Catching Covid again: thoughts about another Covid infection

In this section we explore what people we interviewed thought about catching Covid again. The people we spoke in early 2021 to had already had Covid, either recently or in the previous year. They hoped that having already had Covid they would be protected from further infection, or at least from serious illness. In this section we explore:

  • Reasons for cautious optimism
  • Fears and feelings of vulnerability to reinfection
  • Concerns about what isn’t known (yet) about the virus
  • Continuing concerns

When Jessica, a hospital doctor, was interviewed early in 2021 she had already been infected twice.

People we spoke to in the second half of 2021 had usually had at least one dose of the vaccine when we talked. When we asked about their thoughts on getting Covid again they told us they would be variously ‘angry’ ‘annoyed’, ‘pissed off’, ‘shocked’ or ‘resigned’ if that happened.

Reasons for cautious optimism

Not many people we spoke to believed that they were completely protected even after they had had an infection, two vaccines and a booster. Matt felt ‘reasonably protected, not permanently immune’.

Matthew thought that because the virus ‘didn’t take me’ when he was at his worst, a future infection would likely be much milder.

As more information about the effectiveness of vaccinations came out, most people we talked to recognised that even if they did become infected again they could expect to have a milder illness. Despite this, nearly everyone we talked to in 2021 said that they remained cautious about their own and other people’s safety and continued to follow precautions. Esther explained, not only did she not want to get Covid again, she also did not want to have to go back into isolation.

Beth, who works in a care home, feels that she has done what she can by being vaccinated and hopes a reinfection wouldn’t be too bad.

Gwilym is part of a research study where his antibodies are regularly assessed. He is relieved that these are still ‘very high’.

Some people who were initially very optimistic about being protected by antibodies and vaccines started to become a bit more concerned as they heard that some ‘double jabbed’ people had been infected again, and that some of these were seriously ill. Dorte said that she feels safer and more confident but that it was scary to think that some people in her situation might still be hospitalised.

Fears and feelings of vulnerability to reinfection

Of the people we spoke to, the people who were most fearful about reinfection were those who had been seriously ill with Covid. For some this had included being hospitalised (See Experiences of Covid-19 and Intensive Care).

Nargis, who we talked to three months after she caught Covid in early 2021, said that she was sure that she ‘wouldn’t survive’ if she got Covid again.

Sunita felt anxious about the prospect of getting Covid again.

When Cindy became aware that she had shared a car with someone who tested positive for Covid she was very panicked. Fortunately, she was not re-infected on this occasion. Because people with Covid do not always have symptoms, some of the people we talked to found it a scary thought that they could have it a second time and pass it on to others without knowing. This made them want to be more cautious.

Concerns about what isn’t known (yet) about reinfection

Early in 2021 there was uncertainty about whether it was even possible to get Covid twice. Mandy wondered ‘can you catch it again?’ but hoped that since ‘we’ve all gone through it’ that she wouldn’t get it again. She was aware that it was unclear whether people who remained well themselves might still pass it on to others and said, ‘that’s what I worry about’.

People we talked to sometimes referred to the research findings and scientists who were commonly in the media. They also included the views of friends and family and others, often quoted as ‘they say …don’t they?’ before expressing a hope or a concern.

Sue’s niece thinks that the virus will get weaker, like a cold virus, over time. Sue’s own experience of Covid was nothing like the ‘common cold’.

Nearly everyone was aware of the continuing uncertainty about how the virus might mutate and what new variants might mean for vaccine resistance. A common comment was that ‘we don’t know enough yet’, for example about how protective antibodies would be and for how long.

Sam X was relieved that her body had coped with the virus and concerned about getting it again, especially with a new variant.

Continuing concerns

The continued uncertainty about what would happen next, alongside new evidence from research, led a few people to conclude that they should make the most of any weeks when they were well and transmission rates appeared to be low. Susanne said, ‘a silver lining of all this is that I feel as if we’ve got six to nine months of everybody having higher antibodies in their systems and a window to do things before the next variant may come along’.

Several people we spoke to expressed how keen they were to ‘get back to normal life’ and said they were ‘resigned’ to the possibility of getting Covid again. Recognising that nothing was ever certain in life, some believed that was in the hands of God, or the fates.

Paul Z is optimistic, but still takes precautions.

June is concerned about asymptomatic Covid and won’t ‘throw off her mask and skip down the road’ just because she is fully vaccinated.

In contrast to those who have a mild experience of illness if they get infected again, Sam was more ill the second time he caught Covid.

Cat hopes that if she gets Covid again it won’t be too bad but thinks that because there is such wide variation in experience that it is hard to know.


In this section we describe people’s responses to Covid-19 vaccination. From December 2020/January 2021, people in the UK were invited for vaccinations in successive waves,...