It is the most comprehensive study to date of the immune system's memory for the coronavirus. The study's authors say blood samples from recovered patients suggest a powerful and long-lasting immune response.
In labs at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, scientists wanted to find out how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts after someone is infected.
The study looked at 185 people who contracted the coronavirus and eight-months after infection, most still had enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness.
“What this tells us, I think, is that immunity is gonna be long-lasting, the vaccines are gonna work very well, and that once we have the vaccines in place we’re gonna be able to put this whole thing behind us,” said University of South Florida College of Public Health Distinguished Professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch.
This early research has not been peer-reviewed. However, the findings are consistent with evidence emerging from other labs.
Previous studies seemed to show antibody levels could drop in a matter of weeks, raising questions about protection against a second infection. However, those antibodies are just one part of the immune system's defense against the disease and the new research focused on the b-cells that produce antibodies.
It appears some stick around and become memory cells.
“What this is, is a type of cell that says, 'Yup, I recognize this particular virus... and I’m gonna go ahead and hide away in your body, and if we ever see that virus again I’m going to be able to jump on it, recognize it right away, and I’m going to proliferate, make lots more copies of me, make lots more antibodies and we’re gonna shut down that infection really fast this time,'” Unnasch explained of how the b-cells respond.
The scientists found those memory cells last anywhere from six months to several years, ready to fight off a COVID-19 infection.
Still, experts say there is a small percentage of people who will not be immune to the coronavirus and may contract it more than once.
“Even if you are subject to reinfection, I think the chances are that you’re gonna mount an immune response pretty quick and you’re not gonna get any serious disease as a result of the infection,” said Unnasch. “So this is really, really good news all around.”
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