Starting about two weeks ago, a bizarre narrative erupted in the media and on social media that there was “no evidence” the individuals who recovered from COVID-19 would be immune from subsequent infections. It was misleading in the extreme.
The narrative started on April 24 when the World Health Organization (“WHO”) released a “scientific brief” attempting to tamp down expectations about issuing so-called “immunity passports.” In the opening paragraph of the brief, WHO made the ill-advised statement that “[t]here is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.” WHO also made a similar statement in a now deleted tweet.
This immediately became a major headline in the media (e.g. this story from CNN) and was regurgitated endlessly on social media. Most passing along the WHO’s statement either failed to mention at all, or buried near the end of their stories, the far more measured statement near the end of the brief that “[a]s of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans.”
WHO got a firestorm of pushback from public health officials and researchers almost immediately and less than twenty-four later deleted its original tweet and replaced it with this:
Of course, there is a mountain of “evidence” that humans will develop immunity, just not any specific study that has been done to conclusively prove that is the case.
On Saturday, I interviewed Dr. Peter Hotez, a renowned Baylor vaccine researcher on Common Sense. He, like Fauci, felt confident humans would have immunity after an infection and thought it would probably last from 2-10 years.
WHO’s poorly worded statement was unfortunate, but it was not intentional. But the incessant republication of it showed the current mainstream and social media at its worst. Even cursory due diligence would have discovered that WHO had overstated the case and prompted a follow-up inquiry to WHO. The few that have reported WHO’s clarification gave it short shrift compared to their coverage of the original statement. Unfortunately, in today’s environment sensationalism and speed drive the coverage, not accuracy.
In any event, if you were concerned about not acquiring immunity if you come down with COVID-19, you can scratch that one off your worry list.