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Immunity is unintuitive. And yet it “lies at the heart of many of the COVID-19 pandemic’s biggest questions,” my colleague Ed Yong warned last year.
I’ve been thinking about Ed’s piece a lot recently, amid the news that the coronavirus is mutating and may eventually evade current vaccines—re-raising the question of what it means to be “immune.” For starters, it’s helpful to think of immunity in terms of gradients, and not as a yes-or-no question.
The body isn’t totally helpless against the new, mutated strains. Your antibodies can evolve too. “For every trick the virus plays, the immune system arguably has an equally impressive one,” Katherine J. Wu reports.
The world is unlikely to reach herd immunity anytime soon. “The role of COVID-19 vaccines may ultimately be more akin to that of the flu shot: reducing hospitalizations and deaths by mitigating the disease’s severity,” Sarah Zhang writes.
People are misusing antibody tests. Some want to use them to prove immunity “like a passport, [to] clear them to move about freely despite the virus’s rampant spread,” Katherine reports. “But antibody tests can’t provide the definitive answers we seek.”