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Healthcare staff 'considered immune' for three months after recovering from Covid-19

Guidance regarding immunity and healthcare workers was compiled by the HSE.

Image: Shutterstock/David Herraez Calzada

HEALTHCARE WORKERS ARE treated as being immune from Covid-19 for three months after first contracting the virus, according to the HSE.

While the exact nature of immunity conferred on those who have recovered from the virus remains unclear, the HSE is telling staff that they can be “considered immune for 3 months from onset of symptoms”. 

Guidance for staff, compiled by the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, was issued on 21 May. 

The extent of immunity a person has after recovering from Covid-19 is unclear, something acknowledged by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at a Department of Health briefing.

The decision by the HSE means that healthcare workers who have recovered from Covid-19, even if identified as a close contact of a coronavirus case, “can continue to work as long as they are asymptomatic, and there is no requirement for them to restrict movement”. 

However, the guidance states that “if the HCW [healthcare worker] develops symptoms consistent with Covid-19, they should be excluded from work immediately and tested for Covid-19″.

Responding to questions from TheJournal.ie at the Department of Health briefing, Holohan said that the decision was made “on the basis of expert assessment via our expert advisory group that provides advice to the National Public Health Advice Emergency Team”.

“We communicated it to the HSE for the purpose of incorporation into guidance by the HPSC, who issued the guidance that’s then developed to public health and clinical colleagues.”

A HSE spokesperson said that the information was “widely shared with all OH [occupational health] departments at our twice weekly updates. This guidance is available on the HSE website and via the healthcare worker helpline so readily available”.

A document published on 13 May, compiled by the Health Information and Quality Authority, sets out the limited results of research into post-infection immunity. The available evidence suggests that there could potentially be antibodies in individuals for one to two years after being infected. 

However, the HIQA document states that “it is unclear if reinfection can occur following recovery from” Covid-19. 

World Health Organization officials have also acknowledged the limited data available on immunity.

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It remains unclear if a person with Covid-19 antibodies is protected from the virus into the future.

Asked whether healthcare staff with immunity could play a significant role in the case of a second wave of the virus, Holohan acknowledged this could be considered:

If we find ourselves in a situation where we have a further challenge with the spread of this infection and that results in an increase in, for example, hospitalisation, that will then become the priority for healthcare workers. We’ll be able to take into account what our understanding at that point in time is of immunity and the benefits that confers to people who have been exposed.

Three months, Holohan said, is “our best understanding of the assessment we should make now, based on our current understanding of the infection and the immunity and how likely it is to be long-lasting”.

Health officials here have previously warned that levels of Covid-19 antibodies in the population are very low – between 1% and 5%.

This would mean that even if there is some immunity after recovering from Covid-19, very few people would have it. 

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