Hong Kong reports that it has documented the world’s first COVID-19 reinfection – and additional reports have poured in.
The region announced the news earlier this week, as a man who was infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – or, simply, coronavirus – the virus that causes the disease COVID-19 – four-and-a-half-months prior tested positive again. This, according to University of Hong Kong researchers, is the first instance of someone becoming reinfected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The individual in question was infected by a different strain of COVID-19 in the second instance, reports state. Subsequently, it was reported that two people in Europe experienced COVID-19 reinfection. As stated in The Independent, “these developments could…hold significant implications for the effectiveness of any future vaccines, though experts say there would need to be many more cases of reinfection for these fears to be justified.”
The New Scientist quotes Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge, who said “there have been anecdotal reports of people being reinfected. But this is the first time that there’s good immunological data on the individual.” The report also cites the University of Leeds’s Stephen Griffin, who said “I’d be surprised if this was an error, but you can’t be absolutely certain until the data has been properly scrutinised.”
The news from Hong Kong sparked concerns, as The Guardian reports, that “immunity to the virus can be short-lived.” It cites Dr Kelvin Kai-Wang To and colleagues, arguing that “people who have recovered from COVID-19 should not be assumed to be immune. They should still be offered vaccination, once it is available, and should also comply with mask-wearing and social distancing restrictions.” The researchers elaborated in a statement that
“Our findings suggest that COVID-19 may persist in the global human population, as is the case for other common-cold associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection.”
Global understanding of COVID-19 is still evolving. The discovery of COVID-19 reinfection ought to be factored into the response to the pandemic – at the global, regional, national, and subnational levels.