Approximately one in 10 people in England reportedly did not have Covid yet – and scientists now think the minority could pave the way for a cure for the deadly virus.
Although the highly portable variant of Omicron that hit the world in late 2021 is still the dominant species, there are people who have not been positive throughout the pandemic.
Scientists now want to study this small demographic to see if their genes can help with future treatment – or even prevent Covid infection.
András Spaan, a clinical microbiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, is leading the hunt for what could cause resistance to Covid, with a special focus on their genetic material.
He told the Washington Post: “What we are looking for are potentially very rare genetic variants with a very large impact on the individual.”
He is the leader of an international survey that already has 700 participants. Scientists are also examining more than 5,000 additional people who believe they may be immune to the virus.
Health workers, who in the midst of the pandemic were without face masks, and yet managed to give a negative test for Covid on a weekly basis, are among those being tested for signs of immunity.
So how many people are still not infected with Covid?
Journalist John Burn-Murdoch last week published a chart for the Financial Times explaining that – based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – nine out of 10 people in England were positive for Covid at some point in the pandemic.
Positive cases are currently declining, but the number of those infected has varied throughout the pandemic, depending on which variant is spreading and how up-to-date the general population is with their vaccinations.
Yet, although some people have repeatedly reported being infected with Covid, there is still a category that believes they are not infected with the virus at all.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes six out of 10 people across the United States have had Covid at some point, at least once.
According to the website Staista.com, by May 1, 2022, there were almost 514 million cases of Covid – which certainly makes people who avoided it an anomaly.
What might make some people immune to Covid?
Experts speculate that some people may have fewer receptors in their nose, throat and lungs, meaning the virus is harder to bind to their bodies.
Alternatively, this minority may have previously been exposed to a similar virus that has resisted their immune system against Covid.
They may also be born with a certain immune system that is already equipped to fight the virus, making it a genetic problem.
If scientists can figure out why this small category of people are not infected, public health advice and medications for Covid could be significantly improved. This could even help protect the general population from future strains of the virus, which are expected.
However, individual use of masks, vaccines, and social distancing can affect a study’s ability to find those who are immune.
Frequent testers, those who wear masks indoors and avoid risky gatherings or travel, have obviously reduced their risk of contracting the virus with their decisions. This means there was not so much to do with their genetics or immune system as with their approach to the pandemic.
Bob Wachter, professor and head of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, also told the Washington Post, “It has to be a combination of caution, circumstance and happiness.”