Given the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve seen a good deal of discussion of antibodies and immunity lately. I’ve found much of it to be misguided. I’ve researched and given a good deal of thought to the subject and would like to ask you all to consider the following. As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor. I have the opportunity to discuss things with doctors, but I have no formal medical training. My training is in engineering – the science (art?) of making things work.
How a virus (like the COVID-19 virus) works:
- The virus enters the body through your breathing mechanism – mostly eyes, nose, mouth – and gains access to the soft tissue in your lungs and breathing passages.
- The virus attaches itself to a soft tissue cell, takes over the cell, and turns that cell into a virus factory, producing more of itself (the virus).
- As the virus moves through your cells, it kills those cells while producing an excess of that virus, some of which is expelled from your body by coughing, breathing, etc. (also known as being infectious).
- Absent an immune response, this process would eventually kill the infected person (as in no longer able to breathe), but this is generally not what kills.
Immune response – this is what tends to be confusing:
- Immunity is a continuum. If you were to be 100% immune from a virus, it would mean that your cells don’t react to the virus, as discussed above. That’s not the kind of immunity we are talking about here – and I’m thinking it’s rare but don’t know that. Having 0% immunity to a virus is, I believe, also rare. If that were the case, you wouldn’t last long in this world. That’s why immunosuppressed/immunocompromised people are at so much risk.
- All of us have a naturally occurring immune response to a viral infection. As I understand it, when our body detects the presence of a viral infection, it produces antibodies – cells that attack and destroy bodily intruders. It takes time for the body to discover what type of antibodies it takes to fight any given virus type.
- The fight between antibodies and viruses, and the byproducts that fight produces, and other actions the body takes is what ends up causing most death and organ damage.
In the context of COVID-19 (and many other viruses):
- “I have no immunity to COVID-19” means your immune system hasn’t yet learned exactly how to fight the virus, so it will take a while for it to learn. Hopefully, you survive that process (without severe organ damage). If you are immunosuppressed by age or other ailments, I understand that to mean it will take even longer (probably dangerously longer) to do so.
- “I have immunity to COVID-19” means your body has somehow developed the antibodies it takes to REDUCE THE TIME it takes for your body to figure out how to fight a new COVID-19 viral infection. Note that this DOES NOT mean you will not get infected. I believe the only way to avoid infection is to avoid the virus – which is very difficult in the midst of active infections near you. It means that your body will more effectively fight off the infection. It also DOES NOT mean you will not be contagious when you are infected. That depends upon how much excess virus you expel into your environment when you are infected.
I’m personally quite skeptical – given the contagious nature of COVID-19 – that “immunity” is even close to meaning “not contagious.” I hope I’m wrong about that. There is a lot of simplistic discussion going on in articles and posts that I find surprising. I thought I would attempt to address them here.
I think the answer to our dilemma is to get a vaccine that gives us the highest level of immunity possible, and then for those with immunosuppression, we need to find ways for them to protect themselves. I suspect they’ve been dealing with this for most of their lives, so they probably already know how to do it, but this might be a harder virus to protect against.