- A significant majority of the U.S. population has developed some form of immunity to COVID-19, either through infection, vaccination, or a combination of both.
- Hybrid immunity, which combines natural and vaccine-induced immunity, is considered the most effective protection against COVID-19 variants.
- Factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions, and pregnancy can influence the severity of illness from a COVID-19 reinfection.
- Despite the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, studies indicate that antibodies from previous infections and vaccinations can effectively combat these new strains.
- Vaccinations, including boosters, are the primary recommendation for increasing immunity against COVID-19, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also contribute to a robust immune system.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about COVID, it’s that things change. And over the last three-plus years, so has our immunity.
Around 97 percent of people in the U.S. have some immunity to COVID, either through infection, vaccination or both, according to the CDC.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. And with COVID numbers again on the rise this fall and new variants of the virus on the scene, you might wonder how your immune system is holding up.
“It’s important to understand how immunity works and how long it lasts,” said Erica Brajcich, Medical Director for Indigo Urgent Care. “And it’s also vital to take steps to boost your immunity, especially as new strains of the virus continue to emerge.”
How does immunity work?
The body’s immune system is made up of a network of cells and organs that work together to protect from viruses, bacteria, and other things that can cause infection and illness. When germs enter your body, your immune system essentially shuts down the virus before any damage is done.
Here’s how immunity works:
- Bacteria and viruses (like the one that causes COVID) have proteins called antigens on their surface.
- White blood cells of your immune system make proteins called antibodies to fight the antigens.
- Once you’ve been exposed to a virus, your body makes what’s called “memory cells.” If you’re exposed to the virus again, these cells recognize it and alert your immune system to make antibodies to fight it.
When it comes to COVID, immunity can happen naturally from getting the virus, from COVID vaccinations or a hybrid combination of both. Hybrid immunity is shown to be the most effective protection against COVID variants.
“COVID is still with us and it’s still more dangerous than the flu,” Brajcich said. “But natural immunity and vaccines have lessened the danger and help protect from severe illness.”
How long is COVID immunity after you get it?
The immune response that happens once you’ve had COVID can protect against reinfection for several months, according to the CDC. One study found that hybrid immunity (from both previous infection and vaccinations) can provide protection for more than a year.
There are some factors that affect your risk of getting very sick if you get a COVID reinfection. People with compromised immunity may include:
- Older adults. As you age, your immune system becomes less efficient.
- Individuals with a weakened immune system or who have an autoimmune disease.
- People who have underlying health conditions.
- Infants and young children. A child’s immune system is not fully developed until age 7 or 8.
- Women who are pregnant.
How do new strains of COVID affect my immunity?
The Eris and Pirola COVID variants raised alarms when they made their debut over the summer. Scientists and health experts have been especially concerned about the highly mutated Pirola strain and initially thought it may be able to bypass existing immunity from COVID vaccines and prior infection. Lab studies have since shown that antibodies from previous COVID infections and vaccinations appear to counteract the variant. The health care community will continue to monitor the new strains in the coming months.
New COVID boosters, approved by the FDA in September, are expected to add an additional immunity boost. According to the CDC, the updated versions of the existing Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines should offer a good degree of protection against currently circulating COVID variants, including Eris and Pirola. The shots are available in pharmacies, hospitals and clinics across the U.S.
How can I improve my COVID immunity?
Vaccines are still the best way to increase immunity against COVID, according to health experts.
Here are the CDC’s current COVID vaccine recommendations:
- Everyone ages 5 years and older should get 1 updated booster at least 2 months after getting the last dose of any COVID-19 vaccine.
- Children ages 6 months to 4 years should get 1 or 2 doses of the updated booster depending on the number of prior doses they’ve received. For children who are not vaccinated, the CDC recommends 2 doses of the updated Moderna vaccine or 3 doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine.
It’s not only important to protect yourself from COVID. Fall and winter mean respiratory season, and health experts expect a repeat of last year’s “triple-demic” of COVID, RSV and flu. Vaccines against the three viruses can help protect you and your family.
“Vaccines don’t always prevent minor illnesses, but they reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization,” Brajcich says. “As viruses change over time, your body needs updated immunizations.”
Solv makes it easy to find providers in your area who offer immunizations for COVID, the flu and RSV.
In addition to staying current on vaccines, there are additional ways to boost your immune system and stay healthy this COVID, flu and RSV season:
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid environmental dangers, including smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage your stress levels.
- Take steps to avoid infection, including washing your hands frequently.
Frequently asked questions
What percentage of people in the U.S. have some immunity to COVID-19?
Around 97% of people in the U.S. have some level of immunity to COVID-19.
What is hybrid immunity?
Hybrid immunity refers to immunity developed through both natural infection and vaccination. It's considered the most effective protection against COVID-19 variants.
Can age and underlying health conditions affect the severity of a COVID-19 reinfection?
Yes, factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and pregnancy can increase the risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 reinfection.
Can antibodies from previous infections and vaccinations counteract new COVID-19 variants?
Yes, studies show that antibodies from previous infections and vaccinations can effectively combat new COVID-19 variants.
What is the best way to increase immunity against COVID-19?
The best way to increase immunity against COVID-19 is through vaccination, including getting booster shots as recommended.
Are there other ways to boost your immune system apart from vaccination?
Yes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress levels, and practicing good hygiene, can also help boost your immune system.
Is everyone recommended to get a COVID-19 booster shot?
Yes, the CDC recommends everyone aged 5 years and older to get an updated booster to increase their immunity against COVID-19.
How effective are COVID-19 boosters against new virus variants?
While specific effectiveness can vary, COVID-19 boosters are expected to provide additional immunity against new virus variants.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 28, 2023)
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 2, 2023)
- What is COVID-19 Reinfection?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 15, 2023)
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The Lancet, May 2023
- Factors That Affect Your Risk of Getting Very Sick from COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 11, 2023)
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U.S. Food & Drug Administration (September 11, 2023)
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (September 15, 2023)
- Stay Up to Date with COVID-19 Vaccines
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (October 4, 2023)
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (November 15, 2022)