COVID-19, Antibodies, and Obesity

Much energy these days seems to go into navigating between extreme views of important subjects. COVID-19 is a paralyzing threat or nothing to worry about. Vaccines are all we need to keep us safe from the pandemic or they’re lacking in safety and effectiveness. Having obesity will utterly destroy a person’s health, or it’s just a source of moral panic. In a perverse way, extremes on these subjects – COVID-19, vaccines, antibodies, and obesity – came together in a casual tweet yesterday from a normally very credible source.

Preprints Can Be a Source of Misinformation

If you read carefully, there are two big red flags here. To begin with, the data that Topol is highlighting comes from preprint. That means that there’s been no review of the rigor and validity of this study. The conclusions of its authors might or might not be defendable. Preprints have boomed with the pandemic, because they provide a way to get new research in front of other scientists quickly.

But they have also been a source of misinformation about COVID-19. For example, a flawed preprint helped to give us the current frenzy over ivermectin as a panacea (it’s not) for COVID-19. So a big grain of salt is necessary anytime we’re getting information from a preprint.

COVID Antibody Levels Can Mislead

In addition, these folks are looking only at antibodies – which don’t tell the whole story of immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are an interesting lab measure. But they can be misleading. In Lancet Infectious Diseases, Marcus Vinícius Guimarães Lacerda and Daniel Youssef Bargieri explain:

“One major practice that has hindered COVID-19 vaccination campaigns is that of self-testing for antibodies after vaccination. The general population does not understand that no specific level of antibodies exists as a clear cutoff for 100% protection. Therefore, although studies of humoral responses to vaccines in populations over time are necessary for the scientific community and vaccine developers, such studies need to be accompanied by clear messaging to the public that total antibody levels and protection might not be directly linked.”

In fact, the authors of the preprint Topol highlighted make this clear. They write:

“Antibody titre following SARS-CoV-2 vaccination cannot predict alone the risk of developing COVID-19, and even low antibody levels could be equally protective against infection.”

Catastrophizing Doesn’t Help

Will protection from COVID-19 fade more quickly after vaccination for some people than others? No doubt it will. Some people might need boosters sooner than others. But the fact is that these vaccines are amazingly effective and they save lives. Everything else is speculation right now. So let’s be careful suggesting that people with obesity – or any other risk group –  can’t count on a COVID-19 vaccine working for them based on lab measures of antibodies.

Catastrophizing obesity doesn’t help. Plus, we already have enough vaccine misinformation swirling in social media.

Click here for the preprint on COVID vaccines, antibodies, and obesity. For more on COVID vaccines and obesity, click here and here.

SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells, photograph by NIAID / flickr

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September 16, 2021

One Response to “COVID-19, Antibodies, and Obesity”

  1. September 16, 2021 at 8:23 am, Allen Browne said:

    My colleague used to call this”missing the forest for the trees.”