Waning Immunity to Covid-19: event testing is the new normal

vaccine against COVID-19

If you recently started bringing employees back to work, chances are that you want to know if they are vaccinated. If you’re doing indoor or international corporate events, attendees may be required to provide proof of vaccination before traveling. Unfortunately, even if your attendees have been vaccinated, if it was near the beginning of the Covid outbreak, they may not have immunity today.

Waning immunity after vaccination or even after contracting and recovering from the virus is a huge concern, especially because immunity is so hard to track. How can you know if you’re immune to the Covid-19 virus, and what are the chances that your employees or conference guests need to get a booster before you bring them back to work or to an indoor or international event?

Vaccinated Immunity

Many states have dropped mask mandates. They’re ready to segue into a new normal that doesn’t involve as many precautions, even though the number of cases remains high and each variant seems more transmissible than the last. But people are eager to get back to the workplace or to travel for events, and they are often trusting that the vaccinations they got many months ago will protect them while they do so.

At the same time, you’re probably aware that immunocompromised (as well as unvaccinated)  individuals can still suffer serious complications from contracting Covid-19. Even individuals who don’t have a serious case initially can suffer long-term side effects which have become known as Long Covid. So you might be wondering, are the initial doses of the vaccine enough to protect your employees and their families against Covid, or do you need to consider policies regarding boosters?

You want to know how you can bring people back while maintaining safety. Vaccines are an important aspect of how you do that. Currently, most vaccines are 60-70% effective at protecting against contracting the BA.2 omicron subvariant, and incredibly effective at preventing hospitalization due to Covid, up to around 90%. Unfortunately, that’s only true for the first four to six months after receiving a vaccine or booster. After that, protection from Covid falls below 10% due to declining levels of antibodies.

Antibodies are proteins that your immune system uses to fight disease. Covid-specific NAbs (neutralizing antibodies) can protect you against the Covid-19 virus. When you get a Covid vaccine, it causes your immune system to develop NAbs in high volume. But after a certain point, the number of antibodies begins to decline. By four to six months after a vaccination or booster, you no longer have a significant number of NAbs, and you’re less likely to be able to fend off the disease.

So even if your employees can prove that they were vaccinated within the last year, they may not have significant protection against the virus. Gathering potentially unprotected employees together in the workplace or for an indoor or international event could cause a super-spreader event (e.g. Washington Correspondents Dinner, Disney gala, etc.). That’s why the CDC recommends a booster every five months. Boosters increase the number of antibodies and can bring your immunity levels even higher than the first doses of the vaccine, potentially up to 80%.

Recovering Immunity

If you’ve previously contracted the virus, you have a high chance of avoiding another case of Covid-19 due to high numbers of antibodies generated during recovery. The antibodies generated by contracting Covid generally last longer than antibodies produced by a vaccination.

The two antibodies that primarily help fight the disease are Covid-specific IgM and IgG antibodies. IgM is fast-acting and fights against the virus early-on in the infection, but it makes up a relatively small percentage of the total amount of NAbs. IgG makes up the highest percentage of NAbs, and it is the longest-lasting. IgG shows up in the later stages of an infection and is primarily responsible for immunity that results from contracting the virus.

If you’ve had Covid, you could have some measure of immunity for at least a year. But it would be a mistake to believe that, just because you’ve gotten the delta variant in the past, you’re automatically immune to the omicron subvariants. The differences between delta and omicron are significant enough that even antibodies that could fight against delta won’t necessarily protect you from omicron. If you got BA.1, an early subvariant of omicron, you might not be able to get BA.2, but there are still future variants to worry about.

These potential future variants leave businesses with a lot of uncertainty. Omicron infected a huge percentage of the population, since it was the most highly transmissible variant yet. As a result, a large number of individuals got sick around the same time. They will also likely lose immunity around the same time, potentially resulting in another surge as the next variant comes along.

More Covid variants are expected to emerge in the future, similar to how the flu has a new variant every year. No one really knows how effective vaccines will be for the next variant. Even having previously gotten sick is no guarantee that you’re immune.

In the meantime you need a way to provide best-in-class safety measures for your employees as they’re coming back to work or attending events. To do that, you’ll need to go beyond simply checking whether they’ve ever been vaccinated.

Immunity Monitoring

So far, the most reliable method of determining immunity is simply to ask how recently someone has been vaccinated or boosted. AllClear’s health screening and vaccination monitoring software is HIPAA compliant and allows you to keep track of vaccinations and boosters. Individual employees can even upload proof of vaccination themselves so you can determine timelines for boosters.

Managing a rapidly-changing threat like the Covid-19 virus hasn’t been easy for anyone, but more strategies emerge every day to help companies cope safely with the changes and prepare for the future. There’s never 100% certainty of safety from the virus, but a comprehensive vaccination strategy can bring you and your employees closer to achieving peace of mind and some sense of normalcy in the workplace.

Event Testing is the New Normal – Accuracy is Key

If you want to know whether it’s safe for employees to attend meetings or corporate events, antibody tests won’t tell you. You should seek best-in-class, highly accurate point-of-care (POC) diagnostic testing. POC testing means you can test your employees in the workplace or right before a meeting and find out whether or not they currently have Covid-19.

While you may be tempted to rely on conventional antigen tests, also called “rapid” tests or “at home” tests, their results are often inaccurate. In fact, accuracy levels can be as low as 38% for asymptomatic individuals. Initially, professionals recommended you confirm negative results with a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. These tests are much more accurate, but results often take several days, so they’re not always practical for event testing.

A much better option is the highly-accurate, FDA- and EAU-approved microfluidics antigen tests, like the one offered by AllClear Healthcare, which provides the greatest peace of mind for employees coming back to work, HR professionals, event planners, and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) managers. You can get extremely high accuracy results comparable to that of a PCR test – and in minutes instead of days.

The landscape for managing Covid-19 changes daily, and right now there’s no test to definitely say if you’re immune to infection. What you can do is provide best-in-class POC testing and vaccination monitoring to keep your employees and their family members safe.