- This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: Aug. 3, 2021
The world is beginning to reopen as COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up and large swaths of the population receive a poke. Those who’ve recovered from a bout of COVID-19 are faced with a conundrum, however, as they wonder whether a vaccine is even necessary. If you’ve already recovered from the virus, how long will your COVID antibodies last?
Antibodies received from a COVID-19 infection can last for at least 10 months post-infection, according to a recent study. The study from Labcorp, a life sciences company that specializes in diagnostics and drug development, found that nearly 87% of those who’ve had COVID-19 saw “extended antibody retention.”
The study could determine how many antibodies are needed to prevent reinfection. It additionally couldn’t pin down whether existing antibodies can protect against variants, pushing experts to advise even those who’ve recovered from COVID to get a vaccine.
In the course of its research, Labcorp examined samples from 39,086 patients. Samples were taken from individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021. The study determined that antibodies can last up to a year post-infection and found no differences between the antibody retention of men vs. women. People over 65 are likely to have reduced antibody retention, however, putting them at greater risk of reinfection.
“More research must be done to understand what type and level of antibodies suggest protection from reinfection,” Dr. Brian Caveney, Labcorp Diagnostics chief medical officer and president, said. “But the prolonged presence of certain antibodies is a promising sign as we continue thinking about safely emerging from the pandemic, as well as future vaccinations and the timing of booster shots.”
Research shows that the approved COVID vaccines offer some protection against variants. While COVID antibodies last longer than expected in recovered patients, no evidence yet exists that they will protect against any of the variants.
People also shouldn’t try to get COVID for the antibodies instead of the vaccine, particularly since some experts say the vaccination provides better protection against the virus as opposed to those who get it and then have natural immunity.
“You don’t know ahead of time how you’re going to react [if you get infected with COVID],” said Dr. Karen Duus, an immunologist at Touro University in California, said. “You also don’t know how well your immune system is going to process all of that information from the virus and generate a memory response.”
Those who’ve had both a bout of COVID-19 and their vaccine may be permanently protected from both the virus and its variants, however. A separate study suggests that cells in the bone marrow of recovered and vaccinated patients retain a memory of the virus, and they can pump out antibodies against COVID-19 for at least 12 months but perhaps up to a lifetime.
“People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies,” Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York, told the New York Times. “I expect that they will last for a long time.”