Herd immunity in Virginia likely out of reach, UVA Health antibody study shows

Herd immunity in Virginia likely out of reach, UVA Health antibody study shows

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The term ‘herd immunity’ is a common phrase that has been tossed around often during the pandemic, but a study out of UVA Health shows herd immunity is likely out of reach for Virginians.

This study involved thousands of random patients who went to non-COVID-19 related clinics for routine check-ups. The results show only a very small portion of people had COVID-19 antibodies in August.

“About 2.4% of the 5,000 or so participants had antibodies,” Dr. Eric Houpt, the chief of infectious diseases and a UVA professor, said. “That’s a pretty low number, maybe a little bit lower than we expected.”

Dr. Houpt says this new study about COVID-19 antibodies is eye-opening. “The point now is that most of us in Virginia still have not been exposed to this virus and we still have a ways to go until the entire population is protected,” he said.

Dr. Houpt says 101 participants tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. Of those people, 42 were Hispanic. “In Hispanics, instead of the 2% overall, it was 10%,” he said. “Uninsured individuals had a higher amount at about 6%.”

He also says 66% of those with detected antibodies had asymptomatic infections. “Most of the individuals never had any symptoms at all,” he said.

Luckily, Dr. Houpt says these antibodies last for months on end, but it is unknown how strong they are. “We don’t know completely how protected these individuals are, but I would estimate that most of them are fairly well protected for at least six to eight months,” he said.

Although the study was done in August 2020, Dr. Houpt still believes a small number of people in Virginia are immune now. Without mass vaccination covering at least 60% of the country, herd immunity will not happen.

“There’s been a lot of infections in the preceding months, but it still looks like it’s going to be a low amount of 15 or 20%, we don’t know that number for sure, but that would be our prediction,” he said.

Dr. Houpt also says his team is looking into doing a future study to see what changes over time and to see how long these antibodies stay in the system.

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