When will we know more about antibodies?
May 3, 2020 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I know we don't yet know whether having antibodies to covid-19 makes us actually immune to contracting it again. When will we know this, and how will it be learned?

Sorry for yet another question about the virus on the green.
posted by k8lin to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: According to this article: What Covid-19 antibody tests say — and don’t say — about immunity (Vox, Apr. 28, 2020), there are initial steps related to developing reliable antibody tests, and then additional long-term studies called “correlate of protection studies” are needed to answer the immunity question. In addition:
"Even if people do become immune, “one thing we don’t know about still is how long that immunity would last,” [Angela Rasmussen, a Columbia University virologist] says. “And that’s unfortunately not something we can determine until we wait months or years in the future, and test again and see if those antibodies are still there.”
posted by katra at 6:27 PM on May 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'd suspect from the front-line health care workers and first responder types who did come down with the virus and recovered and stayed working in high-risk environments. But that's if they get it again then we know cases where it didn't provide immunity. Months and years to collect verifiable data on had it but didn't get it again vs had it and did get it again X months later. Unless you want to actually try infecting recovered people again just to find out...
posted by zengargoyle at 7:35 PM on May 3, 2020

We will know when people don't get sick over and over, there is really no other way.

Having said that there is currently zero solid evidence of reinfection so we can safely concur that currently infection results in at least some months of protection.
posted by Cosine at 11:21 PM on May 3, 2020

Best answer: This article: Everything we know about coronavirus immunity and antibodies — and plenty we still don’t (STAT News, Apr. 20, 2020) notes "the World Health Organization has stressed that the presumed immunity can only be proven as scientists study those who have recovered for longer periods," and "“[f]urther investigation is needed to understand the duration of protective immunity for SARS-CoV-2,” a committee from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine wrote in a report this month." It also seems important to emphasize, as also noted in the Vox article above, "[i]t’s not just whether someone is immune themselves. The next assumption is that people who have antibodies cannot spread the virus to others. Again, that hasn’t been shown yet."

This article includes some discussion of possible timelines related to vaccine development: Infect volunteers with Covid-19 in the name of research? A proposal lays bare a minefield of issues (STAT News, May 1, 2020), and notes "The idea is that these studies might help establish what are known as the “correlates of protection” for Covid-19 — mapping out which parts of the immune system need to be activated and to what degree if someone is to be protected against this infection. If challenge studies show that this level of these antibodies or a particular type of T cells needs to be activated, vaccines that can hit those targets could be deployed more rapidly." There is more discussion about the potential role of T cells (which "destroy virus-infected cells completely") in this article: Can you catch Covid-19 twice? (BBC, Apr. 22, 2020), e.g. "“Antibodies are not the only answer,” says [Aikiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale.]."
posted by katra at 11:58 PM on May 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also it is important to remember that the antibody tests are very close to useless because of their accuracy not being high enough and the presence of antibodies be rare enough that it is coin flip whether any particular result is correct.
posted by srboisvert at 4:04 AM on May 4, 2020

Covid-19 is *the* top news item globally. Reliable news about antibodies will be a Big Deal, and will be reported as front page news by reputable news sources. There is a ton of useless, unreliable, patently false information all over the Web, but, really, follow coronavirus reports on NYTimes, WaPo, Atlantic and/or NewYorker. When valid research is even close, it will be widely reported. Right now, we don't even know if getting Covid-19 will confer future immunity; I don't expect this news to be imminent.
posted by theora55 at 8:04 AM on May 4, 2020

Response by poster: Perhaps my question could have been better worded. I assume reputable scientists are working on this question, and that someone here may know who they are, what they are saying, and/or where they are saying it. The scientists quoted in the above best answers had some useful responses to my question, for example. I am curious about what experts and scientists are currently saying about the questions I posed about antibodies.
posted by k8lin at 8:12 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Microbe.tv is another good resource, if you don't mind listening to academics academic, although I never listen to their podcasts at 1x speed.

Their flagship podcast This Week in Virology has basically been all SARS-CoV2 all the time lately, for obvious reasons. Their guests are absolutely stellar, the questions are good, and immune responses get covered from the perspectives of virologists, immunologists, and ID clinicians. I get a lot from their discussions, and frankly from their methodological pedantry, even when I disagree.

IMMUNE is another podcast at Microbe.tv that may be of interest.
posted by Laetiporus at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Note that there is news today of a much more accurate antibody test on the way from Roche.
posted by nicwolff at 3:56 PM on May 4, 2020

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