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A Better Way to Think About Your Risk for COVID?

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  • A Better Way to Think About Your Risk for COVID?

    For months we’ve been fixated on the idea that some people are at “high risk” and others aren’t. Now scientists have a better understanding of the continuum.

    Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on October 6, 2021

    By Roxanne Khamsi

    Just as immune function—and its associated protection against severe COVID—tends to wane across our life span, it also varies along a continuum from person to person as a product of genetics. One evidently healthy 30-year-old, for example, could be more predisposed to getting very sick with COVID than another, even if they had the same set of medical conditions as listed on the CDC website. Scientists have been working out the details of these individual differences in immune function, but their findings haven’t yet been brought to bear on the pandemic in any widespread way, let alone considered guidance for the use of booster shots. Instead, as we struggle to set up rival groups of high- versus low-risk people, or immunocompromised versus immunocompetent, we tend to ignore all the gradations of vulnerability that might lie in between. Those who don’t clearly fit into the CDC’s official categories are left to guess at their personal levels of risk, counting their COVID antibodies “like calories” or grabbing booster shots of their own accord.