The covid-19 virus and immunity in Norway


Covid-19 has affected our lives in many ways since Norway closed down on March 12th 2020. We all hope the pandemic will be over as quickly as possible and that we use this time to learn something rather than just sitting in the midst of it all. For this to happen quickly – within months rather than years – mass vaccinations are needed in order to grow immunity in our population.

Natural immunity also exists. Someone who has been affected by a viral disease, such as Covid-19, is likely immune to the disease for some time. Natural and vaccine immunity do not conflict with one another. Both are important components in the establishment of, what we call, “herd immunity” – the Norwegian population’s protection against Covid-19. The protection itself is found in our blood and is called “antibodies”.

Nobody knows how many people have contracted Covid-19 in Norway. There are estimates and suspicions, but these figures are not reliable. What we do know is 1) how many people were tested and 2) how many of those tested were sick, but we do not know how many people have had the disease in total. It is probably that a large proportion of people who contracted Covid-19 and fell ill were not able to confirm this through the PCR test, which searches for viruses in the nose and throat. In Italy, for example, the total number of infected people was six times higher than the number of people actually diagnosed with Covid-19 through the PCR test.

We want an answer to just that. What proportion of the Norwegian population has been affected by Covid-19? To do this, we need to collect blood samples and analyze them for SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) antibodies from a large number of people across Norway. In this project, approximately 100 000 randomly selected people will be asked to participate. Those who agree to participate will be sent test equipment, which can be used at home and will allow them to apply the two drops of blood we need on a piece of paper.

Why do we want to know how many people in Norway have been infected? We want to find out how widespread natural immunity in the country is, how many people, who and where were people infected?  Last, but not least, it is paramount we learn as much as possible about how such viruses spread in Norway so that we are better prepared for the next time this happens.

The results from the blood samples and questionnaires and transportation databases will allow machine- and complex network modeling to improve understanding of the evolution of the epidemic. We will also compare our findings to data from UK and Italian partners.  

This type of data will provide health authorities with essential information when they are lifting restrictions and how this is affecting the epidemics.