Depressing news emerged on Tuesday that coronavirus antibodies decline rapidly after recovery, disappearing after only 3 months of immunity.
Antibodies are protein molecules that our immune system produces to fight antigens, and in this case, the antigens are a direct result of a coronavirus infection in the body.
Those who proclaimed the world would survive thanks to “herd immunity” have been left rather disappointed, as this discovery may leave us without the built in immunity from COVID-19, seemingly pointing to a rather dreary similarity to the common cold.
Fortunately, most reports left out one important thing: T-cells.
T-cells are white blood cells that destroy infected cells, while sending a message to immune cells to contribute to the body’s fight against infection.
Some T-cells can become memory cells, holding the code to defeating the coronavirus antigens, triggering an immune response that is already known to the body; so, even without antibodies present in the bloodstream, upon reinfection the immune system will have the instructions to triumph over Coronavirus encoded into its memory.
This logic is also behind finding a vaccine, so if these three month antibodies were the be-all-end-all to the light at the end of this long tunnel, any hope of a successful vaccine would be dashed.
And yet, here we are, with 165 independent bodies around the world working at lightspeed towards finding the vaccine.
Like most students, I have struggled with accepting there will even be a light at the end of the tunnel, but this needn’t be the case – epidemics have naturally tailed off.
Even the deadly Spanish Influenza came to an end eventually, and people returned to some semblance of normality.
If we compare our position right now to where we were in March 2020, we have taken many steps back in controlling the virus across the UK, but we have truly come leaps and bounds forward as well.
We now have enormous testing capabilities that give you a test result within 48 hours, when in March we could really only test the hospitalised.
Those who are hospitalised will now receive treatment that doctors know to be effective in coronavirus recovery; the NHS are no longer fighting against an unknown enemy.
This should not only raise our hopes in the ground-breaking scientific advancement, but it should uplift our expectations in the humble human ability to overcome.
Dare I imagine a future where universities can provide students with a rapid test to allow in person learning, or what about clubs, concerts and events that can open their doors to those with an ID for their age and an ID for their negativity?
These proposals would seem so odd to us a year ago, and yet this is the hope we are grasping onto. Maybe I am being a little too optimistic, but we now know the virus, we know how it spreads, we know how it attacks the body.
Life with the coronavirus is still uncertain, but we have turned a corner in our scientific understanding of a virus that has changed the world as we knew it, so let’s ride that high while we can, all the way back to normality.