New data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggested severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies appear to protect from reinfection, according to Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the NCI, who presented these new findings in a press briefing released by the National Institutes of Health.

The referenced study collected serology data from more than 3 million individuals in the United States, of which 12% were positive for antibodies. At 90 days, the individuals who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies had a 10 times lower rate of infection compared with those who were negative.

Testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may have important implications for decision making. On a personal level, individuals with antibodies may rejoin the workforce or engage in other activities, such as care for elderly family members sooner than those without antibodies. On the public health level, individuals who lack antibodies may need to be prioritized for vaccination over individuals with the protective antibodies.

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Currently, SARS-CoV-2 serology status has not been incorporated to recommended vaccination prioritization. On the basis of these data, it may be prudent to incorporate antibody status, especially as access to vaccines is currently limited.

Results from SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing may allow for predicting an individual’s risk for future infection, and therefore, can be prudent for incorporation with current SARS-CoV-2 screening programs.

Despite these encouraging results, an important and still unanswered question remains: how long does the protection against SARS-CoV-2 reinfection persist?

The study from the NCI only followed individuals for 120 days. It remains unclear whether the observed decrease of reinfection among those positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies will have long-term protection.

Regardless, data from this and other studies suggested that a SARS-CoV-2 infection provided strong immunity against reinfection for a minimum of several months, and this protective effect can be identified thorough antibody testing.

Further studies are needed for determining the duration of protection such that individuals can understand and assess their personal risk for reinfection from SARS-CoV-2.


SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies Can Protect from Reinfection, NCI Study Suggests. News Release. National Cancer Institute. Published December 21, 2020. Accessed January 14, 2021.