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Why do natural immunities after COVID last longer in some than others?

Getting sick brings antibodies to protect you, but they don't last forever

ATLANTA — A bout with COVID-19 comes with antibodies that will protect you should you encounter the virus again, but natural immunity doesn’t last as long for some as it does for others.

When 3rd grader Madison Curtis got sick last fall, her physician told her natural immunity had its limits.

“My doctor told me I would only have COVID antibodies for three months,” said Madison.

RELATED: Why do younger people have stronger reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine?

She discussed the matter with her teacher, Lauren Caccavone.

“I have family members still testing positive for COVID antibodies eight months after being infected,” said Caccavone.

The two decided it was time to reach out to 11Alive’s Why Guy.

“Why do some people have antibodies that last longer than others?” asked Madison.

Experts say natural immunity following a case of COVID-19 lasts six months or longer. Dr. Ted Ross with the University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology tells us the older we are, the more likely protective antibodies will fade sooner.

“This happens with influenza, that older people do not retain those antibodies for an entire year,” Dr. Ross said.

Genetics could play a role.

Georgia State’s Dr. Harry Heiman said the lasting power of antibodies following a bout with COVID-19 could hinge on how sick you get.

“You might have had a mild exposure or more serious exposure naturally, which could trigger a different response,” he said.

Even after antibodies fade, your immune system will remember how to produce more of them in the future. Typically, viruses do the best job of prompting your memory cells to go to work. That’s not the case with COVID-19.

“The vaccine is doing a much better job of stimulating those memory cells than the virus itself,” said Dr. Ross.

Natural antibodies may not offer full protection from COVID-19. If you encounter a variant from the version that made you sick the first time you could get sick again. 

That’s why experts say it’s important to get the vaccine even if your body has produced natural antibodies after an encounter with COVID-19.