(NEXSTAR) – Omicron cases are finally subsiding after the highly infectious variant washed over the United States, leaving millions of people with antibodies against the coronavirus.
Some people who have recovered from omicron, especially those who were previously vaccinated and boosted, may feel invincible when it comes to reinfection.
A recent study from researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) suggests that a combination of breakthrough infection and vaccine can result in a hybrid “super immunity” – regardless of whether the infection comes before or after vaccination.
So how long can an otherwise healthy person with a fresh set of COVID-19 antibodies expect their immune system boost to last?
“About three to six months,” said Dr. Peter Chin Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “That’s kind of when some people’s antibodies will start going down, where they will potentially be at risk for reinfection.”
When antibodies do start to diminish, however, it doesn’t mean the immune system has forgotten how to fight the virus.
“The antibodies are important to prevent that first assault, but the inside immune system, T cells and B cells, they remain active for a long time,” Dr. Chin Hong said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said this week that we are heading out of the “full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19” and we can likely expect local governments – and even individuals – to start making more of the virus management decisions themselves going forward.
In fact, we could even see “a good three to six months of a COVID vacation if no other variant comes along,” Dr. Chin Hong said.
As omicron antibodies start to wane in the fall or winter, he added, people who have been vaccinated, boosted and have natural immunity will fair the best.
“If people are relying on just natural exposure to infection, and they got the original variant two years ago, they might get sick, because those T cells – it’s like just getting one dose of vaccine maybe,” Chin Hong said. “But when you get the combination vaccine and natural infection, that’s the Holy Grail. That’s hybrid immunity. That’s better than anything.”