PHOENIX — A survey done to determine COVID antibodies among those not tested in Maricopa County shows the virus may be more widespread than what is being officially reported.
In September of 2020, Arizona State University, The Mayo Clinic, and Maricopa County deputized hundreds of public health volunteers with the challenge of asking households for blood samples to see if they tested positive for antibodies.
ASU Epidemiology Professor Megan Jehn tweeted the “Serosurvey” was the hardest project she’s ever done in her academic career.
“We had 300 volunteers from Wickenburg to Apache Junction,” said Jehn.
The latest findings show there may be four times as many people in Maricopa County that have had COVID than what’s officially measured.
Those who had COVID may not have known it because their case may be asymptomatic, they could have had a mild case, or they just didn’t get tested.
Jehn said “households that predominately didn’t speak English were more likely to be impacted.”
Underestimating the number of people impacted with COVID does mean there are more people with antibody protection.
Public health physician Dr. Frank LoVecchio says measuring an antibody load for someone can help determine a timeframe for when a booster shot is needed.
The “Serosurvey” was done in the fall of 2020 and antibodies wear off over time.
“Two weeks after your second shot, we’ve always seen a 95% percent protection. That means it’s very rare to be admitted to the hospital,” said LoVecchio. “But in about 6-8 weeks that drops down to 75% or so.”
The health insider goes on to say a lower antibody load would be an indication to a physician a booster is needed for the best protection against COVID.
“This will also be a marker when you’re doing studies on the population on how long you keep your immunity,” he said.
More people with COVID antibodies can help reduce the severity of illness and help reduce hospitalizations.
However, the virus continues to mutate.
“There’s always the possibility of another variant. We don’t want to say that, no one wants to hear that but until we get the majority of the population vaccinated we’re still going to run the risk of future waves of infection, unfortunately,” said Jehn.