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expert reaction to unpublished preliminary findings looking at the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 virus in residents of Gangelt, in Germany

A preliminary study in Germany has investigated the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the population of Gangelt, a municipality of around 12,000 people. This work* is currently unpublished.


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said:

“The finding that 14% of the population of Gangelt in Germany have antibodies to the virus causing COVID19 is interesting, but does not in any way prove that 14% of the population are immune, as these reports suggest.  While it’s undeniably a good sign, merely having some antibodies does not necessarily prove immunity, as is often casually asserted.  We don’t know what the correlates of protection, the measurable signs that someone has immunity to a disease, are for this virus and neither do we know how long any immunity would last.”


Prof David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“It is important to understand the sensitivity and specificity of the serological test used in the German studies to be sure the test is not picking up antibody to other corona viruses (4 different common cold causing coronaviruses have been isolated in humans during the past years and 3 more serious ones (SARSCoV1 and 2, and MERSCoV). 

“The immune response to SARSCoV2 is not yet understood – it is known for some of the other coronaviruses that infect humans that reinfection with the same virus is possible. Although the authors of this work have made reference to possible herd immunity, it is far too premature to make these kinds of statements – it is necessary to understand if and how long antibody to SARSCoV2 signals protection first.”


Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor in the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said:

“This study is a welcome piece of good news showing significant numbers of people have developed antibodies and overall mortality rate may be lower than current estimates.  The findings are dependent on the quality of the antibody test used.  As they mention a 15% rate of past infection will on its own slow the spread of the virus, probably by about 20%.  It is important that similar antibody studies are done elsewhere and that the antibody tests from the Porton Down Lab in the UK are reported regularly without delay.”


*Preliminary results and conclusions of the COVID-19 Case Cluster Study (Gangelt municipality) by Streeck H et al.


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