Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is slowly rolling out across the country, immunity from the deadly disease is on everyone’s mind.
Can I get COVID-19 more than once? Am I immune if I already had it?
With the vaccine still months away for most NOLA residents, you may be wondering if it’s possible you could already be immune if you had COVID-19 during the first wave. Isn’t that how herd immunity works?
Not really, said Jeffrey Elder, MD, Medical Director for Emergency Management at LCMC Health.
Worse, you could be putting yourself at risk of getting sick again if you don’t continue to socially distance, wear a face mask, and get vaccinated.
“There have been some case reports of repeated COVID-19 infections, although we don’t yet have a whole lot of data on this,” Dr. Elder said. “There is some immunity that lasts after the initial infection, but we really don’t know how long it lasts or how strong that immunity is.”
Do immune supplements work?
Every winter during flu season, sales of so-called immune supplements shoot up. The past year’s pandemic has meant folk remedies like fire cider and elderberry syrup are more popular and being sold in more places than ever. But while they probably won’t hurt your health, they’re also unlikely to improve your immunity.
“There’s not great data on whether or not some of that stuff works,” Dr. Elder said. “I think the biggest things you can do to remain healthy are regular hand-washing, masking, and social distancing. You should also follow up with your physician if you have chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. And don’t forget to get a flu shot.”
COVID-19 vaccine latest updates
So far, the approved COVID-19 vaccines appear to be highly effective. Still, we don’t yet know if the immunity the vaccines provide will be permanent, need occasional booster shots, or will be an annual thing like the flu shot. In any case, it will be at least six months before a large number of people are vaccinated.
“The vaccine is very effective, but it’s not a silver bullet,” Dr. Elder said. “While it appears to prevent disease, we don’t yet know if people who have been vaccinated can still transmit disease. We’ll still need to wear masks and practice social distancing for a while after being vaccinated.”
Both NOLA and the state of Louisiana have plans to make the vaccine easily accessible for the general public once mass quantities of the vaccine are available. The first vaccines available to the public require two doses, given about a month apart. After receiving your second dose, it
may take your body an additional two weeks to develop full immunity. For these reasons, it will be important to continue to act as if you haven’t been vaccinated for that entire period of time.
“As we get more and more people in the community vaccinated, the disease prevalence will go down, and hopefully then we can relax some restrictions,” Dr. Elder said. “It’s just going to take some time.”
What about other COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials?
New vaccines for COVID-19 are still underway. It’s not too late to volunteer for clinical trials if you want to take part. LCMC Health has partnered with both Tulane and LSU schools of medicine on several trials that are ongoing.
Want to learn more? Keep up with news about the COVID-19 vaccines at lcmchealth.org/vaccines.