Are recovered COVID-19 patients immune to reinfection?

The CDC estimates that since January more than 15 million people in the United States have been infected by COVID-19. As the country awaits federal approval of a vaccine, many have wondered if prior infection gave them immunity from the deadly virus.

While a definitive answer to this question is still under investigation, experts like LaSalle University biology professor Brian DeHaven said most agree there is no risk in formerly infected people getting vaccinated. 

"If you’ve been infected, the arguments of getting the vaccine anyway are that it’s probably not going to do any harm and it may actually boost your immunity," DeHaven said.


Immunity likely differs from person-to-person and it may not last long, according to some health officials. The severity of the symptoms a person experienced during infection could help determine just how immune he or she is. 

"From what we’ve seen if you have been sick - infected but not very sick or asymptomatic - you seem to be at a higher risk of getting reinfected verse someone who was very very sick the first time," DeHaven said.

A transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the United States. Note the crown-like spikes on the outer edge of the virus, hence the term "coron (NIAID-RML)

Due to a limited number of doses of the anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, DeHaven predicts people who have experienced a recent infection will not be included in the first wave of shots.

When a vaccine does become widely available, DeHaven says it will offer protection to people previously infected and still susceptible alike. 

"This vaccine is coming at a critical time health care systems are stressed right up to the breaking point," DeHaven said. "I’m looking forward to a lot of people getting vaccinated and getting the virus under control."


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