Scientists have begun exploring how some individuals who have never come into contact with the novel coronavirus are seemingly able to fight it off.
Infection to other coronaviruses, like SARS or the common cold, may prime the body to fight off infection from COVID-19 through the buildup of T cells, which are central in immune response.
Since coronavirus began its sweep across the globe, claiming more than 424,000 lives so far and temporarily bringing economies to a halt, researchers have been racing to understand how immunity to the novel coronavirus works.
17 years ago, another viral outbreak was in the news. People wore masks, many nervous to fly. Known as SARS, it was caused by a type of coronavirus we now call SARS-CoV-1. How are studies from the past helping to inform #COVID19 research of today?https://t.co/WZSfAfdsg7— La Jolla Institute (@ljiresearch) June 4, 2020
The new finding dispels some concern that COVID-19 wasn’t capable of producing a strong immune response, Alessandro Sette, a professor of infectious disease and vaccine research at La Jolla and one of the study’s lead authors, told the Wall Street Journal.
Because of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, models have shown that “any degree of cross-protective coronavirus immunity in the population could have a very substantial impact on the overall course of the pandemic, and the dynamics of the epidemiology for years to come,” the study, published in the scientific journal Cell, read.
Scientists in Singapore and Germany have come to similar conclusions in previous research. The Singapore team found that people who caught SARS, another coronavirus that spread over a decade ago, were able to fight off COVID-19.
“It’s a consistent finding that some people have reactivity even though they’ve never seen the virus,” Dr. Sette said to The Wall Street Journal. “This is a hypothesis and our labs are working hard to try and produce a smoking gun, to really show that this is true.”
Former US Science Envoy Dr. Peter Hotez is spearheading #coronavirus vaccine development in his position as co-director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. He responds to several vaccine-related questions.— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 18, 2020
Watch interview here: https://t.co/vizEzNQAD8 pic.twitter.com/wIt2Ny8Hhf
Understanding immunity is crucial to determining how the future will look and has implications for vaccine development. It is unclear if a vaccine will be developed that will only need to be administered once in a person’s life or if it will be more like a seasonal flu shot that people get once a year. It is also possible that a vaccine may never be developed.
The study’s authors said their results also have implications for vaccine candidates for clinical trials as cross-reactive immunity could influence responsiveness to candidate vaccines.
There are currently over 100 vaccines in development, and 10 have entered human trial phases. Last week, one vaccine being developed in China showed promise in trials in monkeys as it triggered antibodies and raised no safety issues. A human trial of more than 1,000 patients has begun.
Some researchers and governments were optimistic that antibody tests that detected for the presence of the virus in a recovered person would signal an immunity strong enough so that person could freely return to open society without risk of a second infection.
In Germany, authorities prepared to issue immunity certificates to those with antibodies. But problems with the tests, including a prevalence of false positives, meant they weren’t as effective as many had hoped, and relatively rare cases of reinfection dampened dreams of sustained immunity.