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The Debate Over Immunity in Context of COVID-19

Written By: Rishitha Boddu

In recent weeks, several governments have been suggesting that individuals who have been identified to carry antibodies for the SARS-CoV-2 should be able to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyle (“Immunity passports” in the context of COVID-19 2020). This would enable countries to start slowly getting back to “normal”. People could go back to work and help restore the economy, students would have access to a quality in-person education, and people could travel to see their loved ones. However, others claim carrying the antibodies to the virus is not enough to ensure protection against reinfection and this would be an illogical decision threatening to contribute even more to the spread of the virus.


When your immune system detects a foreign object in your body, it responds with a process referred to as adaptive immunity. Adaptive immunity consists of two branches – cellular immunity and humoral immunity (Adaptive Immunity – Humoral and Cellular Immunity). 

Cellular immunity, or cell mediated immunity, occurs inside infected cells. This process not only targets foreign bodies but also intracellular bacteria, cancerous cells, and fungal infections. T-cells that develop in the Thymus are lymphocytes that are key players in cellular immunity. Cellular immunity’s goal is to eliminate infected cells in your body by releasing T-cells to bind to infected cells, forcing them to undergo lysis or cell elimination (Cellular Immunity).

Humoral immunity is antibody mediated which means this process attacks pathogens that haven’t yet infected any cells in your body. Antibodies are specific to each pathogen which allows them to bind the antigens on the virus and force it to undergo lysis (Adaptive Immunity – Humoral and Cellular Immunity).

Adaptive immunity aims to clear the virus from the body, and sometimes, when the response is strong enough, it prevents reinfection from the same virus. So the question is whether or not recovered coronavirus patients are protected from getting infected again and whether they should be exempted from CDC guidelines (Adaptive Immunity – Humoral and Cellular Immunity).


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.” The Center for Disease Control similarly states, “The immune response, including duration of immunity, to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not yet understood. Patients infected with other beta coronaviruses (MERS-CoV, HCoV-OC43), the genus to which SARS-CoV-2 belongs, are unlikely to be re-infected shortly (e.g., 3 months or more) after they recover. However, more information is needed to know whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19.” Other sources including Penn State University’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics also mention the same concerns about it being too early into COVID-19 research to determine if and how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts. 

As we know, antibodies aren’t the only form of action the immune system takes against pathogens. Immunity to COVID-19 is a very complicated hypothetical that involves more than just humoral immunity and having antibodies isn’t the be-all end-all. Some studies even show that antibodies can disappear from the body after a certain time, opening up the immune system to another attack from the same virus (Grey, 2020). However, despite the evidence of depleting antibodies, researchers believe it is unlikely to get re-infected by COVID-19 because of what has been observed in the past with immune reactions to other viruses. The cases claiming to be reinfection of COVID-19 should consider the possibility that rather than a reinfection, the symptoms the patient is experiencing could just be longer-term effects of the virus or the virus was never fully cleared from their system, causing this emergence of symptoms later on (Curley, 2020).


Experts are still researching if antibodies can prevent reinfection but so far, nothing is confirmed (Clinical Questions about COVID-19: Questions and Answers 2020). All this being said, it would be unrealistic and unsafe to start assigning immunity passes to individuals when research has yet to confirm anything about second time victims of COVID-19. Allowing this demographic to go back to their pre-pandemic lifestyle may result in even more transmissions of the virus, furthering the number of COVID-19 cases. Everyone should continue to follow CDC guidelines and wear masks in public, continue social distancing, and maintain hygiene and cleanliness.





Adaptive Immunity – Humoral and Cellular Immunity. (n.d.). Retrieved August 05, 2020, from

Cellular Immunity. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from

Clinical Questions about COVID-19: Questions and Answers. (2020, July 26). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from

COVID-19 FAQ: AskCIDD – The Huck Institutes. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2020, from

Curley, C. (2020, July 29). You Probably Can’t Get COVID-19 Twice: Latest on Antibodies. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from

Grey, H. (2020, July 17). COVID-19 Antibodies May Fade Quickly. What This Means. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from

“Immunity passports” in the context of COVID-19. (2020, April 24). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from

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