Viewpoint: We need more data to determine who has developed COVID-19 immunity 

As only the "first glimmers of data" are available to researchers studying SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, scientists will need more population data to determine disease immunity, according to Dr. Marc Lipsitch an epidemiology professor at Harvard University. 

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Dr. Lipsitch wrote that limited testing has undercounted COVID-19 cases around the globe. He cited studies that claim that limited testing has not accounted for 10 times the number of detected cases in the U.S., or possibly even 100 or 1,000 times the official number. Because of this, he wrote that is it "reasonable to assume" that a minority of the global population is immune to SARS-CoV-2. 

Scientific understanding of COVID-19 immunity and transmissions will evolve once better data becomes available, according to Dr. Lipsitch. One method that will support data intake is the rollout of blood tests for antibodies on large numbers of people. These tests will provide a more widespread data pool for scientists to analyze. 

Scientists are still grappling with how to design epidemiologic studies to determine COVID-19 immunity because of issues including infection transmission. Some people with a prior infection might be different than individuals who haven't been infected various other ways, which could impact their future risk of infection. This analysis of prior exposure from other risk factors is causing confusion among epidemiologists, according to Dr. Lipsitch. 

"More science on almost every aspect of this new virus is needed, but in this pandemic, as with previous ones, decisions with great consequences must be made before definitive data are in," Dr. Lipsitch wrote. "Given this urgency, the traditional scientific method — formulating informed hypotheses and testing them by experiments and careful epidemiology — is hyper-accelerated." 

More articles on data analytics: 
Stanford Medicine using wearable devices' health data to catch early signs of viral infections
Carle Health enters into multimillion-dollar data analytics partnership: 3 details
AAMC calls for national COVID-19 data collection to identify health disparities


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