“I still haven’t had Covid yet.”
It’s a phrase you likely still hear regularly (or even say yourself), despite the fact Aotearoa’s daily Covid-19 cases have crept over the 4000 mark this week.
With new variants of the virus pushing up case numbers and reinfections also on the rise, the question is: how has anybody managed to avoid Covid-19 this long?
Is it just luck?
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says some New Zealanders have definitely just been lucky when it came to not catching Covid-19 nearly three years into the pandemic.
For others, it is because they are still being very careful to avoid the virus.
“Some people will just take a lot of precautions,” he says.
“People who are worried about infection, often with good reason, have just been very careful, reducing the number of people [they see] in social settings, and so on.”
There are people who had it with no symptoms
Baker says there is likely also a large group of New Zealanders who incorrectly believe they haven’t had Covid-19 yet.
These are people who have had Covid-19 but either had no symptoms or just mild symptoms that they passed off as a cold.
Research out of Australia this month found that there are large groups of people who have been infected with Covid-19 without even realising it.
Australia’s National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) tests blood samples for Covid-19 antibodies every 13 weeks.
The most recent samples showed at least 65% of Australian adults and 64% of Australian children had been infected with Covid-19 recently.
That is nearly 20% higher than the latest official data that says 46% of Australian adults have had the virus.
Baker says it’s probably a very similar story in Aotearoa.
“You can guarantee there will be another maybe 20% of people [in New Zealand] who were infected that haven’t been reported.”
But some people will likely never get the virus
Baker says there is another group of people who simply won’t get Covid-19.
“The virus will never infect everyone, even if it’s around for a very long time,” he says.
He says one “human challenge” trial in the UK showed that some people have high natural resistance to Covid.
That trial saw 36 healthy people aged between 18 and 29 exposed to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain of the virus.
Even with the virus put directly in their noses, 16 of those 34 people did not become infected.
“That tells us that some people are just a bit more resistant to getting infected even when they're exposed,” Baker says.
Scientists are now looking at why those people didn’t become infected, with the hope there might be clues as to how to eventually protect all of us from infection.