COVID reinfection likely to become more common without variant-specific vaccines, experts say

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
More COVID reinfections likely as virus keeps mutating
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As the virus keeps mutating and vaccines and boosters offer limited antibody peaks, it's likely that COVID reinfections will become more common.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Infectious disease specialists say COVID reinfection is likely to become more and more common as the virus keeps mutating and our vaccines play catch-up.

"The variants seem to be very good at evading the immunity of prior infection," said Dr. Max Brito, UIC Health.

Chicago Bulls All Star Zach LaVine recently missed a playoff game due to his third bout with COVID. Like in his case, reinfection is becoming more common even among people who became infected during the omicron surge.

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Experts say while prior infection does give you an initial boost of antibodies, with omicron sub-variants it doesn't last long.

"You have the potential for new waves with a lot infection and waning protection from the vaccine," Brito said.

A Rush University Medical Center study followed the antibody levels of 1,100 vaccinated employees, and found that the levels dramatically drop in six months after two doses.

"In six months we've lost 90% of those antibodies and those antibodies are measured against the viral type and if you're talking about antibodies against omicron it's lower than that," said Dr. James Moy, Rush University Medical Center.

Moy said levels go way back up with a booster, but there's not enough data on how long the immunity lasts, especially against sub-variants.

"Unfortunately, it seems like COVID-19 has evolved to the point where it will keep infecting us with new variants and new mutations," he said.

The immunity provided by vaccines and infection wanes, but both have provided enough protection to keep people out of hospitals for now. That may change in fall and winter.

Doctors say the only way to stop people from getting infected or reinfected is a new variant-specific vaccine. Drug companies are currently conducting trials with the hope of having such a vaccine available in the next few months.