More than 4,300 SpaceX employees volunteered to be part of a COVID-19 antibody study co-authored by CEO Elon Musk in 2020.
The study, which was published recently in the journal Communications from nature, shows evidence that infected people who had milder symptoms developed less immunity to COVID-19 than those who became more ill from the disease. The group behind the study found some evidence to suggest that there is a particular threshold of antibodies that could provide immunity, although they wrote that “the precise levels […] associated with protection against reinfection remain unclear. “
Vaccines also produce a much stronger immune response than cases with few or no symptoms, the authors note. They hope that this research, and other similar studies, can help policymakers figure out how to effectively distribute limited supplies of vaccines.
In April 2020, SpaceX employees were asked to take part in the study by email, just as Musk was spreading dangerous misinformation about the virus in internal company emails and on Twitter. In March 2020, Musk told SpaceX employees in an email that he believed they were more likely to die in a car accident than from COVID-19, and that he did not see the virus as being “among the top 100 risks for health in the United States “. He also tweeted that same month that “there would probably be close to zero new cases” in the US. [the] end of April. ”
Nearly 500,000 Americans have died since then. Musk contracted COVID-19 in November 2020 and said he experienced mild symptoms.
The spaceflight company had its existing medical director, who oversees SpaceX’s fledgling human flight program, work with a Harvard infectious disease expert and a Ragon Institute physician to develop the antibody testing program, according to The Wall Street Journal. A group of 30 co-authors in total from MIT, Harvard, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Howard Hughes Medical Center, SpaceX, and others collaborated on the study. The effort received funding from, among others, the National Institutes of Health, Musk’s own charitable foundation, the Gates Foundation’s COVID-19 vaccine accelerator, and NASA’s Translational Research Institute for Space Health.
Employees who signed up gave blood samples approximately every month. The article authors note that 92 percent of the volunteers were male and the average age was 31, which could skew the results. The full document and dataset are available free of charge on the Nature website.