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Study Finds Hybrid or ‘Super’ Immunity Against COVID-19 Provides Most Protection

Study Finds Hybrid or ‘Super’ Immunity Against COVID-19 Provides Most Protection

Researchers are still investigating how the immune system can defend against the novel coronavirus following vaccination or past infections.

According to a new study, those who have “hybrid immunity” from being vaccinated and having previously had COVID-19 have strong protection against the disease.

The data show how important it is for patients who have had COVID-19 to still get immunized, according to the researchers.

A substantial immune response occurs if a person has been both vaccinated and developed COVID-19, according to research published earlier this year by Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

They discovered that the order in which these events occur has little bearing on overall COVID-19 immunity.

The conclusions of this new study differ slightly from those of a prior study published late last year. According to the findings, having a breakthrough coronavirus infection after immunization can trigger a powerful immune response that acts as “super immunity” against future infections.

We spoke with specialists to learn more about what “super” immunity entails.

Investigators looked at 3 different coronavirus variants

A total of 104 OHSU personnel were immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in previous research. Based on their COVID-19 history, they were separated into two groups: those who had an infection before or after immunization, and those who had never had an infection.

Blood was collected from the subjects and exposed to three live coronavirus types after controlling for characteristics such as age, sex, and time between vaccination and infection.

Researchers discovered that both “hybrid immunity” groups produced higher levels of immunity than the vaccinated group that did not experience a breakout illness.

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Dr. Rafeul Alam, an allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health, told Dailion, “Hybrid immunity refers to infection-induced immunity (natural immunity) that is further strengthened by vaccination following a natural infection.”

It’s worth noting that this research took place before the Omicron form became prevalent, but the researchers predicted that hybrid immune responses would be comparable in cases of Omicron infection.

Antibodies were 10 times more potent than from vaccination alone

According to the Oregon study, it makes no difference whether someone gets vaccinated after a typical sickness or has a breakout illness.

In individuals who had both vaccination and a COVID-19 case, antibodies were similarly frequent and at least 10 times stronger in the immune response measured in blood serum than immunity produced by immunization alone.

“It’s not surprising that a breakthrough illness boosts immunity,” said senior co-author Dr. Bill Messer.

“Previous research has shown that the immunization effectively primes the immune system, and I expected it to have a significant response to a breakthrough infection,” he continued.

Messer was “a little more unsure” about natural infection than vaccination since natural infection creates “variable immunity,” but the foundation is the same.

“Like the vaccine, the initial dose or infection develops immune cells that are ready to expand quickly if triggered again,” he explained.

Vaccines aren’t a 100% guarantee you’ll avoid infection

Vaccines aren’t “100% guarantees,” according to Dr. Robert G. Lahita, head of Saint Joseph Health’s Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease and author of “Immunity Strong.”

“Rather, immunizations keep you out of the hospital and/or prevent you from dying from a severe case of the illness,” he explained.

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Lahita also advised against deliberately infecting yourself with the coronavirus in order to boost your immune system.

“You should never try to contract COVID because you could end up with long-term COVID symptoms like brain fog, mobility difficulty, heart damage, lung damage, and loss of taste and smell,” he said.

Why do breakthrough infections happen?

Breakthrough infections can occur for a variety of reasons, according to Eric Maroyka, PharmD, BCPS, senior director of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Center for Pharmacy Practice Advancement.

These include decreasing immunity following an initial vaccine or infection, an insufficient immune response following an initial vaccination or infection, or a virus mutation that is immune to current antibodies.

“Inadequate immune response arises in persons who have flaws in their immune system that arise spontaneously or as a result of diseases or treatments that interfere with or damage the immune system,” he stated.

People with cancer, as well as those who use medications like steroids, which interfere with or hinder the body’s immune system, are examples, according to Maroyka.

Hybrid immunity could be long lasting

Natural and vaccine-acquired immunity, according to Alam, are “synergistic,” meaning they complement each other.

“If natural and vaccine-elicited immunity each last 6 months, then herd immunity protection should persist longer than 12 months, maybe 15 to 18 months or longer,” he said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Nikhil Bhayani, FIDSA, of Texas Health Resources, stressed the significance of vaccination even after coronavirus infection.

“Because we don’t know how long people are naturally protected from contracting COVID-19 after clearing an illness,” he said, “COVID-19 immunizations are suggested, even for those who have recovered from the condition.”

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Role of vaccination after COVID-19 becomes endemic

“Even when COVID-19 becomes endemic, COVID-19 vaccinations, existing and future, hopefully, improved vaccines, will continue to play a role,” Alam added.

To fight COVID-19, he continued, two significant hurdles to the present vaccine method must be addressed: the virus’s capacity to elude neutralizing antibodies through mutation and the virus’s limited persistence of neutralizing antibodies from vaccination.

“Existing and upcoming technology can address these difficulties,” Alam added, “but it will take time.”

Getting vaccinated, according to Maroyka, is the greatest approach to avoiding infection and minimizing COVID-19 spread.

“When we look at illnesses like polio, smallpox, diphtheria, and pertussis, we can see how effective immunizations have helped manage or eliminate them,” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccinations will most likely follow a similar path.”

According to this research, having COVID-19 before immunization or contracting a breakthrough infection after vaccination both confer “super immunity” against future infection.

Experts advise that this does not mean people should intentionally try to infect themselves with the coronavirus in order to increase their protection against COVID-19, as there are substantial health concerns.

They also claim that vaccination will be crucial even after COVID-19 becomes endemic.

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