Feb 24, 2022, 8:20:35 AM CST Nov 30, 2023, 2:07:10 PM CST

If you get COVID-19, can you get it again?

Here's why you can get COVID-19 more than once and how you can protect yourself and your family

Family shopping in the grocery store Family shopping in the grocery store

At the beginning of the pandemic, many people hoped that having COVID-19 once would mean they couldn't get it again. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Many kids and their families have now had COVID-19 multiple times.

Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, explains why this is, 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 it again. However, after you've had COVID‑19, you do have more protection against infection than other people who have not, especially immediately following infection. This is because you have heightened immunity (protection) from the virus.

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. Studies have shown that immunity from COVID‑19 infection fades faster than immunity from COVID‑19 vaccination.

In addition, when new COVID‑19 variants emerge, they may be different enough from previous strains that they can get around immunity you have built up and still make you sick.

"We saw this especially with the highly contagious Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is good at evading a person's built-up immunity and drove an increase in cases," Dr. Kahn says.

How soon after getting COVID‑19 can you get 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 two times 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.

Preliminary research also shows that if you have had COVID-19 before, the virus is less likely to make you severely ill if you get it again. 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.

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 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.

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. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID 19 hub.

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Communicable disease, coronavirus, immune system, infectious disease, virus, vaccine

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