Do you think you are immune to COVID-19 after getting sick? Maybe not, new research shows – National

At least 40 percent of Canadians are infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to new research from Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

But despite this “Omicron tsunami” in Canada, as task force experts are calling it, emerging data shows that not everyone who gets sick from COVID-19 will develop immunity to the infection.

In fact, one in eight people who contract the virus do not develop antibodies in their blood because of their disease. And children are half as likely to develop immunity to an infection, according to data released in June.

“So forget about going to some sort of ‘COVID party’,” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, a McGill University professor in the Faculty of Medicine and co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

“Infection is not a viable strategy to achieve or maintain immunity.”

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This is just one of many findings from research studies funded by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force that provide new insights into the virus that has caused a global pandemic, including how the virus evolves and how it affects the immunity provided by vaccines and by infections.

The task force, made up of scientists and experts from universities and hospitals across the country, was established by the federal government in April 2020. Its mandate is to determine the extent of COVID-19 infection in Canada, to learn how immunity is affected by infection, and to provide information to governments and decision-makers about the virus based on data and research.

One thing that has become clear in recent months is that Omicron and its offshoot subvariants have developed a formidable ability to evade immunity — whether from vaccinations or previous infections, according to data published by the task force.

Click to play video: 'Increase in Omicron cases this summer likely means more hospitalizations'

Increase in Omicron cases this summer likely means more hospitalizations

Increase in Omicron cases this summer likely means more hospitalizations

Therefore, people who have contracted COVID-19 should not assume that they are now immune.

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“We do have one in eight people who don’t have antibodies in their blood, so they don’t respond to the vaccine. And if they get infected, we don’t see any evidence of that… So we don’t know exactly what’s going on,” Hankins said.

That’s why it’s important for Canadians to understand that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and that it mutates and reinfects people, she added.

There is also new data showing that people who contracted the virus before receiving their first COVID-19 vaccines ended up receiving the strongest protection against the virus, according to research conducted by a team led by Michael Grant, professor of immunology and associate professor of immunology. dean of biomedical sciences at Memorial University.

This is what is known as ‘hybrid immunity’.

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His study, which began in June 2020, looked at patients infected with the original strain of the virus before being vaccinated and compared their immune responses to those who received the vaccines but did not get sick.

“We saw that people who were previously infected and then received the vaccine had a vastly more potent immune response to the vaccine,” he said.

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“So much so that after the first injection of the vaccine, they had higher levels of antibodies than the naive people (who had not gotten sick) after two injections of the vaccine.”

Grant’s team also found that — in patients who had contracted previous strains of the virus, such as the original strain or the Delta variant — the more severe their infection, the stronger their immune response, and vice versa. This means those who got sicker got more protection from the virus after they recovered.

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But the same isn’t true for Omicron and its subvariants, Grant said.

If a person develops antibodies as a result of an Omicron infection, the levels of immunity afforded by that disease are quite low, leaving them vulnerable to future or repeated infections.

“There is general consensus that two injections and then infection with Omicron is almost as good as three injections of a vaccine,” Grant said.

“But because it’s a milder infection, because people have been vaccinated, or because the virus is just less virulent, it doesn’t seem to stimulate as strong an immune response as previous infections.”

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Click to play video: 'NACI recommends COVID-19 booster shots in fall ahead of potential wave'

NACI recommends COVID-19 booster shots in fall ahead of potential wave

NACI recommends COVID-19 booster shots in fall ahead of potential wave

While current COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent transmission of the new variants of the virus, overall there is strong scientific evidence showing that the vaccine prevents serious illness and death.

The challenge for health officials in the future will be to ensure that the public is aware of this and that individuals stay up to date on their vaccines. The research funded and compiled so far by the task force shows that immunity to COVID-19 wanes over time, Hankins said.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that if you’ve had it before, you’re still a wimp to these new variants, who don’t pay attention to the fact that you’ve had it before, and if you’re immunized to it is over, you don’t have the immunity you had when you got your vaccine,” she said.

“So it’s really important to get that booster.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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