When President Donald Trump tweeted that he was immune to COVID-19, Twitter slapped a warning label on it, saying that it “spread misleading and potentially harmful information.” Later, however, one of America’s leading experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, partially defended Trump’s statement. So now we must ask: Who is more misleading, Twitter or Trump?
In an interview, Fauci said that Trump is “temporarily immune” but is uncertain how long the immunity will last. The basis for Fauci’s statement is well-established scientific facts in immunology.
It is a well-established fact that humans develop immunity to various viruses after having contracted them. One typical example is chickenpox. Once someone gets ill and recovers, they remain immune for several decades, possibly for a lifetime. Some people are naturally immune to an illness from birth or early age. Scientists have uncovered a strong relationship with the birth year. For instance, people born after 1968 are less likely to die or become acutely ill from the H5N1 virus.
The likely explanation is that people born after this year have natural exposure to the related H1N1 or H2N2 viruses from childhood. Scientists call this learning from early exposure “imprinting.” Those who have natural immunity never need to develop new antibodies to a novel disease. Most people, however, create new antibodies when they become immune. Some people never do, and they can be reinfected twice.
Yellow fever is an example of a disease for which a suitable vaccine lasts a lifetime. The reason is that the virus is stable and doesn’t change much over time. Scientists have had far less success in developing a vaccine for the seasonal flu because it mutates. For the same reason, people can catch the flu many times during a lifetime. The antibodies only give a temporary immunity until the virus changes so much that the immune system fails to recognize it anymore.
Humans are exposed to many coronaviruses, and, therefore, a significant portion of the population is likely naturally immune to COVID-19. The infection is not well-understood. It is still uncertain whether the virus is mutating rapidly. Therefore, scientists do not know how long immunity will last. If it behaves like the seasonal flu, the effect will only last a couple of years. The pandemic will then follow a similar path to other viruses, such as the 1968 Hong Kong flu.
There have also been recorded several cases of people who have contracted COVID-19 twice. Some have used this as evidence that one cannot become immune. A more likely explanation is that a part of the population never become entirely immune to some viruses.
Trump has been measured to have an immune response to the illness. Therefore, he is probably correct in saying that he is currently resistant to the disease and cannot spread it to other people. The only uncertainty is for how long the effect will last. Will he be immune for the rest of his life, or maybe only a few months? We don’t know yet.
However, by labeling Trump’s tweet as “misleading” information, Twitter has taken a stance that nullifies the field of immunology, which mostly supports the president’s claim. It is not the first time that Twitter sides with ideology over science, and it will probably not be the last time it interferes with the election.
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