- Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has been regularly testing a group of employees for COVID-19 antibodies.
- 4,300 employees signed up for a study looking at possible links between antibodies and immunity.
- “People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune,” said one of the study’s authors.
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Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX has been using its employees to run a COVID-19 antibody study, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
The results of the study were made public in a peer-reviewed paper published in Nature Communications, which lists Elon Musk as a co-author.
According to the study, SpaceX sent an email round to staff asking for volunteers to participate in a regular antibody study to study COVID-19. After that email was sent, 4,300 SpaceX employees signed up to give monthly blood samples so they could be tested for antibodies.
According to the Journal, Musk and SpaceX’s top medical executive Anil Menon worked to bring on various doctors and academics to design the study.
The published study includes data spanning from April – when the testing started – and June, although regular testing is still ongoing according to the Journal.
The study provides more information in the ongoing efforts to understand how COVID-19 works, and whether a certain number of antibodies could provide a level of immunity.
The study’s findings suggest that people who had only mild COVID-19 symptoms developed fewer antibodies, which might mean they are less likely to have long-term immunity and could therefore get reinfected.
Researchers still working on the study told the Journal they have already observed some instances of reinfection in workers who previously were found to have low numbers of antibodies.
“People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune,” Dr. Galit Alter, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Journal. “The good news is most of the vaccines induce [antibody] levels way higher than these levels,” Dr. Alter added.
Scientists are still researching whether catching COVID-19 provides any form of lasting immunity.
Dr. Alter also told the Journal Elon Musk took a personal interest in the research and had the study’s authors brief himself and SpaceX executives on how vaccines and antibodies work.
SpaceX was able to repurpose medical facilities it had already set up before the pandemic, and recruited interns from nearby hospitals to help draw the volunteers’ blood. Out of 4,300 volunteers 120 who tested positive for COVID-19 had their blood carefully examined to see how many antibodies they’d produced. Out of this 120, 61% reported no symptoms.
Out of that 120-strong sample 92% were male and the median age was 31. The larger sample was 84.3% male with a median age of 32 – although the age range spanned from 18 to 71.
Elon Musk himself said he’d tested positive for coronavirus in November last year, and in the early months of the pandemic the billionaire repeatedly vented his frustration at lockdown measures calling them “fascist.” At one point he defied a shelter-in-place order to open his Tesla factory in Alameda County, California, – after which several employees tested positive for coronavirus.