics at UTHealth School of Public Health). The findings were published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Concluding this experiment, it is safe to say that you are most naturally protected from Covid-19 at 100 days after infection. After that period of time, your protection will gradually wane, slowly making you more vulnerable to severe symptoms again (similar to the covid-19 vaccine). However, the data suggests that you will have some quantity of antibodies for well over a year after infection. As we learned in class this year, antibodies are a naturally formed secondary response from your immune system. The B-plasma cells secrete antibodies and can send them off to surround and immobilize the pathogen, allowing a macrophage to come and digest/destroy the cell. The B-memory cells are there to help prevent reinfection later down the road. This immune response is a way for our body to naturally protect us while storing information from previous infections for long periods of time. This is what keeps us safe!
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