TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - There is only a slim possibility of people being reinfected with COVID-19, the UN Health Agency said on Tuesday, Aug. 25, following reports that a man in Hong Kong had contracted new coronavirus a second time after more than four months.
World Health Organization spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris downplayed concerns that the development could herald a new alert.
"The important – other important - thing to note is the numbers are very, very small," she said.
“So this is one documented case in over 23 million and we will probably see other documented cases. But it seems to be not a regular event, we would have seen many more cases.”
Harris noted that the reinfection signaled on Monday was significant.
According to the University of Hong Kong scientists who announced the development, the COVID-19 strain that infected the man a second time was different than the first.
“The important thing here is that this is clear documentation,” said Harris. “So, we’ve had anecdotal reports every now and then from people who’ve tested negative, then tested positive. And it hasn’t been clear up until this case whether that was simply a problem of testing or whether people were getting infected a second time.”
Priorities for the UN health agency include understanding “what this means in terms of [people’s] immunity”, Harris said.
"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 – the natural immune protection - and that should be understood as it is not the same as the immune protection that a vaccine provides."
To date, the WHO has recorded nearly 23.5 million cases of COVID-19 infection globally, with more than 809,000 deaths.
WHO said that more than 170 countries are cooperating on a global initiative to produce fairly priced COVID-19 vaccines once they are licensed and approved.