Reinfection Rates Among Patients Who Previously Tested Positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019: A Retrospective Cohort Study

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Nov 16;73(10):1882-1886. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab234.


Background: Protection afforded from prior disease among patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection is unknown. If infection provides substantial long-lasting immunity, it may be appropriate to reconsider vaccination distribution.

Methods: This retrospective cohort study of 1 health system included 150 325 patients tested for COVID-19 infection via polymerase chain reaction from 12 March 2020 to 30 August 2020. Testing performed up to 24 February 2021 in these patients was included. The main outcome was reinfection, defined as infection ≥90 days after initial testing. Secondary outcomes were symptomatic infection and protection of prior infection against reinfection.

Results: Of 150 325 patients, 8845 (5.9%) tested positive and 141 480 (94.1%) tested negative before 30 August. A total of 1278 (14.4%) positive patients were retested after 90 days, and 62 had possible reinfection. Of those, 31 (50%) were symptomatic. Of those with initial negative testing, 5449 (3.9%) were subsequently positive and 3191 of those (58.5%) were symptomatic. Protection offered from prior infection was 81.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 76.6-85.8) and against symptomatic infection was 84.5% (95% CI, 77.9-89.1). This protection increased over time.

Conclusions: Prior infection in patients with COVID-19 was highly protective against reinfection and symptomatic disease. This protection increased over time, suggesting that viral shedding or ongoing immune response may persist beyond 90 days and may not represent true reinfection. As vaccine supply is limited, patients with known history of COVID-19 could delay early vaccination to allow for the most vulnerable to access the vaccine and slow transmission.

Keywords: COVID-19; protective effectiveness; reinfection; symptomatic.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Reinfection
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2