Elon Musk conducted his own covid medical research using 4,000 employees

by WorldTribune Staff, February 21, 2021

A coronavirus antibody-testing program at Elon Musk’s SpaceX found that a certain threshold of antibodies may provide people lasting protection against the virus, a report said.

More than 4,000 SpaceX workers volunteered for monthly blood tests, the Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 20.

Elon Musk / YouTube

“People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune” to covid, said Galit Alter, a co-author of the study who is a member of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard.

Musk is listed as a co-author of the peer-reviewed study, which appears in the journal Nature Communications.

Individuals who experienced fewer, milder symptoms generated fewer antibodies and were therefore less likely to meet the threshold for longer-term immunity, the study found.

Musk, who has spoken out against lockdown orders, took a personal interest in the research and had the scientists brief him and top SpaceX executives during the pandemic on how antibodies and vaccines work, Alter said.

Musk in November said he tested positive for the virus. “Mild sniffles & cough & slight fever past few days,” he tweeted at the time.

The scientists who conducted the SpaceX study say their findings could be used to inform who is most vulnerable to the virus and should be vaccinated first. For example, those with no antibodies in areas with high case counts could get priority, the Journal quoted Alter as saying.

“Companies from Alphabet Inc.’s Google to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. offer Covid-19 diagnostic tests to get a moment-in-time snapshot of who is infected. Few businesses have regularly tested worker blood samples for antibodies,” the report noted.

Of the 4,000 SpaceX workers tested multiple times, 300 became infected with coronavirus. Researchers had enough data on 120 people to dig deeper into their infections and subsequent levels of antibodies to draw conclusions in the study.

The median age of that small sample was 31, and 92 percent of them were male, which the study’s authors said might skew their findings because people of different ages and backgrounds present different immune-system responses. The study included test results between April and June.

“The good news is most of the vaccines induce [antibody] levels way higher than these levels” for people who get both doses, Alter said. “So far it is pretty clear that we are hitting levels that are orders of magnitude higher with vaccination.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that having antibodies may provide some protection, but it is unknown how long it may last. Researchers and diagnostic companies are reportedly working to understand what level of antibodies confers immunity.

“It would be great to have a clear numerical cutoff to say…above this level [of antibodies] you’re protected, below you’re not, but we don’t have such a cutoff right now,” said Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer Inc.’s viral-vaccine research-and-development chief.


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