How often can you get COVID? A Mayo Clinic doctor weighs in
Jana Shortal spoke to Dr. Mayo Clinic’s Bill Morice to explain why immunity to one COVID variant does not mean immunity to all.
ROCHESTER, Minnesota – Omicron was a game changer and we see variants of it below – and those variants can catch you even if you have Omicron and even if you’ve been vaccinated.
“If you think of a lock and key, they’re subtle changes,” says Dr. Bill Morice from the Mayo Clinic. “If your immune response is a lock and the virus is the key, there are some viruses that change a little bit so the key doesn’t fit in the lock, which means your immune system doesn’t recognize it and you get reinfected.”
And with every modification you can get this modified virus.
Immunity to one does not mean immunity to all.
“So if a person has been infected multiple times, does that definitely mean they’re infected with a different variant each time, or we don’t know?” asked KARE 11’s Jana Shortal.
“We don’t know,” says Dr. Morice. “I mean, you suppose, if it’s someone who really does have a normal immune response, meaning they’re not on immunosuppressive drugs or have any inherited immune response problem, immunodeficiency is the way of saying they are.” You can get reinfected multiple times with the same pathogen and strain, but for most of us it’s like the common cold where it changes enough to become reinfected. So you’ll probably get a different strain if you get infected again.”
None of this means, well, vaccines don’t work.
Because, as has been said over and over again, vaccines – we’ve known for a while – are here to save us from dying or getting really sick. What they cannot do is immunize us against all variants of COVID.
And with that truth, where are we with vaccines?
“I think there’s a lot of discussion in the pharmaceutical community now about developing vaccines specific to the new strains, but the problem is that by the time it’s approved, it’s already progressing,” says Dr. Morice. “Even with omicron it’s always making changes so this might just be a rethinking of the vaccination strategy overall and maybe not chasing the tribes as it’s like a dog chasing its tail… it might never catch it.”
And another early COVID hope we’re unlikely to achieve… herd immunity.
“Unfortunately that’s off the table and we should just be honest and it’s about how to deal with COVID,” says Dr. Morice.
Herd immunity is not possible with a virus that mutates so rapidly, just as we will never get herd immunity from an ever-changing flu virus or a cold virus.
And one more note on infections: These numbers are really just an indicator, not an absolute total – as most people test for COVID at home and these positive results don’t typically go unreported.
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