New research shows early signs that Covid-19 may trigger longer-term immunity

  • The endurance of antibodies from Covid-19 has been questioned
  • New research, however, shows that several components of the immune system are effective against the new coronavirus
  • Although more work is needed, this is good news for a vaccine, and even herd immunity

Until now, scientists were unsure to which extent our immune systems could manufacture antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

In many cases, our immune systems can “remember” viruses which enables us to fight them off at a later stage. Scientists have, therefore, been investigating our immune response against the novel coronavirus, not only for the purpose of vaccine development, but to erase any uncertainty we still have about whether we can build immunity against the virus.

A glimmer of hope

According to the latest research on the topic, which was published in the journal Cell on 11 August 2020, it appears that antibodies created by the virus, as well as immune cells called B-cells and T-cells, are able to remember the virus, even months after the initial infection.

It has to be mentioned, however, that the research has not been peer-reviewed and only the pre-proof copy was available.

Earlier studies suggested that even though SARS-CoV-2 triggered an antibody response from the body, it was short-lived and not capable of building long-term immunity.

But this new research may offer a glimmer of hope and a strong indication that the body’s cells are doing what they are meant to protect us against the virus.

“This is exactly what you would hope for,” stated Dr Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in an article published in the New York Times. She is also the author of another new study, currently under review in the journal Nature. “All the pieces are there to have a totally protective immune response,” she said.

Cautiously optimistic

News that there might be a longer-lasting immune reaction is positive, but experts cannot fully confirm protection against a reinfection until there is full proof that those who get the virus for a second time can actually effectively fight it off, said Pepper.

But currently, the evidence whether one can be reinfected is still murky. Although there are cases of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 twice, this seems to be rare, and doctors are unsure whether this is because of actual reinfection or whether the same virus was still dormant in the body.

Antibodies only one component of our immune system

Even though studies have questioned the lifespan of antibodies formed by SARS-CoV-2, it is vital to remember that antibodies only represent one component of the immune system. Although viruses infecting human cells are able to fleece antibodies, T-cells and B-cells can step in to fight off further infection and serious illness.

Then, there is also the response of cytokines, even though this specific response has been linked to cases of severe Covid-19 and even death.

Antibodies tend to die off, as they are proteins that are unable to replenish themselves. But, even when these antibodies disappear, the body maintains a level of B-cells that remain in the bloodstream, offering additional protection.

And even "short-lived" antibodies settle and linger in the body, which can be seen after three months. According to Dr Deepta Batthacharya, an immunologist from the University of Arizona, the antibodies may naturally decline but settle into a sort of “stable nadir”, which seems to be perfectly durable.

Even mild infections produce an immune response

Although researchers were concerned that the milder the Covid-19 infection, the less likely the body would be to fight it off in future, the latest research has found these immune responses also in people who had mild Covid-19.

According to Dr Smita Iyer, an immunologist at the University of California, the latest research strongly suggests cautious optimism about herd immunity and even a vaccine.

“You can still get durable immunity without suffering the consequences of infection,” Iyer stated.

READ | Covid-19: Understanding immunity and what it means for vaccines

READ | Immune system markers could predict severity of Covid-19

READ | Could the TB injection you received at birth help protect against the coronavirus?

Image credit: Unsplash 

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