People who've contracted COVID-19 aren't necessarily immune, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, on Thursday night, adding that any protection by contracting the illness—or getting a future vaccine—is likely temporary.
"At this point in time, we do not know the durability of protection," said Fauci during an online Q&A hosted by the Washington National Cathedral. "We know that if you get infected and recover, it is very likely for a finite period of time that you are protected. It's almost certain that that's the case." Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
"We Have a Lot to Learn"
Partly, that's because a few people have managed to contract COVID-19 twice. "We've already seen specific instances of reinfection, people who were infected, recovered and got infected with another SARS-COV-2 [the name of the virus that causes COVID-19]," said Fauci. "We don't know how extensive that's going to be. So even though antibodies are present in a lot of the people who recover, we don't know what level is related to protection. We don't know how long that lasts."
But Fauci said the chances of reinfection, as of now, seem low. "Now, we don't want to scare people to think, 'Oh my God, I've got infected. And now I'm going to get infected again,'" said Fauci. "Unlikely. But what we have a lot to learn is what the durability of protection is."
Fauci is encouraged by reports that Pfizer's vaccine has been found to be 90% effective in late-stage trials, but added that it is not an end-all, be-all. It's unlikely that COVID-19 will act like chickenpox or measles—common childhood diseases you contracted or were vaccinated against once, and never had to worry about again.
"It's Very Unlikely It's Going to Be Like Measles"
"The one thing I can say, as an infectious disease person, is that it is very unlikely it's going to be like measles," said Fauci. "I got infected by measles as a child … and the fact is you're protected essentially for life. It likely is not of that magnitude, because of what we know about the common cold coronaviruses that keep reinfecting people. We feel it's likely measured in several months to a year or more, but it doesn't look like it's going to be 20, 30 years."
"Which means that people need to get vaccinated, even if they've been infected before, which we think is going to happen. And it is conceivable, though not absolute, that you may need to boost people every once in a while after the vaccine, which is fine."
Fauci said he expects that a coronavirus vaccine will begin rolling out to vulnerable populations next month, and that even someone with no risk factors will be able to get vaccinated by the end of the first quarter or in the second quarter of 2021.
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.