COVID Reinfection Is More Likely in People Over 65 — but Cases Are Still Rare

A new study found that while people who recover from COVID-19 are typically protected for six months, they can still be reinfected, particularly if they’re older

Ventilator monitor
A patient on a ventilator. Photo: Getty

Though getting reinfected with COVID-19 after already recovering from the virus is rare, it can happen, and it's far more common in people over age 65, according to a new study.

Scientists in Denmark conducted a large study on COVID-19 reinfection rates to determine how many people were contracting the virus for a second time. The scientists, from Denmark's Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, tracked 4 million citizens during two time periods: from March 2020 to May, when the virus first emerged, and then again from September to Dec. 31, when the country was facing a new surge of cases.

Of those 4 million people, 11,068 tested positive during the first surge, and appeared to be protected from reinfection for about six months, the researchers found. In the second surge, just a small number of people from that group — 72 — were reinfected with COVID-19.

However, those 72 people were primarily people over 65 years old. People in that older age group were only about 47% protected from getting reinfected, while younger people had about 80% protection.

The age divide for reinfections was not a complete surprise to researchers, as older people typically have weaker immune systems and are more likely to develop severe disease.

"Our study confirms what a number of others appeared to suggest: reinfection with COVID-19 is rare in younger, healthy people, but the elderly are at greater risk of catching it again," said Dr. Steen Ethelberg, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and one of the authors of the study, CNBC reported. "Since older people are also more likely to experience severe disease symptoms, and sadly die, our findings make clear how important it is to implement policies to protect the elderly during the pandemic."

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The findings also show that people who have recovered from COVID-19 still need to take precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and getting vaccinated.

"Given what is at stake, the results emphasize how important it is that people adhere to measures implemented to keep themselves and others safe, even if they have already had COVID-19," Ethelberg said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that people who already had COVID-19 should get vaccinated when they are able.

"That's because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19," the CDC says on their website. "Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible — although rare — that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again."

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