Monday, July 25, 2022
If I Just Had Covid, How Long Am I Safe From Getting It Again?
If I just had Covid, how long am I in the clear?
My family all recently had Covid. My husband and I are both vaccinated and double boosted. Assuming we had BA.5, are we in the clear for at least a few weeks? We had avoided dining indoors for the better part of 18 months and now are eating in restaurants with abandon. — Besty, Manhattan, New York
I remember that feeling of abandon. After two years of abundant caution, I had Covid for the first time in March. It felt like I had been granted a license to finally live my life free of this virus, for at least a few months anyway. I ate indoors at restaurants. I sat on an airplane without flinching every time the person in the row behind me coughed. I even went to a concert. Now, of course, I’m back to scrutinizing every biological signal for signs that I yet again am coming down with Covid.
“The good news is you are unlikely to get BA.5 again in the future,” says Jessica Justman, an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “No one can guarantee total protection, but it’s quite unlikely.”
Justman explained why: If your immune system mounted a normal response to BA.5, the dominant subvariant in the US now, and cleared it from your system, then, in theory, a second exposure to the exact same virus should trigger your immune response to repel it before an infection can take hold.
Even so, details like minor variations between one strain of BA.5 and another mean it’s theoretically possible you could get the same strain again. But it’s not likely.
“I have not seen any reports that document someone getting BA.5 twice, but let’s remember this variant was first described in the US in late April, so it’s only been circulating in the US for about three months. That’s not much time,” Justman says.
A recent preprint of a study from Qatar found that people who had been infected with earlier iterations of the omicron variant (BA.1 and BA.2) had close to 80% protection against infection with a later variant (BA.4 and BA.5).
“That’s not quite the same scenario as the current question about getting BA.5 twice, but it does suggest that our immune systems are providing good (but not 100%) protection against infection from similar variants,” Justman says.
The tougher thing: It’s next to impossible to know for sure what variant you had. And it’s also tough to know when the ever-wily coronavirus has developed a new trick. — Kristen V. Brown