COVID reinfections are back on the rise thanks to those pesky little fellows Omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
Now, we already knew there was a risk of reinfection when it comes to COVID. But now with these new variants there’s a bigger risk of reinfection. Great!
If you, like thousands of other Aussies, were visited by Ms Omicron over summer, chances are at least one of your friends has offered you the consolation prize of “at least you’re immune now!”
It may have been the one shred of hope you clung onto while sick in bed. But before you throw caution to the wind and start thinking you’re invincible after making it through the plague, there are a few things we need to get straight.
What do the new COVID variants mean for my chances of being reinfected?
The BA.4 and BA.5 strains of Omicron have become the dominant COVID strains in the UK, according to Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
They’re also becoming particularly prevalent in the east coast of Australia.
UNSW Associate Professor James Wood previously told the Sydney Morning Herald that these new variants could lead to a wave of COVID-19 cases.
“At present, it looks like this will drive a rise in infections similar to what we saw with the BA.2 wave,” he said.
In case you’re getting your BAs confused — highly understandable — the BA.2 wave happened in March for NSW.
These variants are really transmissible, which is why they’re a high risk for reinfection.
“We will see reinfections over the coming weeks and months unfortunately with that one,” Kelly told Sky News.
“But what we’re not seeing is a large increase in severe disease and that’s due to the vaccine protection, which can be boosted again… with third and fourth doses.”
How can I protect myself against reinfection?
The key to helping fight reinfection is getting boosted.
According to Kelly, Omicron variants “did escape that immune protection from both a previous dose [of another COVID variant] and from only two doses of vaccine”.
The Department of Health’s most recent COVID vaccine rollout shows that only 70.4 per cent of the eligible population have had three or more vaccine doses.
Obviously there’s no guarantee against reinfection. But boosters are an excellent way of protecting yourself and the people around you.
While there might not be mask mandates in most places anymore, wearing one is still a great way of protecting yourself.
As well as COVID rates set to rise, we’re also having a really bad flu season ATM. Luckily you can easily get yourself a flu vaccine too. The joys of modern medicine!
I’ve just recovered from COVID, am I immune?
Short answer: no. But! Your immunity against the virus has been boosted for a little while.
Your immune system will be better at fighting the virus immediately after infection.
Like vaccines, an infection will help your body create antibodies that combat the virus.
But your cells have a memory, so to speak, which will start to forget how COVID looks and behaves over time.
How long does does this ‘boost’ last?
Well, it will vary from person to person..
One 2021 study of immunological memory found that about 95 per cent of participants retained immune memory at about six months after having COVID-19.
But a recent study from the University of North Carolina has found strong protection following infection could last three months or less, and this window would be much smaller for the unvaccinated.
NSW Health is more conservative still, saying people who have recovered from COVID-19 have “a low risk of getting it again in the 28 days after you are released as most people develop some immunity”.
Should I delay my booster if I’ve just had COVID?
The federal Department of Health says you should wait around three months from your last COVID infection to your next vaccine.
Basically, this is because it helps optimise the protection you get from vaccines.
“The gap between infection and vaccination is likely to lead to a better immune response and result in longer protection from reinfection,” it says.
If you’ve had COVID, there’s no need to delay your other vaccines though. So you can still grab a cheeky flu shot even if you’ve recently had COVID-19.
How likely am I to catch COVID twice?
The landscape regarding reinfection has changed pretty significantly because of Omicron.
Before the Omicron variants, several clinical studies published in 2021 found that the risk of repeat infection decreased by around 80 per cent within a year of the first infection.
It’s more likely you can be reinfected with COVID if it’s a different variant to your first infection too.
According to mathematical biologist Dr Deborah Cromer, it’s “definitely possible” to get Omicron twice.
“The immunity conferred from Omicron is not quite as high compared to previous variants,” she told the ABC in March.
We all know plenty of people who’ve had COVID now, and soon we’ll start knowing people who’ve had it twice. So please keep wearing your mask, monitoring symptoms, isolating when unwell and following all health advice.