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Twice Bitten?

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Published in the Humboldt Independent on October 20, 2020 

What Confirmed Reinfection Means for the Future of COVID-19

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been hearing rumors that COVID-19 can infect patients more than once, and this week those rumors have solidified in the United States after similar instances have been reported in Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Ecuador. A 25-year-old Nevada man was confirmed to have been reinfected with coronavirus after being infected and fully recovering earlier in the year. After analyzing both strains of COVID-19 the man was infected with, they were found to be different, but not explicitly different enough in genetic composition to bypass a developed immune response, meaning that it is indeed possible to catch this thing multiple times, at least for some of us. Furthermore, a Dutch woman was reported just yesterday to have been the first confirmed death as a result of reinfection.

Reopening and re-establishing civilization has to be thrown out if we are unable to develop some sort of persistent immunity against COVID-19.

Typically, that’s not how this is supposed to work. Most viruses we encounter get documented and neutralized by the immune system during an initial infection, and any subsequent appearances of a known virus are dealt with summarily before the trouble starts. The idea of a dangerous and potentially fatal disease that we can’t develop persistent immunity against is at least mildly terrifying, particularly when considering reports that the reinfected subject in question, was in fact more severely affected the second time around. Even a hopeful timeframe for reopening and re-establishing civilization has to be thrown out if we are unable to develop some sort of persistent immunity against COVID-19.

Fortunately, current data does not indicate that COVID-19’s potential for reinfection will mitigate the efficacy of an eventual vaccine. HPV, a charming and well-known disease capable of reinfecting the same subject over and over, is mitigated entirely 95% of the time by vaccination, which infers a much stronger and resilient defense against the disease than what the body might ordinarily muster. Any eventual COVID vaccine developed is expected to offer a similarly robust defense.

Which brings us to the second stumbling block encountered this week, as multiple vaccine trials have been paused due to various illnesses and complications. This happened already in September, and despite the apparent urgency of such developments, as of yet, there is no indicator that any of these issues is in fact related to COVID-19. It is suspected that these complications are due to some other form of illness, given the large number of volunteers involved. There’s simply too much going on to let ourselves get too worried about news on that front, and current estimates are still pointing towards a possible vaccine being available by Spring of 2021.

It is well worth reminding everyone to take breaks from the news, for your mental and physical health.

An October 4th petition which advocates allowing COVID-19 to spread among the young and healthy while protecting the at-risk and elderly has been embraced by the White House, a move which has sparked some controversy in part due to the anonymity of many of those supporting this so-called “Great Barrington Declaration.” Among those whose names have been made public are several scientists proposing that herd immunity may be achievable once somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the populations have been infected, a number which we are allegedly close to reaching. This is, however, a stance disagreed with by the majority of epidemiologists, whose thinking holds that infection rates will likely rise in the coming winter months, and the notion that we are nearing the end of the pandemic is a risky one at best.

It can be difficult to navigate the flood of dramatic and often contradictory information that circulates through our mainstream and social media. It is well worth reminding everyone to take breaks from the news, for your mental and physical health. At the risk of brushing up against political issues, there is a time for radical and unconventional thinking and there are times to play it safe, and deciding how to fight a pandemic should be kept free of partisan theatricality. We can only hope that whatever unfolds in the months to come, that cooler heads will prevail and any major decisions as to how to address COVID-19 be made with our nation’s long-term health and well-being in mind.

Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.