Short stories, Travel and Health Information
With Donald Trump due to lose his job as President of the US come next Wednesday, the question in many people’s minds is this: For how long does Trump have immunity from prosecution?
As long as an American president remains in office, current legal opinion is that he or she cannot be prosecuted for any crime. That immunity from prosecution of course disappears the day the president leaves office – and this leaves ex-president Donald Trump, who has several legal threats looming over him – from investigations into his business dealings in New York to possible charges of obstruction of justice and inciting violence and insurrection against the government of the United States – liable to face legal charges and end up in court (or worse).
But in my article today it is not my intention to discuss Trump’s immunity – or lack of immunity – from criminal charges and prosecution. Rather, the immunity I would like to talk about is Trump’s immunity to the COVID 19 virus.
A few days after he was treated for and recovered from COVID infection (having received some experimental and expensive drugs at the Walter Reed Army Hospital), one of America’s top medical centres, Trump claimed at a campaign rally in Florida “I went through it. Now they say I’m immune. I feel so powerful.”
One of the major unknowns about the COVID virus is whether a person once infected with the virus who has survived is protected from developing a subsequent infection – and for how long such immunity would last. We do know that several virus infections (Chicken pox or Varicella, for example) confer those who have recovered from the infection with lifelong immunity. Chickenpox vaccine administered to children also gives them lifelong immunity against chickenpox infection.
Another vaccination – the modern one against Influenza virus – only provides immunity for about six to twelve months – and we need to get a fresh Influenza vaccination each year because the immunity induced by the vaccine wanes and the virus strains that are likely to infect us in subsequent years can vary.
To answer the question about immunity after COVID infection, a recent research study just published in the British Medical Journal has attempted to provide some information – which gives us room for some optimism.
Preliminary results from this SIREN Study conducted by Public Health England between June and December 2020 showed that people who have previously been infected with Covid-19 are likely to be protected against re-infection for several months. However, although immune from getting a second infection themselves, these people could still carry the virus in their nose and throat and transmit it to others.
Says Dr. Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser of Public Health England and lead of the SIREN study, “We now know that most of those who have had the virus, and developed antibodies, are protected from reinfection, but this is not total and we do not yet know how long protection lasts. Crucially, we believe people may still be able to pass the virus on.”
The study team stressed that these results give no insight into the effects of vaccines or the new more
transmissible variant of COVID currently affecting the UK, because of the time period analysed. These factors will be considered in later stages of analysis.
It was one time American Secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld who twenty years ago came out with that memorable quote “There are known knowns, known unknowns – and also unknown unknowns”
With Covid 19 too, there are some ‘Known Knowns‘ that we do know (such as the fact that this is a deadly disease that is spread by close physical contact between somebody carrying the virus and someone who is susceptible) and some ‘Known Unknowns‘ that we do know we do not know (such as how long immunity (whether acquired through a previous infection or conferred by vaccination) will last.
So if the story about Donald Trump being infected with COVID-19 in October last year is true, then we can confidently assume that he has an 83% chance of being immune from a second infection until at least March this year. This is a Known Known about his immunity from COVID.
As for Trump’s immunity from legal prosecution, I as a simple medical journalist cannot predict.
That I am afraid is one of the Great Unknowns.
As always, your informed comments give us food for thought, discussion and hopefully a better understanding of this deadly virus and a not quite so deadly ex-POTUS. Thank you doctor.