As Omicron swept across the country in early 2022, someone you know – or maybe even yourself or a family member – likely became infected with COVID‑19. The highly contagious variant caused record numbers of COVID‑19 cases, including in children. This leaves many parents wondering if they or their child got COVID‑19, are they safe from getting it again?
Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, shares the science behind immunity and what it means for you and your family.
Can you get reinfected with COVID‑19?
Unfortunately, if you or your child had COVID‑19, you can get reinfected. However, after you've had COVID‑19, you do have more protection against infection than other people who have not, especially immediately following infection. Two factors can affect your chance of COVID‑19 reinfection:
- Your immunity fading over time
- Whether a new variant emerges that is more likely to evade the immunity you've built up
There are two types of immunity to COVID‑19: natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity. Natural immunity occurs when you are exposed to the virus through infection. Vaccine-induced immunity occurs when your body builds up protection to the virus after vaccination.
Both types of immunity may weaken over time. Immunity from COVID‑19 infection has shown to fade faster than immunity from COVID‑19 vaccination.
In addition, when new COVID‑19 variants emerge, some mutate enough that they evade built-up immunity from previous strains of the virus. "Omicron has taught us that people with immunity can get infected," says Dr. Kahn. "If a new variant emerges, you may be susceptible to infection, even if you've had COVID‑19. We've seen this especially with the highly contagious Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is adept at evading a person’s built-up immunity and has driven an increase in cases."
How soon after getting COVID‑19 can you get it again?
If you or a loved one had COVID‑19, you're likely wondering how long you might be protected from getting it again. In general, research suggests that natural immunity against infection is strong for about 3-5 months. After that, your risk of COVID‑19 reinfection may start to go up.
It's important to know that how long natural immunity lasts varies by person. Your level of protection can depend on your severity of illness, age, chronic conditions or other factors. Natural immunity may offer less protection for certain people, including those over the age of 65.
Fortunately, COVID‑19 vaccines can help reduce the risk of reinfections:
- One study showed that people who do not get vaccinated after having COVID‑19 are 2x as likely to get infected again than those who do get vaccinated.
- Vaccinated and boosted individuals can keep their immunity protection longer than those not vaccinated.
There is other good news. Preliminary research shows that those with existing immunity have better protection against severe illness from COVID‑19. While this may depend on your age and other health conditions, in general, your risk of hospitalization from COVID‑19 is much lower with reinfection, and symptoms tend to be milder. This is especially true if you are up-to-date on your vaccinations.
How can I protect my family and avoid getting COVID‑19 again?
The best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID‑19 is by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You should:
- Make sure everyone in your family who is eligible gets vaccinated and boosted at the appropriate times.
- Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public when in areas of high transmission.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Get tested if you show any symptoms (such as congestion, fever or cough) or if you think you have been exposed to COVID‑19. Testing is an important way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially as reinfection symptoms may be mild.
Is it safe to get the COVID‑19 vaccine after having COVID‑19?
Yes, it is safe for people who have recovered from COVID‑19 to get the vaccine or a booster shot. You can get vaccinated as soon as your isolation period ends.
If you were treated for COVID‑19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, or you had multisystem inflammatory syndrome (called MIS-A in adults and MIS-C in children), you may need to wait before you get vaccinated. Ask your health care provider for more guidance.
The future of COVID‑19 is still uncertain, especially as new variants could emerge. The CDC will continue to update guidance as we learn more. While you and your family are certainly at less risk for COVID‑19 after recovering from infection, there will always be the chance of reinfection. It's important to keep precautions in mind to keep your family healthy.
See more COVID‑19 resources
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID 19 hub.