DENVER (KDVR) — As millions of Americans begin to recover from COVID infections contracted in December and January, some are wondering if a breakthrough case leads to “super immunity.”
A breakthrough COVID-19 case is an infection that occurs with someone who is vaccinated against the virus.
The question is: If you test positive for COVID after being fully vaccinated and boosted, does it mean you have enhanced immunity and protection from catching it again? Nexstar’s KDVR posed the question to doctors from three different healthcare groups.
“There might be a little bit of truth to that,” National Jewish Health pulmonologist Dr. David Beuther said. “We’re learning that for at least 90 days, there is some immunity against another COVID-19 infection.”
When it comes to vacation plans following recovery, he said, “This omicron infection that they just had probably boosted their neutralizing antibodies quite a bit, and that means for a period of time, whether it’s weeks or months, they probably have protection against another infection. So that was probably really good timing.”
“What that means is not to be reckless,” Beuther said. “We still need to be concerned that we could get an infection, even an asymptomatic infection, and pass it to somebody who’s vulnerable.”
According to Beuther, immunity gained from contracting the virus lasts several weeks, while immunity gained from being vaccinated lasts much longer. He said a case involving a patient who had previously been boosted might mean an increased immune response in the short term but does not provide extra protection in the long run.
“That infection that you had in January probably won’t help you a whole lot in July,” he said.
Might work for omicron, but what about future variants?
“I think it’s a false sense of security … maybe you’re super immune to omicron, but maybe you’re not immune to some of the other variants that are out there,” said Dr. Scott Joy, chief medical officer for HealthONE Physician Services Group.
Joy believes recovered patients should go on with their lives but in a safe manner, which includes wearing a mask, washing their hands, and keeping a distance from others.
“I wouldn’t go around flaunting or walking around the [amusement] park without a mask or [without] trying to give myself a little space in those queue lines,” Joy said. “There’s just so much still out there, so many people unvaccinated that continue to provide a reservoir for the virus to get into and mutate, and that’s kind of challenging even to the people that are vaccinated.”
According to Joy, doctors and scientists do not know enough about the body’s immune response to COVID’s variants.
“There’s a lot of holes in the science that we really don’t understand how certain patients are susceptible to it and some aren’t,” he said.
What is ‘hybrid immunity’?
“There is this concept of what’s been called hybrid immunity,” said Dr. Jean Kutner, chief medical officer at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
According to Kutner, hybrid immunity is the combination of immunity from vaccination and immunity from infection. Each provides a slightly different benefit.
“That said, it’s not a ticket to ride. It’s quite variable individual to individual, the extent to which we each have an immune response,” she said.
Kutner also called the concept of “super immunity” a “false sense of security.”
“We just don’t know. We don’t know how much boosted immunity that would be giving somebody,” she said.
Kutner said she has had boosted patients with breakthrough infections, wondering about how to approach travel plans following recovery.
“My advice to them was that they absolutely can travel and they should still when they get on that plane. They should still be wearing the best, snuggest, most highly effective mask that they can wear,” she said. “They should still be doing the good hand washing and all those things that we’ve been talking about all along because we just don’t know.”