Vaccination after Covid infection gives some people ‘superhuman’ immunity, study finds

Hybrid immunity ‘appears to be impressively potent’, immunologists say

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 08 September 2021 15:58
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Related video: Long Covid chances almost halved by double vaccination, study finds

Some people who catch Covid-19 and are later vaccinated develop incredibly strong immunity to Covid-19, researchers have said.

Antibodies generated by these individuals are so powerful they neutralise all six variants of concern as well as other coronaviruses, according to a study pre-print published last month.

Those with this type of immunity could even have “some degree of protection against the SARS-like viruses that have yet to infect humans”, Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University who led the research, told NPR.

The phenomenon is known by different names in the scientific community, including “superhuman immunity” and “hybrid immunity”. Writing in the Science journal last month, immunologist Shane Crotty said it “appears to be impressively potent”.

Theodora Hatziioannou, of Rockefeller University, explained that people with this immune system response were in a good position. “The antibodies in these people’s blood can even neutralise SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2,” she told NPR.

The scientist was optimistic about the findings of the study she co-authored with her colleague Mr Bieniasz last month. “There’s a lot of research now focused on finding a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all future variants. Our findings tell you that we already have it.”

However, Ms Hatziioannou acknowledged that the phenomenon has not been widely studied, with her data coming from just 14 patients. However, she said such immunity was fairly common.

Her research looked at patients who had a Covid-19 infection in 2020 and later received both doses of an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer and Moderna.

The natural immunity built up from these individuals’ prior infection was enhanced by the protection given by the jabs, which boosted their immune system’s ability to counteract the virus.

“Based on all these findings, it looks like the immune system is eventually going to have the edge over this virus,” Mr Bieniasz said. “And if we’re lucky, SARS-CoV-2 will eventually fall into that category of viruses that gives us only a mild cold.”

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