Scientists Now Know Why Some People Gain 'Superhuman' Immunity to COVID-19

These individuals were first infected with COVID-19 and then vaccinated against it.
Ameya Paleja
Antibodies working against the coronavirusSomkiatFakmee/iStock

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot of things. From how easy it is to work remotely to how quickly vaccines can be fast-tracked, and from how long it takes for a cure to be found to why some people just seem immune to COVID.

Recent studies have shown that some individuals display superhuman responses to the disease. These individuals not only have high levels of antibodies against the virus but also show a spectrum of antibodies that can neutralize different variants too. A non-peer-reviewed study, claims to have found the reason for this 'superhuman' ability. 

Many countries in the West managed to rapidly inoculate the population against COVID-19. However, newer variants of the virus, such as the Delta, managed to break through, even in vaccinated individuals, raising concerns about the vaccine's efficacy against the evolving virus and the need to introduce booster doses. Studying individuals who can counter a wide range of viral variants can help develop further strategies to contain the disease. 

The study conducted at Rockefeller University in the US found that the individuals who displayed these traits had one thing in common. They were first infected by the virus and then inoculated when the vaccines became available. The antibodies produced by these individuals offered a sort of 'hybrid immunity' that was not only effective against six variants of SARS-CoV-2 but also its predecessor, the SARS-CoV-1, and other viruses found in bats, pangolins that could potentially become infectious in humans too, NPR reported.

According to Theodora Hatziioannou, one of the authors of the study, the SARS-CoV-1 is very different from the virus that causes COVID-19, and yet these antibodies worked against it. Probably the ultimate test of these antibodies was an engineered virus that carried 20 mutations that are known to help the virus evade the immune system. While this engineered virus managed to survive against antibodies of people who were only infected or only vaccinated, it could not survive antibodies of people who had 'hybrid immunity'.  

Does this mean that the best way to become immune to the virus, is to first get infected and then vaccinated? The authors of the study, definitely do not advise that. The study just included 14 participants and it would not be advisable to draw guidelines for the general population based on such a small number. 

Another pre-print published last month showed that individuals who had not been infected with the SARS virus before demonstrated some flexibility after receiving two doses of the COVID vaccine. Hatziioannou told NPR, that she expects antibodies in individuals who receive a booster (third) dose to show a broader response, if not a superhuman one, eventually allowing us to get an upper hand over the virus. 

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