Billionaire Elon Musk had a rocket to launch last May just when COVID-19 forced the U.S. to shut down the economy. However, the resourceful entrepreneur used this drawback as an opportunity to create an in-house testing program for the virus.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Musk and his top executives teamed with medical researchers and tested 4,000 volunteers from the SpaceX program for COVID-19 and antibodies every month.
This maneuver successfully kept Musk’s launch on schedule. On May 30, SpaceX sent two NASA astronauts to the international Space Station. But the COVID-19 testing program also provided insight to other researchers into the prevalence and duration of antibodies.
The results of the program were recently published in Nature Communications. Musk is listed among the study authors. Among the discoveries, according to the Journal, is that people with minor COVID-19 symptoms generated fewer antibodies. This meant that those who experience milder cases of COVID-19 may not have enough antibodies to provide longer-term immunity.
The scientists who studied the SpaceX workers said that their findings could help public health officials identify people who need the COVID-19 vaccine the most. Those who have no antibodies in places where the incidence of the virus is high could receive the vaccine first, according to the Journal.
Musk revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19 back in November but said his symptoms were mild “sniffles & cough & slight fever” for a few days. In April 2020, he decided to build his testing program and enlisted the help of Dr. Galit Alter, a leading expert in immunology.
Of the approximately 4,000 SpaceX workers who volunteered, 300 contracted COVID-19. The researchers subsequently tested their antibody levels from April to June. They concluded that people need a certain threshold of antibody levels for COVID-19 protection.
“The good news is most of the vaccines induce antibody levels way higher than these levels for people who get both doses,” said Dr. Alter, according to the Journal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that antibodies of patients with mild responses to COVID-19 appear to wane more rapidly than for those with more severe cases. However, according to the CDC research, antibody response was nevertheless evident up to eight months after infection.
SpaceX workers are still being tested every month, and some of the volunteers who had low levels of antibodies have already been reinfected, according to the Journal.
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