Scientist who infected himself twice with coronavirus says herd immunity hopes are ‘overblown’  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images
- No specific cure or drug for novel coronavirus infection, known as COVID-19 exists as of now
- Herd immunity became a popular potential weapon against COVID-19 initially
- A researcher has now studied COVID-19 antibodies and chance of reinfection and said that hopes of herd immunity may be futile
New Delhi: With the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, the world seemed to have learnt a few new words. Words and phrases such as social distancing, quarantine, lockdown, and others were added to our vocabulary and became so common that we use them almost every day, even today.
One such phrase was ‘herd immunity’ – a phenomenon many were relying on, to get relief from the COVID-19 pandemic after a while. Perhaps, with no effective vaccine for the virus found as yet, and no specific cure for the disease it causes, herd immunity seemed like a reasonable idea. However, as the coronavirus spreads further and deeper into the world, and cases of reinfection surface, herd immunity seems like a failed plan.
Professor infected himself with coronavirus twice
A professor infected himself with the novel coronavirus for the second time to understand the effectiveness of antibodies, chances of reinfections, and if herd immunity could actually be achieved with COVID-19. Dr Alexander Chepurnov, 69 years old, caught COVID-19 for the first time in February, while he was in France for a skiing trip. Fortunately, he recovered from the disease without having to go to the hospital. However, he decided to reinfect himself with the virus to test his immunity.
His team at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Novosibirsk studied ‘the way antibodies behaved, how strong they were, and how long they stayed in the body’.
‘COVID-19 antibodies decreased rapidly’
Researchers found that COVID-19 fighting cells or COVID-19 antibodies decreased rapidly in Dr Chepurnov’s body.
Dr Chepurnov said, “By the end of the third month from the moment I felt sick, the antibodies were no longer detected,” reported Metro News. He then decided to expose himself to COVID-19 patients, while using a mask, to ascertain the risk of reinfection.
Dr Chepurnov said, “My body’s defences fell exactly six months after I got the first infection. The first sign was a sore throat.” Unlike the first infection, the second infection did require him to go to the hospital. For five days, he had a fever and his body temperature remained above 39 degrees. He also experienced a loss of taste and smell.
On the sixth day of the infection, the CT scan of the lungs was clear, but just after three days, an X-ray showed double pneumonia. However, the virus did go away within two weeks of infection and was no longer detected in samples tested for the coronavirus.
The researcher, therefore, concluded that the hopes of beating the pandemic with herd immunity are overblown.
What the findings mean for an effective vaccine against COVID-19
Herd immunity is a phenomenon that various vaccines used for several diseases rely on, in order to provide immunity and prevent infection. Therefore, if herd immunity cannot be counted on, in the case of COVID-19, it could mean that not all types of vaccines may be effective against the virus.
“We need a vaccine that can be used multiple times, a recombinant vaccine will not suit,” Dr Chepurnov said.
“Once injected with an adenoviral vector-based vaccine, we won’t be able to repeat it because the immunity against the adenoviral carrier will keep interfering.”
Dr Chepurnov has also worked at the State Research Vector Centre of Virology and Biotechnology in Siberia, where scientists are developing Russia’s second coronavirus vaccine, known as EpiVacCorona. The makers say it will require repeated doses in order to maintain immunity.
Russia had become the first country globally to register a COVID-19 vaccine in August 2020. Apprehensions about the safety and efficacy of Sputnik V were however raised by various experts and scientists.