Major Study Delivers Shocking Finding That Coronavirus Herd Immunity May Be 'Unachievable'

It may be impossible to achieve a herd immunity to the novel coronavirus. That is according to a new study in Spain that raised questions about the plans of some countries to rely on large-scale infections to help people develop a natural defense against the virus and to end the pandemic. 

The study, published by the journal The Lancet, found patients that recovered from COVID-19 maintained antibodies for just a few weeks. Researchers said that could make a population-wide immunity to the coronavirus "unachievable," Business Insider reported Tuesday

The Spanish government led the study in partnership with some of the country's leading epidemiologists. Researchers looked into the condition of more than 61,000 people and the percentage of the population that developed antibodies following coronavirus infections.

Spain is among the most affected countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 252,000 confirmed cases. However, the study found that citizens with antibodies "remain low and are clearly insufficient to provide herd immunity."

Only 5 percent of tested patients across the country had antibodies to the coronavirus. In 14 percent of study participants, antibodies disappeared weeks after the first testing. 

"Immunity can be incomplete, it can be transitory, it can last for just a short time and then disappear," Raquel Yotti, part of the study and director of Spain's Carlos III Health Institute, said. 

The findings back earlier studies from other parts of the world that suggested people with only mild or no symptoms of COVID-19 are unlikely to develop long-lasting immunity to COVID-19.

"No symptoms suggests a mild infection, which never really gets the immune system going well enough to generate immunological ‘memory,’" Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, said. "Anyone who tests positive by antibody test should not assume they are protected. They may be, but it is not clear."

A paper, also published in The Lancet, said the recent Spanish study along with similar efforts in the U.S. and China, mainly showed that herd immunity to COVID-19 could not be achieved. The key finding is that exposure to the disease remained low in most affected populations or in areas with widespread virus circulation, according to authors Isabella Eckerle, head of the Geneva Center for Emerging Viral Diseases, and Benjamin Meyer, a virologist at the University of Geneva.

"In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable," the scientists said.

Coronavirus COVID-19 New York, USA - Mask People line up outside Elmhurst Hospital to get tested due to coronavirus outbreak on March 24, 2020 in Queens, New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

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