Bad news: You might have to take the Covid vaccine twice a year

The entire basis of most of the western approach to Coronavirus has been to use lockdowns and protective measures to pin the disease in place until such time as an effective vaccine can be developed that will render the virus harmless. Unfortunately, it is increasingly looking as if Coronavirus will have the last laugh.

From the Telegraph:

Immunity to coronavirus may only last a matter of a months, according to new research that could hinder the rollout of a successful vaccine.

A study by Imperial College London, which involved 365,000 people, showed that antibodies in the population fell by more than a quarter in just three months.

Scientists said the findings suggested a “rapid” decline in immunity – which could mean that even if a successful vaccine is found, it might have to be administered twice a year.

The mass research indicated that, by last month, fewer than one in 20 people had developed antibodies to Covid. Commissioned by the Department of Health, it is part of the largest piece of a research programme informing Government policies.

Its findings showed that by June, after the first wave of the pandemic, just six per cent of the population had developed antibodies, which suggest some level of protection against the virus. Three months later, that figure had dropped to 4.4 per cent, with most of the decline happening within just six weeks.

Immunity only lasting a few months? Believe it or not, that’s not hugely unusual – for example, the common cold provokes an immune response that only lasts a few months. And vaccines once or twice a year? The flu vaccine, as you’ll recall, needs to be changed annually and taken more than once, because the virus adapts, and your natural immunity wanes.

But then neither the cold, or the flu, have managed to cause quite this much disruption. Covid is a much more serious illness, and in many people, much more debilitating.

The problem with this study, incidentally, is that it doesn’t just shed doubt upon the “lockdown until we have a virus” strategy. It also drives a coach and horses through the idea that “herd immunity” is a viable alternative.

After all, what a vaccine does is to simulate having a covid infection: Your body is provoked into thinking that it has Covid, produces antibodies, and the idea then is that if you actually get exposed to the virus, your bloodstream has the weapons to kill it.

But if these antibodies are dying away in the case of a vaccine, then it’s a racing certainty that they are doing the same in the case of actual covid infections. We’ve not had many cases of covid re-infection, just yet, but we have had a few, and the virus has only really been around for a year. If this study is right, and those who have already have it are slowly losing their antibodies, a lot of them could be getting it again over the next twelve months.

Also, the repeat vaccine idea isn’t especially new: Children are regularly administered vaccine boosters. The vaccine for Malaria – a much more serious illness than Coronavirus – only lasts for a single year, and then you have to get it again. The flu vaccine, as mentioned above, is an annual dose.

If the Covid vaccine ends up being a once or twice a year thing, then, that would not be especially surprising. But it will cause severe problems. For one thing, the logistics of vaccinating everybody twice a year are much more challenging than the logistics of vaccinating everybody once. For another, popular resistance to the idea of a vaccine at all is already high, and there will be those whose anti-vaccine convictions will be strengthened by the idea that it could become a biannual part of their lives. Finally, there’s the likely impossibility of producing and distributing fourteen billion doses of a covid vaccine annually. Nothing like that has ever been attempted before.

In any event, if this study is accurate (and that remains an “if”), then Governments already starved of good options are going to find themselves facing an even bigger long term problem.

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