One leading immunologist says the findings provide optimism that people will not have to endure repeated coronavirus infections. It also provides evidence a vaccine might protect people for more than a short time.
“This is an accumulation of more information that allows people to become more comfortable with the idea that we are going to have immunity that’s going to be longer in duration,” Lipkin told CNN. “We don’t know that for a fact, but there are a few things that are interesting that gave me a basis for optimism.”
“So, this is very good news and it’s optimistic,” Lipkin said. “You know, it is a bit of blue sky that we’ve been looking for.”
“The immune response is doing exactly what we would expect it to,” Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, told CNN. “At least at about four months, which is, as far as, most of us can measure at this point in the pandemic,” Gommerman said.
Gommerman said there is some decay in the level of antibodies, as one would expect in a normal immune response, but it does not plummet.
Pepper’s study shows that some of the T cells form memory T cells that can hang around and help provide protection in case a person encounters the novel coronavirus again. From studies that look at SARS, another coronavirus, research shows that the memory T cell response is long lived.
Gommerman said since scientists have not seen a record of re-infection, even with as widespread as the pandemic is, that strongly suggests the body’s immune system is working well against this threat, and re-infection is less likely.
“So that is all good news,” Gommerman said. “That means that people who are infected with this novel coronavirus should have the capacity to mount what’s called a memory immune response to protect themselves against infection.”
Masopust said while these studies are encouraging, it is still unclear whether the immune system’s memory can actually protect people from infection. “Again, that’s a real world experiment that, will unfortunately be done by the people come into contact with the coronavirus,” Masopust said.
Gommerman said the findings about this robust immunity response mean that any future vaccine should also provide protection for a useful period of time.
“This durable immunity that we are seeing means that when we do come up with a vaccine that is well designed and it’s safe, a vaccine can replicate what the virus does,” Gommerman said. “People need to take it when it comes along.”