— No, but a recent study has been misinterpreted by some as saying that

by Jeremy Faust, MD 

What happens to people who get reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19? A recent paper in Nature Medicine has been misinterpreted by some as providing evidence that repeat infections are somehow worse than first-time infections.

Here’s the actual situation: second infections are far less dangerous than first infections, with respect to severe, critical, and fatal COVID-19. This is true regardless of vaccination status.

Here’s what we know. Hybrid immunity provides the best overall protection, and the safest way to achieve that is to get vaccinated before a first-time infection occurs, so that a person has a better chance to survive long enough to even have the reinfection question become relevant.

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A study in JAMA showed that surviving a coronavirus infection was highly protective (“effectiveness %”) against death and hospitalization, with little waning. Protection against repeat infection was also good, though that wanted to around 60% by 15 months. (Lin et al).

If second infections were somehow more dangerous than primary infections, the “effectiveness” of the first infection against death and hospitalization would literally be negative in the graph above (annotated by me from a massive paper in JAMA using data from North Carolina). Instead, we see sustained protection against death and hospitalization, even 15 months after infection. Prior infection also protects against repeat infections, albeit not as well, and with faster waning.

Link to article in MedPage Today by Jeremy Faust

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