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Can you become immune to COVID-19?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Sep 14, 2023.

Official answer


Key Points

Immunity to COVID-19 can vary based on your age, health status, history of infection, variants circulating in your area, and number and type of COVID vaccine you've received.

Most people who are infected with COVID-19 develop an immune response within the first few weeks, but the protective effect of this response is not fully known. Some studies suggest it may last for up to 6 months, but this is highly variable, especially if new variants are circulating in the community.

Immunity with COVID-19 and other coronaviruses does decline over time, as is seen with the common cold, SARS-CoV-1 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Follow your health authorities' advice on getting the most current recommended COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against infection and boost your immunity. Vaccines may not prevent every COVID-19 infection, but they have been shown to prevent severe COVID disease, hospitalization and death.

Will the new COVID-19 vaccine for 2023 boost immunity?

In the U.S., new monovalent vaccines were authorized or approved by the FDA in Sept. 2023. You can get your flu shot and latest COVID vaccine at the same time this fall at your pharmacy or doctor visit. Even if you've had COVID-19 before and think you are immune, you should still get the recommended COVID-19 vaccines to help keep your immunity strong.

This latest vaccine targets the Omicron variant XBB 1.5, but may have action on other more recently identified variants, as well. Three vaccines will be available: one each from Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax.

  • Researchers state the new vaccine should also help cover the latest EG.5 (sometimes called "eris") subvariant (a descendant of XBB variant), and possibly FL 1.5.1 another rapidly increasing variant.
  • EG.5 does not appear to cause more severe disease but may be more contagious than earlier variants.
  • The oral antiviral medication Paxlovid and the at-home COVID tests are expected to work for EG.5, according to Yale Medicine.

How do you become immune to COVID-19?

Your immune system uses an advanced network to recognize a virus you’ve had before, and releases antibodies to fight it off again. Antibodies are proteins made by your immune system to fight infection.

Your body is geared to recognize foreign substances, like bacteria and viruses, and produces antibodies to recognize these invaders in your blood. Antibodies are produced in response to an infection and help to prevent reinfection -- or lessen severity of infection -- from the same illness.

Antibodies can differ in how well they work:

  • For example, some illnesses like measles or chickenpox, are fought off for a lifetime because your immune system memory always recognizes the virus to keep it at bay.
  • Other viruses, like seasonal influenza, can mutate from season to season, so a new flu vaccine is needed each year.
  • Immunity to certain viruses, such as the common cold, is very short-lived -- possibly only a few months.

Antibodies are often short-lived, but memory cells, such as B-cell and T-cells, can outlast antibodies and kick into gear years after an infection to attack the virus.

The COVID-19 vaccines also stimulate the immune system to make antibodies against the virus. Vaccination is recommended by the CDC for all people 6 months of age and older and can lower your risk of severe disease or death.

Vaccination will also help protect other people around you, including those who are at high risk for severe illness, like the elderly, immunocompromised or with other high risk medical conditions.

Related Questions

Do other coronaviruses lead to immunity?

The common cold is an example of a coronavirus where immunity is short-lived.

  • In an experiment with coronaviruses that lead to the common cold, researchers infected volunteers to see if a rechallenge -- reinfecting with the same virus a year or so later -- would lead to symptoms.
  • Antibodies do seem to appear with the coronavirus that causes a cold, but their levels decline quickly over time.
  • That's why you can catch a cold again and again, even in the same cold season.

Patients who recovered from the 2002 SARS-CoV, a coronavirus closely related to SARS-CoV-2, appeared to have antibody protection for about two years.

For the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a more serious viral respiratory disease from 2012, there were only about 2500 cases over eight years. The mortality (death) rate of MERS was about 35% of people, but survivors did generate an immune response detected for up to two years.

Related: COVID-19: Prevention, Treatment and Vaccines

Bottom Line

  • Patients who recover from COVID-19 make antibodies to the virus. Research is ongoing to determine how well these antibodies or memory cells protect people from reinfection.
  • Current research suggests immunity may last at least 6 months; however, breakthrough infections do occur and may be more likely with newly circulating variants of the virus. COVID has become a virus that will most likely reappear in smaller waves throughout the year - possibly in late summer and during the winter and early spring months in the U.S.
  • Immunizing with the latest recommended COVID-19 vaccine can help to extend your immunity and prevent disease, hospitalization and death. Experts suggest that new annual vaccines for COVID-19 will be developed based on the latest circulating variants, similar to the need for new flu vaccines each year.

Interested in more COVID-19 news? Join the COVID-19 group to keep up with the latest news and research on COVID-19 disease.

This is not all the information you need to know about COVID-19 treatment for safe and effective use and does not take the place of your doctor’s directions. Review the full product information and discuss this information and any questions you have with your doctor or other health care provider.


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