TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that bind like a lock-and-key to foreign invaders in the body, like COVID-19.
"These proteins recognize the coronavirus, for example, and they bind to it, they code it," says Dr. Sean Elliot, Pediatric Disease Specialist, Tucson Medical Center.
And once that foreign invader gets coded, our immune system takes over.
"They're sort of a sugar coating to make this foreign invader easier to take out with the rest of our immune system," says Elliot.
Antibodies are smart. Doctors say they work to help pre-sensitize our immune system, so if we're exposed to COVID again, our bodies will remember that virus.
"If you already have them there from vaccination or from prior infection, your body's already 10 steps ahead of the game to fight off any second challenge," says Elliot.
So let's talk about the million-dollar question: How long are we immune to COVID-19 once we have antibodies built up? Well, doctors say it depends on how sick you were the first time you were infected.
"Somebody who had no symptoms at all, maybe they were asymptomatic, or who had a mild case: maybe fevers, maybe kind of tired, they may not make a whole lot of antibodies," says Elliot. "And those antibodies may not stick around very long."
Best estimate right now for a mild case? Doctors say you're protected for about three to six months. And if you're really sick...
"Likely, you're very protected," says Elliot. "You have high levels of antibodies and it'd be very unlikely to get sick a second time."
Doctors also say the vaccine, like the one from Pfizer or Moderna, is a great way to boost your so-called personal “SWAT team”.
"Those cause rip-roaring antibodies," says Elliot. "These are high levels, that so far, have been tested in the studies and we're talking seven to eight months. They are still super high."
Another question on your mind may be: if I already got COVID, should I still get the vaccine? Medical professionals say absolutely.
"We know for a fact so far, the antibody protection to the vaccines is really good, and it does last a long time," says Elliot.
Unfortunately, antibodies are specific to the virus infection they were triggered against. So remember: just because you've built up antibodies that work to protect your body from COVID-19, doesn't mean you will be immune to another virus in the future.