- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study Tuesday showing nearly six in 10 Americans in February had evidence of antibodies to the coronavirus from prior infection, underscoring the hidden reach of the pandemic.

The widespread level of antibodies, known as seroprevalence, jumped across all age groups and rose from 34% in December 2021 to 58% in February 2022 — a period spanning the onset and ebbing of the holiday omicron surge. It was the first time scientists had detected evidence of prior infection in more than half of the population.

“I didn’t expect it to increase quite this much,” said Dr. Kristie E.N. Clarke, the CDC’s co-lead of the seroprevalence team on the COVID-19 epidemiology and surveillance task force.

Antibodies were most commonly detected among those 17 and younger, at 75%, while the level among seniors was around 33%.

Officials said the disparate readings seemed to track with rates of vaccination in these age groups. The shots haven’t staved off mild illness as well as hoped but do seem to have some level of impact on stiff-arming infections.

The study offered a glimpse at the potential wall of immunity the U.S. is building up against the virus from natural infection alongside the two-thirds of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

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CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the combination could explain in part why hospitalizations do not appear to be rising alongside cases at the same rate they might have earlier in the pandemic.

The agency said it continues to recommend vaccination for all persons who are eligible, saying they don’t know how long natural antibodies last in a person versus vaccine-induced immunity that can be measured in the population.

Officials said they are studying the duration of antibodies of infection and whether the antibodies in the data reflect people who were infected more than once.

The CDC thought it was important to divulge the data even though it is not guiding new advice on what people should do on an individual level.

Dr. Walensky said people with antibodies from infection have some degree of protection against the disease, however. She said that is relevant to the CDC’s new tiered warning system, which pegs mask guidance to the rate of severe disease in a community.

Right now, the U.S. is looking at “mixed trends” of rising cases, at 44,000 per day — up 25% in the past week — and hospitalizations at 1,600 per day, an 9% increase, while deaths have continued downward to 300 per day, an 18% decline.

Those are relatively low numbers compared to the rest of the pandemic. The recent rise, however, is being fueled by fast-moving subvariants  — including the BA.2 variant that makes up 68% of cases, and the BA.2.12.1 variant detected in upstate New York that accounts for about 29% of national cases.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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