Are ‘immunity debt’ claims after Covid-19 precautions right or wrong?

Some now claim that you, especially if you are a child, may be in debt. In this case, they are not talking about the type of debt that should not have been traded on the FTX-crypto-exchange like five-year-old debt. No, there are claims that you may have what’s called an “immunity debt” because of Covid-19 precautions like wearing a face mask. The claim is that not having been exposed to respiratory viruses in the last two years has left your immune system “out of action” and therefore weaker. And having supposedly weaker immune systems supposedly leaves many people more susceptible to viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), hence the current surges in these pathogens. So, is there any truth behind such claims? Or is this just another attempt to denounce face masks, social distancing and other “inconvenient” Covid-19 precautions that you can take to, you know, help your fellow human beings from getting sick and not die?

You’ve probably heard of national debt, college debt, and Johnny Depp. But what exactly is “immunity debt” and is it even an established scientific term? Well, David R. Stukus, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, called “immunity debt” a coined term:

Others on Twitter, such as @TRyanGregory, @19joho and @DeviJustice pointed out some logical flaws with the “immunity debt” argument:

All in all, such “immune debt” claims assume that your immune system is very much like a muscle, something that must be constantly used to stay strong or otherwise may atrophy. Well, your immune system isn’t a muscle as Colin Furness, MISt PhD MPH, Assistant Professor of Information at the University of Toronto tweeted:

Your immune system can’t pick up your underwear after you accidentally chain your thong to a bowling ball. You can’t really look at your immune system in the mirror or post a picture on Tinder of yourself flexing your immune system and saying, “Look at me. I’m eating dirt and I can still make our date.

Most importantly, you don’t have to repeatedly expose your immune system to different pathogens to keep your immune system strong. If that were indeed the case, doctors would tell patients, “Make sure you get sick as much as possible, so you don’t get sick.” It would be a bit paradoxical. And you don’t want to walk up to strangers and say, “You look like you have a runny nose. Can I lick your face?

No, your immune system is more like a brain than a muscle, assuming you’re not muscular, so to speak. Typically, your immune system isn’t like that forgetful blue fish in the movie “Finding Nemo,” that Matt Damon character in the movie “The Bourne Ultimatum,” or that Drew Barrymore short-term memory character in the movie. movie “50 first dates”. A normal immune system can have a very good memory.

Plus, as Andrea C. Love, PhD, co-host of the Unbiased Science podcast, described in the following tweet and video (which would presumably be a tweedeo), your immune system is constantly working behind the scenes no matter what. you are doing. :

It’s not like wearing a face mask or staying a Harry Styles height (i.e. six feet) from others triggers your immune system to go on vacation to Tahiti. It continued to cleanse the wastes and perform repairs in your body every day.

Of course, your immune system may not yet have built up protection against something entirely new that it has never seen before like severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, by the time you’ve reached your terrible twos, chances are your immune system has already seen many different pathogens through your mother, vaccination, or natural exposure. And like dating a horrible significant other, being exposed to part of a nasty pathogen can leave lasting memories. That’s why once you’ve completed your first round of measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and other recommended childhood vaccines, you don’t need to get vaccinated again and again. against these pathogens each year.

A notable set of exceptions are respiratory viruses with high mutation rates like influenza and SARS-CoV-2. For example, the dominant strain of influenza continues to change every year. Every time the flu virus uses your body’s cells to reproduce, it can make mistakes like someone taking a selfie on a swing. This can result in new versions of the virus that are slightly different from the original and therefore may not be as easily recognized by your immune system. Over time, newer and newer versions of the flu virus may look increasingly different from what has been circulating and being in flu vaccines in previous years. This phenomenon has been dubbed antigenic drift, which means that the recognizable proteins on the surface of the virus called antigens gradually change over time. This is one of the reasons why every year you should get your flu shot with updated flu virus strains. It’s also why catching the flu one year (like in 2020) probably won’t give you enough protection in subsequent years.

Now, the current increase in RSV in under-twos may be partly due to the fact that some very young children are seeing RSV for the very first time now. Many of the current cases may be backlogs that would have been more evenly distributed between fall 2020 and late winter 2022 had Covid-19 precautions not been in place. It’s true that your immune system usually has to see a pathogen at least once before it generates a more appropriate and organized response. Otherwise, the first time your immune system sees a pathogen, it may behave much like a virgin would on a first date, shooting in random directions and laughing way too much at its own jokes. So there could be more RSV virgins in 2022 than in other years before 2020.

It would not be the same as an “immune debt” and does not provide a viable argument against implementing Covid-19 precautions in people over the age of two. Again, school-aged children and adults have already been exposed to many things in their lifetime. (Imagine a five-year-old saying, “Things I’ve seen.”) People over the age of two don’t need constant exposure to pathogens to maintain their immune system.

So what could explain the current surge in respiratory viruses? The relaxation of Covid-19 precautions in 2022 certainly allows respiratory viruses to spread more freely now. There is no indication that the Covid-19 precautions over the past two years have somehow made the now surges worse than they otherwise would have been. What is happening with respiratory viruses can naturally get worse and better from year to year. For the flu, much of this may depend on how many people get the flu vaccine and how well the flu virus strains in the vaccine match those circulating that season.

The Covid-19 pandemic can affect other respiratory viruses in three main ways. One is co-infection and the problem weakened by Covid-19, which is not quite the same as co-dependency. When your immune system is busy and exhausted fighting SARS-CoV-2, it may be less able to fend off other respiratory viruses. Also, even after recovering from Covid-19, your immune system may show persistent weakness and dysfunction, as Yoni Freedhoff, MD, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, alludes to in the following tweet :

The second problem is that of overcompensation. As the term “revenge trip” embodies, many people may be trying to make up for what they perceive as missed opportunities over the past couple of years. Revenge travel is the phenomenon of traveling even more often this year than any previous year to supposedly make up for lost time and say a big “beep” to the pandemic when you might be saying “beep” to your body and your wallet. The same goes for revenge dating, revenge parties, revenge rants, revenge get-togethers, revenge happy hours, and sex with someone you just met on Tindering. It’s hard to say how much revenge could take place in 2022, but such activities could help respiratory viruses get their share of revenge.

The third problem is the problem of laxity. Many people may have become even more lax when it comes to basic precautions such as getting a flu shot, washing their hands, and preventing someone’s face from beeping while they talk. Part of that could be fatigue. But much of it is the wrong message from federal, state and local governments and businesses. This whole pandemic is over, so go ahead and vote for us in the next election and spend the money again malarkey can overshadow major public health precautionary messages.

Ultimately, wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing for the past two years is unlikely to have made you more vulnerable to respiratory infections now. There is no real evidence that this resulted in a so-called “immunity debt”. Give your immune system more credit than that.