A key question concerning coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is how effective and long lasting immunity against this disease is in individuals who were previously infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). We aimed to evaluate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 re-infections in the general population in Austria.
This is a retrospective observational study using national SARS-CoV-2 infection data from the Austrian epidemiological reporting system. As the primary outcome, we aim to compare the odds of SARS-CoV-2 re-infections of COVID-19 survivors of the first wave (February to April 30, 2020) versus the odds of first infections in the remainder general population by tracking polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-confirmed infections of both groups during the second wave from September 1 to November 30, 2020. Re-infection counts are tentative, since it cannot be excluded that the positive PCR in the first and/or second wave might have been a false positive.
We recorded 40 tentative re-infections in 14,840 COVID-19 survivors of the first wave (0.27%) and 253,581 infections in 8,885,640 individuals of the remaining general population (2.85%) translating into an odds ratio (95% confidence interval) of 0.09 (0.07 to 0.13).
We observed a relatively low re-infection rate of SARS-CoV-2 in Austria. Protection against SARS-CoV-2 after natural infection is comparable to the highest available estimates on vaccine efficacies. Further well-designed research on this issue is urgently needed for improving evidence-based decisions on public health measures and vaccination strategies.
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