Catching COVID-19 twice? UGA researchers looking at how long immunity from virus lasts

LAMAR COUNTY, Ga. — With a second wave of coronavirus infection going on in Georgia, there are still questions surrounding the virus and the possibility of catching it twice.

UGA researchers have been looking into how long someone is immune once they are infected with the coronavirus. So far, the results show that immunity may only be temporary.

Channel 2′s Matt Johnson spoke with researchers and a local teenager who became infected with COVID-19 twice in just four months.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus Pandemic in Georgia]

When 16-year-old Alex Sims says she recovered from COVID-19 in the summer, she thought her COVID-19 days were behind her. She told Johnson everyone in their family tested positive and recovered in July.

But she started feeling the same symptoms again four months later.

“I was like, ‘Oh, goodness, I don’t know if I’m just overthinking this.’ Or like, ‘This is a COVID headache, like I don’t know.’ And then I started kind of feeling sick,” Sims said.

It turns out the Lamar County teenager had COVID-1 again. Sims shared a screenshot of her first positive test on July 23 and the positive result she learned about just on Tuesday.

“I was like, ‘OK, I don’t have to wear a mask. I’ve already had it, it’s OK.’ And then got it again. And I wish I would have been wearing a mask,” Sims said.


It turns out four months is right around the time that antibodies against the virus can start to wear off.

“It does look like in some individuals, their immune responses begin to wane pretty quickly,” said Ted Ross, who is with the University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology.

Ross has been researching COVID-19 immunity since September. He’s partnering with the National Institutes of Health to learn how long people are immune after their infection.

“So within three to six months, they’ve already lost a substantial amount of the antibodies that they had shortly after infection,” Ross said.

Ross told Johnson that re-infections are not that common. Over time, he said researchers will know more about whether symptoms are worse or milder if someone catches COVID-19 for a second time.

“I think it’s going to be a common occurrence over the next year that this will happen,” Ross said.

Sims said the steroids a doctor prescribed her helped with her symptoms and her anxiety over a second positive test. She said she’s the only one in her family who has it again now.

Sims doesn’t know how she got infected but she said she knows how others can avoid what she’s going through.

“Everybody thinks that, oh, if you’re young, you can’t get symptoms,” she said. “Take it seriously, wear a mask, wash your hands.”

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