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Big Question on Immunity Remains 'an Unknown'

Study out of Shanghai suggests not everyone develops antibodies, but more data is needed
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2020 1:11 PM CDT

(Newser) – Much attention is paid to the growing death toll from the coronavirus, which was at more than 116,000 worldwide as of Monday afternoon. Less attention is paid to a different stat—the more than 440,000 people who have recovered. And related to that is a huge question: Are those recovered patients now immune from the disease? The answer will go a long way toward determining public policy until a vaccine arrives, but the latest research is anything but definitive. Coverage:

  • New study: Preliminary research on Shanghai patients show that some had no detectable antibodies after infection, the World Health Organization said Monday, reports CNBC. On the other hand, some had a high anitbody response, says the agency's lead COVID-19 scientist, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove. The upshot: "With regards to recovery and then re-infection, I believe we do not have the answers to that," says another top WHO scientist, Dr. Mike Ryan. "That is an unknown."
  • Educated guess: Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch warns in a New York Times op-ed that big decisions will have to be made on just "glimmers of data." He assesses research on other coronaviruses and offers this "educated guess" on COVID-19: Most infected people "will have an immune response, some better than others. That response, it may be assumed, will offer some protection over the medium term—at least a year—and then its effectiveness might decline." Lipsitch also warns that his very op-ed might be outdated soon.

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