Elon Musk got 4,000 SpaceX workers to join a Covid-19 study. This is what he learned.


When Covid-19 shut down the US economy in March, Elon Musk had a rocket to launch.

The billionaire’s space exploration company, SpaceX, planned to launch a manned spacecraft into the sky in May and wanted to stick with the schedule. That meant finding a way to safely keep facilities open and limit the spread of Covid-19, a challenge when testing was sparse.

To monitor the prevalence of the virus among SpaceX workers across the country, Musk and the rocket company’s chief medical executive worked with doctors and academic researchers to build an antibody testing program. More than 4,000 SpaceX workers volunteered for monthly blood tests.

This week, the group published their findings, which suggest that a certain antibody threshold could provide people with long-lasting protection against the virus. Musk is listed as a co-author of the peer-reviewed study, which appears in the journal Nature Communications.

“People can have antibodies, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be immune” to Covid-19, said Galit Alter, a co-author of the study and a member of the Ragon Institute at MGH, MIT and Harvard. People who experienced fewer and milder Covid-19 symptoms generated fewer antibodies and therefore were less likely to reach the threshold for immunity in the longer term, the study found.

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