While the coronavirus pandemic may have felt as thought it has gone on forever, there are still a lot of unknowns about the virus that has devastated public health and the economy across the globe.
Coronavirus is still a relatively new illness in the grand scheme of things, meaning there are many things experts still aren’t can’t be sure of about it – especially when it comes to Covid-19 immunity.
For example, it is still not clear why some people are so badly affected by the virus – such as Kate Garraway’s husband Derek Draper, and why others experience only relatively mild symptoms of coronavirus. And of course, there is, as yet, still no cure or vaccination for Covid-19.
Another unknown is the potential for Covid-19 immunity.
At the moment, it’s unclear whether people who have had coronavirus are able to catch it again, or whether it may occur in a similar way to the common cold, and have the potential to repeatedly infect us.
So if you’ve had coronavirus, could you be immune? Here’s the latest news on Covid-19 immunity.
The Covid-19 immunity study: if you have had coronavirus, are you immune?
The first long-lead study on coronavirus immunity has been released today, from researchers at King’s College London.
The experts looked in to the levels of immunity of 90 Covid-19 patients and healthcare workers from Guys and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust – and it was found that immunity may only last for a few months.
Their research found that, at the peak of the patient’s battle with the virus, they mostly had a 60% level of antibodies. However, blood tests found that this level dropped significantly three months after this point. It suggests that immunity antibodies decrease in a big way after a patient’s experience with coronavirus, and as such, that they may not have as much protection against it months on from the initial infection.
Although the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, it appears to suggest that people who have had coronavirus could be vulnerable to reinfection.
Dr Katie Doores, who led the study, told the Guardian that people who experience worse symptoms of the virus may also have more antibodies.
She said, “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying.”
Professor Stuart Neil, who also co-authored the study, told the publication that coronaviruses in general don’t often actually provide much immunity following infection.
He said, “One thing we know about these coronaviruses, is that people can get reinfected fairly often.
“What that must mean is that the protective immunity people generate doesn’t last very long. It looks like Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, might be falling into that pattern as well.”
The World Health Organisation have also stated that there is currently no evidence that people who have had the virus are protected from a second infection, suggesting no Covid-19 immunity is confirmed right now.
This latest research also seems to suggest that herd immunity is not a helpful approach towards the coronavirus either, as immunity may not be long-lasting.
Could a vaccination still offer protection against the coronavirus?
Dr Katie explained that this news could have an impact on any potential coronavirus vaccine in the future.
If antibodies significantly drop in infected patients after a few months, ‘the vaccine will potentially do the same thing’, she said. It suggests that one vaccine jab may not be enough, and that if a vaccine is found for the virus, multiple jabs may be required to offer any lasting level of protection.
A Covid-19 vaccine is still in development, with research ongoing at both Imperial College London and Oxford University.
In fact, Professor Robin Shattock at Imperial College stated that if trials are successful and funding continues, a vaccine could be available everyone in the UK ‘in the first half of next year.’
Can I get an antibody test for Covid-19?
So who can have an antibody test for coronavirus – and how and where do you request one if you suspect you may have had the virus?
Antibody tests work to see if you have any coronavirus antibodies, which are your body’s response to fighting against the virus – and as such, if you have already had the virus. If you have antibodies, it means that you have had an infection of Covid-19 at some point.
Antibody tests are different to virus swab tests, which test whether you currently have the virus or not. While the virus test requires a swab in your nose and/or mouth, the antibody test is a blood test.
Currently, the government are rolling out antibody tests for NHS staff and care workers, for whom knowing whether they have had the virus will likely be helpful. But, the NHS explains that coronavirus antibody tests are not widely available yet.
However, anybody can pay for an antibody test privately.
Bupa for example are offering antibody tests for £65, and state that you will receive a result within three days.
You can also enquire about an antibody test at any local private health centre or doctors surgery, as they may have the facilities to complete one for you too.
But, websites offering home antibody tests should be treated with caution, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) stating in May that the results could not be considered reliable, and that they may be issues with patient safety. Superdrug’s own antibody finger prick tests were suspended as a result of questions of the test’s reliability.
How to get a coronavirus test
If you suspect that you might have coronavirus currently, you can get a free NHS test.
You can apply for a test online at the above link, and will be asked how you would prefer to get the test, either via a home-test kit or at a Covid-19 test centre across the UK.