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WHO Says COVID Reinfection Only Slim Possibility

People wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, walk across a street in Hong Kong, Aug. 20, 2020.

Officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) are downplaying a confirmed case of a Hong Kong man who became reinfected with COVID-19, saying chances of that happening on regular basis are slim.

University of Hong Kong scientists announced the development Monday, saying the virus strains that infected the man more than four months apart were different.

Speaking to reporters virtually Tuesday from Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said it was important the event was documented and confirmed. There had been previous anecdotal reports of reinfection that could have been just a problem with testing.

Harris noted this is the first confirmed case of COVID reinfection in more than 23 million cases, and if it were more of a regular occurrence, there would have been more cases before now.

She said the case is significant, though, in terms of what it means for people’s immunity to the virus. "This is why we have got a lot of research groups actually tracking people, measuring antibodies, trying to understand how long the immune protection lasts.”

Harris said people should understand the natural immune protection that develops after a person has a virus is not the same as the immune protection that a vaccine provides.