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Can you get COVID-19 more than once?

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in the past, you may think you don’t need to worry about getting the virus again. Or perhaps you skipped the COVID-19 vaccine or booster, assuming you’re protected. But the truth is, it’s possible to get COVID-19 more than once.

“It’s definitely possible,” says Kinzi Shewmake, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician. “I see people in my practice every day who have contracted COVID-19 more than once.”

Why is it possible to get COVID more than once?

Viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 can change and mutate, causing new variants or strains of the virus to circulate. These new variants can increase your risk of reinfection.

“Having one infection doesn’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19 a second time, especially with a new variant,” says Dr. Shewmake.

So, if you tested positive for COVID-19 during the delta variant surge, you’re still at risk of contracting the omicron variant (which appears to be much more contagious than previous variants, she notes). With each new variant, you’ll be susceptible to infection.

It’s also possible to get a breakthrough infection if you’re fully vaccinated, though vaccination reduces your risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death.

“Typically, viruses get smarter with time,” she says. “But I have faith we’ll also get smarter with time to stay a step ahead of it.”

Researchers are currently studying:

  • Who’s at high risk for reinfection.

  • How soon you can get reinfected after a previous infection.

  • How serious reinfections are compared to first infections.

  • The risk of transmission to others if you contract the virus a second time.

  • How often reinfections happen.

Does vaccine immunity diminish with time?

Immunity from natural infection or the COVID-19 vaccines can decrease over time, leaving you vulnerable to infection. That’s why it’s essential to stay up to date with your vaccines and boosters.

“The vaccines and recommended boosters are the best protection against contracting severe COVID-19 or dying,” says Dr. Shewmake.

She adds that researchers are currently studying vaccines that will target the omicron variant.

It’s not too late to get your COVID-19 vaccine

If you’re not vaccinated, Dr. Shewmake says it’s not too late. Research indicates that immunity from vaccines may last longer than immunity from infection.

“My patients who are vaccinated have milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness compared to those who are unvaccinated,” she says. “COVID-19 is still hitting the unvaccinated really hard.”

If you’ve been vaccinated, getting your booster will help support your immune system.

“With each surge, many people think it won’t happen again, but the surges keep repeating themselves,” says Dr. Shewmake. “Getting boosted is one area we can definitely improve upon in this fight against the virus. The booster reminds your body how to fight.”

Reduce your risk of COVID-19 reinfection

To reduce your risk of reinfection, Dr. Shewmake recommends to:

  • Get vaccinated and boosted.

  • Wash your hands frequently.

  • Follow mask and social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What will COVID-19 look like in the future?

While the virus that causes COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, experts are hopeful it’ll become something we can live with.

“I’m hopeful that, with time, we’ll become better at treating COVID and preventing complications, similar to the way we do with influenza,” says Dr. Shewmake. “I have confidence in science that we’ll get there one day.”

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