IF you've already had the misfortune of having Covid, you may be unlucky to get it once again.
The virus has been circulating for almost two years, and immunity doesn't last forever.
The best way to protect yourself against Covid infection – whether the first, second or even third time – is to get your vaccine.
Every adult in the UK is eligible for a full course (two doses) plus a booster jab, which can reduce the risk of you getting symptomatic Covid infection, or ending up in hospital or dying.
A triple-shot is effective against the Omicron variant, which has swiftly become the most dominant in circulation.
It's unlikely the bug will ever go away, as leading scientists say Covid will one day be "endemic" – meaning it is regularly found among the population like a common cold.
With the prospect of a world living with Covid, what are the chances, then, that you can get the disease twice?
We look at the current evidence to answer that burning question.
Can you catch coronavirus twice?
Yes, it is clear that it is possible to catch the virus twice or more.
In the UK there have been hundreds of thousands of people who have tested positive for Covid on more than one occassion.
Of Omicron cases, between ten and 15 per cent are reinfections, Professor Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Prof Ferguson's research with Imperial College London has shown you are five times more likely to get Covid again if you catch the Omicron variant compared to Delta because Omicron is more able to dodge previously-built immunity.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) has estimated around one in 20 new cases of the Omicron variant in England have been linked with a previous infection, at least 90 days apart.
The findings suggest Omicron is causing “an increase in overall reinfection rates, alongside an increase in first infections”.
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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Covid-19 Infection Survey reported in October – before Omicron emerged – that the most likely people to get Covid twice were women, those who had only a mild bout of illness the first time round, those with long term health conditions, and those who had no vaccine doses.
How long does immunity last?
The chances of catching Covid twice come down the various factors including the strength of immunity, prevalence of the virus, variants in circulation, and if someone has been vaccinated since they first picked up the deadly disease.
When someone is infected with a bug, like Covid, their immune system creates antibodies against it that fight the disease.
The antibodies remember the pathogen so that the next time it comes along, it's prepared.
But immunity doesn't always last forever and varies from person to person. It also may be weakened by a new variant that, compared to previous ones, is unrecognisable to the immune system.
A study published in The Lancet Microbe found that unvaccinated people can expect immunity against reinfection to last three to five years after developing Covid if the virus is still circulating in the community. The time period is so vast that it doesn't particularly answer the question.
But Jeffrey Townsend, the Elihu Professor of Biostatistics at the Yale School of Public Health and the study’s lead author, warned: “Reinfection can reasonably happen in three months or less."
Alex Dornburg, assistant professor of bioinformatics and genomics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who co-led the study, said: “As new variants arise, previous immune responses become less effective at combating the virus.
"Those who were naturally infected early in the pandemic are increasingly likely to become reinfected in the near future.”
Another study led by University College London said Covid survivors are protected for at least ten months, meaning they are very unlikely to pick up the bug twice in one year.
The first signals of reinfection in the UK came in September 2020, only six months after the first lockdown in March 2020.
While coronavirus has been around for almost two years now, there are still a lot of unknowns to be studied.
There are also other layers of the immune system which are more challenging to study, but that could offer much longer-lasting protection.
For example T-cells, which experts have suggested could last decades after Covid disease.
Will you get as sick the second time?
Even though new variants of Covid will increase the odds of more infections, Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said when reinfections do occur "generally they are less likely to cause serious illness".
It's the reason that experts believe Covid will one day become like other common cold bugs.
Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, previously said the virus could resemble the common cold by spring 2022, as people's immunity to the virus is boosted by vaccines and exposure.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, whose work helped to develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, said viruses tend to become weaker as they spread around.
Even though natural immunity gives a protective barrier, the best way to protect yourself is to get two Covid vaccine doses.
Immunity from vaccinations wane, which is why all those who are eligible have been urged to come forward for a booster jab. The offer for a first or second jab is evergreen.
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