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New laboratory research from Oregon Health & Science University reveals more than one path toward robust immunity from COVID-19.
A new study finds that two forms of immunity — breakthrough infections following vaccination or natural infection followed by vaccination — provide roughly equal levels of enhanced immune protection. The study published online today in the journal Science Immunology.
“I would expect at this point many vaccinated people are going to wind up with breakthrough infections — and hence a form of hybrid immunity,” said senior co-author Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and medicine (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Over time, the virus will run into an ever-expanding pool of human immunity.
OHSU scientists say they haven’t tested multiple rounds of natural infection, although many people will likely find themselves in that category, given that millions of people in the United States and around the world remain entirely unvaccinated. With the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, many unvaccinated people who were previously infected are likely to confront the virus again.
For that group, previous research reveals a much more variable level of immune response than vaccination, Messer said.
“I can guarantee that such immunity will be variable, with some people getting equivalent immunity to vaccination, but most will not,” he said. “And there is no way, short of laboratory testing, to know who gets what immunity. Vaccination makes it much more likely to be assured of a good immune response.”
Senior co-author Marcel Curlin, M.D., agreed.
“Immunity from natural infection alone is variable. Some people produce a strong response and others do not,” said Curlin, associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of OHSU Occupational Health. “But vaccination combined with immunity from infection almost always provides very strong responses.
“These results, together with our previous work, point to a time when SARS-CoV-2 may become a mostly mild endemic infection like a seasonal respiratory tract infection, instead of a worldwide pandemic.”
In addition to Tafesse, Messer and Curlin, co-authors included Timothy Bates, Savannah McBride, Hans Leier, Gaelen Guzman, Zoe Lyski, Devin Schoen, Bradie Winders, Joon-Yong Lee of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and David Xthona Lee.
The study was funded by a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust; an unrestricted grant from the OHSU Foundation; the National Institutes of Health, training grant T32HL083808 and grant R01AI145835; and OHSU Innovative IDEA grant 1018784.
The study authors acknowledge the research participants for their generous contributions; OHSU’s COVID-19 serology study team and the OHSU Occupational Health Department for recruitment and sample acquisition; and the OHSU clinical laboratory under the direction of Donna Hansel, M.D., Ph.D., and Xuan Qin, Ph.D., for SARS-CoV-2 testing and reporting.
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D., on endemic COVID. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D, on getting vaccinated. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D, on vaccination vs. natural infection. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., on super immunity. (OHSU)
An OHSU researcher holds a plate of plasma samples that contain COVID-19 antibodies, to be evaluated in OHSU's in-house COVID-19 testing lab. Researchers have been studying antibody testing approaches. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., on vaccination and super immunity. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Marcel Curlin, M.D. on endemic COVID. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Marcel Curlin, M.D. on history of pandemics becoming endemic. (OHSU)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA: Marcel Curlin, M.D. on vaccination. (OHSU)
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