What is happening to our immunity?
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we have all had to adapt to a different way of living. As we return to a life that resembles normality and society begins to rebuild after 18 months of isolation and lockdown, never has our population had such a vested interest in the scientific developments around a virus and with that, an interest in immunity.
While we are certainly nowhere near to moving on from the current and lasting impacts of Covid-19, there are still many conversations happening around the future of testing in different settings, natural and vaccine immunity and booster vaccinations.
Protection against the Covid-19 virus and how long it may last have been topics of discussion since the beginning of the pandemic. Predictions for the long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have developed and changed as knowledge about the virus and vaccines has grown, consequentially most now believe Covid-19 will most likely becoming an endemic disease much like influenza.
Tested.me CMO, Leon Van Huyssteen commented that we would need at least 70% of the population to be immune to keep the rate of infection down or “achieve herd immunity”. But this level depends on many factors, including the infectiousness of the virus, variants which can evolve that are more infectious, and how people interact with each other. As people socialise in larger groups and with fewer social distancing measures in place the chance of transmission increases and therefore the percentage of immune people within the population would need to be larger.
Recent studies suggest that there are similar levels of antibodies in those who have contracted the virus to those who have been fully inoculated. A recent study by the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that between May and August, when the Delta variant was the prominent variant in the UK, people who had previously recovered from Covid-19 had similar antibody levels to those who had received the vaccine.
People with natural immunity showed 71% less likely to contract it for a second time. Compared to Pfizer which reduces the rate of contracting Covid-19 to 73% and AstraZeneca to 62%.
While the level of antibodies present in someone who has been fully inoculated versus someone who has had Covid-19 are similar, the immune response of the body is a lot more consistent in those who have had the vaccine, additionally, it is thought that the immune response of someone who has had the virus could be linked with how severely they have Covid-19.
Antibodies are used by the immune system to neutralise pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. These can be created in the body as a result of the body fighting the infection or as a result of a vaccination. Neutralising antibodies (NAb) defend cells of the human body from pathogens like viruses. Essentially, they prevent the pathogen from docking with the human cell, thereby preventing infection and the replication of the virus. NAbs are produced by B cells within the immune system. Measuring the abundance of these antibodies is one of the key parameters for evaluating if someone is protected after a vaccination or previous Covid-19 infection.
Since the Summer of 2021, over 90% of the population in the UK has had Covid-19 antibodies either from natural infection or receiving the vaccine.
This should mean that case numbers are remaining low, however, because the immunity from both natural infection and the vaccines wanes over time, case numbers are currently spiking. In Israel, which originally led the world in terms of the percentage of their population who were vaccinated, the spike in cases was said to be due to falling protection from the jab. Reassuringly, their cases levelled off once a high enough number of their elderly population were administered a booster dose of the vaccine.
While many of us perform Lateral Flow Tests on a regular basis to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and protect those around us, large scale testing and screening for NAbs will be crucial in order to inform individuals whether they are protected. Booster vaccines are currently being rolled out based on age, however it is conceivable that in the future testing an individual’s levels of NAbs could be an important factor in indicating when someone needs a booster shot.
If you would like to find out if you have antibodies for Covid-19 you can order a test through our partner, PrevViral here.
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