COVID-19 Antibodies Fade Just Weeks After Symptoms End, Raising Questions Over Future Vaccine Effectiveness

A lab worker holds up a COVID petri dish.
Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

A research team in Canada has announced that antibodies present in the plasma of recovering coronavirus patients fade rapidly after recovery, and its effectiveness is severely diminished 10 weeks after first experiencing symptoms. The discovery holds both importance to current methods in fighting those who are infected with COVID-19 as well as the quest to find a vaccine for the disease.

The study was published in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, and the research analyzed findings from an earlier cross-sectional study that included more than 100 patients.

Currently, plasma therapy is being used as a way to fight the “spike proteins” that allow the virus to latch onto the body’s cells and invade them. The antibodies in the plasma bind to the spike proteins, making them unable to gain access to the cells and infect the host.

However, the new research suggests that the plasma becomes progressively ineffective two weeks after showing symptoms. This is a problem because those who have recovered from COVID-19 are usually required to wait approximately 14 days after recovery to begin plasma donations. This is to ensure that the transfusions contain no trace of the virus itself.

“We don’t want to transfuse the virus, just transfuse the antibodies,” said Andrés Finzi, a Ph.D., at the University of Montreal, in Canada, and one of the authors of the study (via Sci Tech Daily).

“But at the same time, our work shows that the capacity of the plasma to neutralize viral particles is going down during those first weeks,” he added.

This means that recovered patients would have to begin donating plasma almost immediately after feeling better, especially since donations happen over the course of days if not weeks.

A technician works in a lab.
  Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

In addition, the new discovery suggests that there may be some obstacles in the development of a vaccine.

“How long do antibodies protect you?” Finzi asked, suggesting that a shot may only be protective for a short while after taken.

The researchers suggested that “multiple” booster shots may be necessary in the future to fight the illness.

“If plasma neutralization activity is shown to be required for protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection, then our results suggest that this protection could be limited in time and that, in the context of vaccination, multiple boosts might be necessary to mount a durable and effective anti-SARS-CoV-2 humoral response.”

The coronavirus has infected close to 40 million people across the world and claimed 1 million lives. As was recently reported by The Inquisitr, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned families to forego Thanksgiving celebrations in order to reduce the spread.