Home Cellular health People get COVID again and again…and again. Is this the new normal?

People get COVID again and again…and again. Is this the new normal?


Increasingly, experts fear, the answer is yes.

Although doctors agree that it is unlikely that people will be infected twice with the same variant, it is likely that in the long term new variants of COVID could infect people again due to evolution at the novel coronavirus lightning speed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw people getting infected more than once a year,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told NBC News.

Hybrid immunity – the dual protection offered by infection and vaccination – appears to be less protective than it was before against the return of COVID, although vaccines continue to ward off serious illness. But since many people have now had both omicron and a later subvariant such as BA.2, BA.4 or BA.5, studies show that vaccination coupled with prior exposure always prevents reinfection better than a vaccine or infection alone.

“Your previous immunity, including against infection, is worth nothing, it’s just worth less than before,” said Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the UCSF Department of Medicine, in a recent episode of the Chronicle’s Fifth podcast. and Mission.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, noted that hybrid immunity is particularly useful in preventing serious consequences.

Although “SARS-CoV-2 is not an eradicable virus by its properties”, she said, increasing global levels of immunity through vaccination, infection or both means that deaths remain weak.

Dr Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford, added that reinfections boost cellular immunity – the way the body remembers deeply how to fight off the virus, which people get either through a vaccine or by their first infection. This means that reinfections should be increasingly mild.

But it also depends on what new “unpredictable” variants bring, he noted, as the virus could evolve to become more severe.

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With disease containment measures such as improved ventilation and nasal vaccines — which can produce mucosal immunity that’s better at preventing infection than current vaccines — future COVID outbreaks could be more localized, Karan said. . This could limit their ability to spread quickly around the world, which has been one of the biggest problems in recent years in the fight against the pandemic.

“It could be that we slow the spread enough that outbreaks are smaller and occur less frequently,” he said. In other words, “not all epidemics are pandemics”.

He added that slowing the spread of COVID will also help slow the development of new variants, although they will continue to appear.

But COVID remains a relatively new disease, and scientists and experts still don’t know what effect repeated reinfections have on the body, or what that means for the long COVID.

“I think there’s a lot about it that we don’t know, but my focus is that reinfection is not nothing,” Wachter said. “Unfortunately, I think if you get re-infected, we have to assume that has potential consequences.”

Danielle Echeverria is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @DanielleEchev