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Health/Science/Tech

Protection From COVID-19 Vaccines And Antibodies: How Much And For How Long?

A pharmacist, wearing gloves and a mask, holds a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Mark Thiessen
/
Associated Press
Emily Schubert, the employee health nurse at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine shot on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Front-line health care workers are among the first in Alaska to receive the vaccine.

It will be months before the general public can get vaccinated against COVID-19. But those who’ve recovered from it are believed to have antibodies offering protection from the virus.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked about how long antibody and vaccine protection lasts with Dr. Robert Gottlieb of Baylor, Scott and White Hospital System. He led clinical trials in North Texas on the COVID treatment, Remdesivir, and is researching a COVID-19 vaccine for Johnson and Johnson.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

How Antibodies Work:

After you're exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 your body expands a range of immune cells. Some are directed at the cells infected with the virus, and some are designed to produce antibodies against the virus.

Two Types Of Immunity

  • Cellular immunity, where we have cells that attack the cells that are infected.
  • Antibody or humoral immunity, where cells produce antibodies designed to mop up the virus, designed to bind to the virus. What we call "neutralize it" by hitting the virus at spots that inactivate it and allow the other cells to come up and basically feed on the virus and destroy the virus and attack it.

It's much easier to detect humoral immunity, the antibodies, than it is to detect the cellular immunity. You could be immune without having the antibodies because of the cellular responses, but it's easier to detect if you're immune because of the antibody responses.

How Much Immunity You Get In Either Case

An educated guess is the duration of this pandemic. There might be individual exceptions to that rule, but for the most part, most people will be immune for the duration. We're not exactly sure.

We know, for example, if you have a childhood vaccine for measles, you need a booster at age 16 because the immunity wanes over time. Will the immunity wane over two years, five years, 10 years? We're not quite sure, but if we can get enough people vaccinated for this pandemic, I'm quite hopeful we'll be able to contain it.

Can You Get COVID 19 Again, After You've Had It?

While there's going to be individuals that might, I think, by and large, it would be less severe. And for the vast majority of people, I'm quite hopeful that any subsequent bouts are mild to insignificant.

Now it doesn't mean you might not be able to at some point, get it and pass it on to somebody else, even if you're not experiencing symptoms, but it's a little bit early on.

I'm quite hopeful for the vast majority of people. You've had it once for this pandemic. I think you're mostly protected with a few exceptions, not everyone's been available.

Should Someone With Immunity Stop Social Distancing And Resumed Life As They Once Did?

I think we still need the masks because we need to protect the people that haven't had the opportunity to have the vaccine yet, because we haven't vaccinated the community. We need to have an adequate, robust vaccination campaign where everyone that chooses to have a vaccine has an opportunity to get it safely.

How Much Protection Does The First Shot Of The Pfizer Vaccine Provide?

If you have the vaccine today, you're not protected until your body mounts an immune response, which can take on the order of seven to 14 days, and then you boost it with a second shot to make it more enduring and lasting. You certainly don't want to take a mask down the day after you get a vaccine because it's too early to be protected.

RESOURCES:

CDC: Updates to COVID-19 Immunity and Epidemiology to Inform Vaccine Policy

CDC: Coronavirus

CDC: Vaccines and Immunizations

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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