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Stefan Pilz, Verena Theiler-Schwetz, Christian Trummer, Robert Krause, John P A Ioannidis

Feb 8, 2022
Environmental research
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Seroprevalence surveys suggest that more than a third and possibly more than half of the global population has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 by early 2022. As large numbers of people continue to be infected, the efficacy and duration of natural immunity in terms of protection against SARS-CoV-2 reinfections and severe disease is of crucial significance for the future. This narrative review provides an overview on epidemiological studies addressing this issue. National surveys covering 2020-2021 documented that a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with a significantly reduced risk of reinfections with efficacy lasting for at least one year and only relatively moderate waning immunity. Importantly, natural immunity showed roughly similar effect sizes regarding protection against reinfection across different SARS-CoV-2 variants, with the exception of the Omicron variant for which data are just emerging before final conclusions can be drawn. Risk of hospitalizations and deaths was also reduced in SARS-CoV-2 reinfections versus primary infections. Observational studies indicate that natural immunity may offer equal or greater protection against SARS-CoV-2 infections compared to individuals receiving two doses of an mRNA vaccine, but data are not fully consistent. The combination of a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and a respective vaccination, termed hybrid immunity, seems to confer the greatest protection against SARS-CoV-2 infections, but several knowledge gaps remain regarding this issue. Natural immunity should be considered for public health policy regarding SARS-CoV-2.

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