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S. Korea's antibody survey suggest low herd immunity, implications for vaccines? Updated: 2020-09-15 16:51:06 KST

A vaccine against COVID-19 is probably still months away, and it will be months after that before many people are able to receive it.
As the race to develop vaccines rages on, countries are releasing the results of a series of antibody surveys.
Antibodies are formed to fight off the new disease by binding themseleves to the disease and allow the immune system to eliminate it from the system.
The antibody surveys suggest where the community is in terms of herd immunity, and the point at which the virus can no longer spread widely because there are not enough vulnerable humans.
South Korea has also released its second round of antibody tests collected during the period between mid-June and August 13th.
And this is the topic of our News In-depth.
Joining us live in the studio is Dr. RHEE Chul-woo, Project Lead of the International Vaccine Institute's COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.



South Korea has released the results of the second round of antibody tests, the random testing of some 14-hundred people, and found that just one tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19.
Some say the sample size of the recent test is not big enough to derive meaningful findings.
But before we get into that, for those that are not familiar with the antibody survey, tell us what it is, how it's conducted.

This testing for coronavirus antibodies is conducted by the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Results from the first round of tests, released in July, showed that only one out of some 3-thousand people tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
But the test didn't cover people from Daegu where there was a major outbreak earlier this year.
Now the second round of tests, was conducted on 14-HUNDRED people in 13 major cities in provinces, includ and it 145 people living in Daegu.
Can you help us understand the premise of this test? How are the subjects being chosen and what exactly is being tested?

The result of the recent survey shows that the antibody prevalence rate of those tested stood at less than one percent point- zero-seven pecent to be exact which is about twice the incidence rate of the disease at the time the tests were conducted. And it's significantly lower than New York City at nearly 25 percent and London at 17 percent.
South Korea's health authorities cautioned against reading too much into the results of the antibody tests, saying that the data is not sufficient to determine real numbers.
But the increase from 0.03% from the first round to the 0.07% in the second round of people with antibodies, while minimal, still seems like a positive sign.
What exactly do these numbers really mean in the greater scope of battling the coronavirus?

As COVID-19 grew into a fast-spreading global pandemic, health experts had mentioned this notion of herd immunity as an option to stop it.
This is where enough people in a community develop immunity that the infection stops spreading.
The most alarming thing about the latest finding is the lack of antibodies in the Korean population, so does this mean that herd immunity is impossible in South Korea?
Help us understand the role of antibodies, and why it's key for herd immunity.

Some of the approaches proposed by experts that incorporate herd immunity suggest a vaccination strategy. Rather trying to simply vaccinate everyone, governments could identify and immunize those most likely to be exposed. What are the implications in terms of herd immunity through vaccines?

The human body stores antibodies for varying lengths of time, meaning that if the same disease enters the body, the antibodies will be able to fight it off.
The body can become immune to that disease for the duration of the antibodies' lifetime.
So the duration of antibodies in the human body is key to herd immunity.
Does the recent survey result indicate any anticipated challenges for vaccine development?

South Korea has signed on to join the COVAX Facility, set up by the World Health Organization and the global vaccine alliance Gavi.
We are now in the process of making things official papers have been submitted, and a legally binding letter of confirmation is set to be sent this week.
Now, from the COVAX Facility, South Korea aims to get vaccines for 10 million people, and another 20 million through arrangements with private companies.
A total of 30 million people will account for roughly 60 percent of the country's population.
How does acquiring a vaccine from the COVAX Facility play into local biotech companicies facilitating the development of vaccines?

The recent tougher social distancing level of -2point-5 seems to have taken effect, keeping the daily number of new cases below 200 for the 13th consecutive day today.
But the numbers are still in 3-digits and there has been a rise in untraceable cases and cluster infections are still hampering the virus fight.
As health experts stride to get ahead of this virus, South Korea's health authorities said that with the latest test findings, containment efforts really is the only way to slow the spread of the virus until an effective vaccine is available.
What efforts do you see people needing to make to fend off the virus?

Alright.
Dr. RHEE Chul-woo, Project Lead of the IVI's COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, thank you for speaking with us this evening. We appreciate it.
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