How Many Americans Have COVID-19 Immunity? New CDC Report Shares Promising Data

  • A new CDC report found that approximately 96% of Americans, age 16 and older, have some COVID-19 immunity.
  • The data used to calculate that percentage was collected from July 2022 to September 2022—meaning, the country could have now surpassed that 96%.
  • Experts note that while there are a variety of different types of immunity someone can have, that doesn't guarantee complete protection from COVID-19.

About 96% of Americans over the age of 16 have some immunity to COVID, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found.

The study, published on June 2 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), included data from June to September 2022. Over 26% of people had immunity from COVID vaccination, and another 22% had immunity from COVID infection alone. But nearly 48% had hybrid immunity, from both vaccines and a prior infection.

“It is good news that, through vaccination and then as we progressed through the pandemic, the vast majority of people have some sort of immunity,” Commander Jefferson Jones, MD, MPH, USPHS, report author and medical officer with the CDC’s Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, told Health. “This likely has contributed to the decreasing level of hospitalizations and severe disease that we’ve seen.”

The findings also provide more insight into the efficacy of vaccination programs throughout the pandemic. People over age 65 had the lowest rate of hybrid immunity and similarly low levels of infection-related immunity.

This “reflects a success in public health and other efforts to prevent infection in this age group,” Dr. Jones explained.

Here’s what experts had to say about what high COVID immunity means for the future of the virus, and what people can do to make sure they’re protected.

Young woman taking a COVID test

Young woman taking a COVID test

Getty Images / d3sign

Calculating National Immunity

In order to determine an accurate representation of how many Americans have some COVID immunity, the CDC has been looking at blood donations since July 2020.

“We use antibody tests and self-reported vaccine history from a cohort or group of over 70,000 blood donors that are followed over time,” Dr. Jones said. “Through this, we were able to estimate the proportion of people that have antibodies or immunity, either from infection, from vaccination, or both.”

This estimate found a whopping 96.4% immunity rate among Americans.

And because this data was collected between July and September 2022, it’s possible that now even more than 96% of Americans have COVID antibodies. The percentage has been increasing since the spring of 2021, when 68% of the country had immunity.

“There’s been people who’ve been newly infected since that time. There are also potentially some people who’ve been newly vaccinated. So we’re probably above 96%,” Jeffrey Klausner, MD, professor of medicine, infectious diseases, and population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, told Health.

“That means there are even more people who are protected against hospitalization, severe disease,” he emphasized.

The report also found that almost 86% of the unvaccinated had infection-induced immunity as compared to 64% of vaccinated people. Those who were unvaccinated were also more likely to get a new COVID infection.

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What Does COVID Immunity Look Like?

Besides providing a clearer picture of COVID’s reach in the population, the report also sheds light on the different types of immunity, and where Americans' antibodies are coming from.

Hybrid immunity—antibodies from a vaccine and a prior infection—is considered the strongest, said Dr. Jones. This is good news, considering it’s also the most prevalent.

But a person is still protected if they have antibodies from just a prior infection or just a COVID vaccine. This is the case for 22% and 26% of the population, respectively.

Though both are protective, vaccine-induced immunity is preferred in the eyes of many medical professionals.

“A vaccination is certainly a much safer method to gain immunity. Infection carries with it a risk of transmission to those around you, a risk of severe disease, death, long COVID, for example,” said Dr. Jones.

Regardless of the type of immunity a person has, it’s important to remember that having antibodies does not completely protect a person from COVID.

“Once you’re infected, the test we use can detect antibodies for at least a year and potentially several years,” clarified Dr. Jones. “The presence of an antibody doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get infected or you can’t get severe disease.”

Because of this, it can actually be pretty challenging to quantify the degree of COVID protection that exists in the U.S.

Yes, 96% of Americans have some COVID immunity, but the level of protection may vary widely from person to person since immunity—regardless of whether it’s from an infection or a vaccine—wanes over time.

To determine the percentage of Americans with high protection against severe COVID, researchers would have to know “the number of times a person has been infected, the number of times someone’s been vaccinated, how much time has passed since their infection or vaccination, and then how well these match up with the current viral strains that are circulating,” Dr. Jones explained.

He added that the number of people who are highly protected really depends on transmission rates and on how many people stay up to date on their vaccines.

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Informing Our Understanding of COVID Going Forward

The strength of this immunity may vary, but at the very least, almost all people have some experience fighting off the virus, meaning they’ll be less likely to get severely sick as a result.

“The overwhelming amount of immunity in the population tells us we need to be much less concerned about serious disease and overwhelming hospitals,” said Dr. Klausner. “While we can continue monitoring, we would not anticipate the major disruptions that occurred in society [in 2020].”

But on the more individual level, it can be challenging to figure out how strong each person’s immunity really is.

There are antibody tests, but they’re not yet available over the counter, Dr. Jones said. People can test at local clinics to see if they have antibodies, or can get more detailed information from tests done with an infectious disease expert, Dr. Klausner added.

But the best thing people can do to make sure they have solid immunity is simply to stay up to date on COVID vaccines, experts agreed.

Everyone ages 6 and older is considered up to date on their COVID shots once they’ve received one dose of the updated bivalent booster, but people who are older than 65 or who are immunocompromised can get additional doses. So far, only 17% of the U.S. population has met this metric.

“When people get their flu shot, they can also get a regular COVID shot once a year,” Dr. Klausner encouraged. “That will help boost and maintain their antibodies.”

Eventually, we may see more universal COVID shots that protect against all COVID variants, but we’re not there yet, Dr. Klausner noted. Until then, scientists will keep updating COVID shots, likely annually, to keep people safe from whichever variants are most prominent at the time.

“The most important thing you can do is stay up to date on your vaccination,” Dr. Jones confirmed. “It’s the safest way to protect yourself against severe illness.”

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