A new study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University has revealed that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and have a breakthrough infection can end up with what researchers call “super immunity.”
The research results, published online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that a breakthrough infection often has the potential to generate a robust immune response against the Delta variant, which suggests that such an immune response would likely be highly effective against other variants as well.
“You can’t get a better immune response than this,” the study’s senior author Fikadu Tafesse, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“These vaccines are very effective against severe disease. Our study suggests that individuals who are vaccinated and then exposed to a breakthrough infection have super immunity,” he continued.
Eventual End Game
The study’s data further indicated that antibodies measured in blood samples of breakthrough cases were both more abundant and much more effective—sometimes ten times more effective—than the level of antibodies seen two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“I think this speaks to an eventual end game,” the study’s co-author Marcel Curlin, an associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine who also serves as medical director of OHSU Occupational Health, said in a press statement.
“It doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the pandemic, but it points to where we’re likely to land: Once you’re vaccinated and then exposed to the virus, you’re probably going to be reasonably well-protected from future variants,” Curlin stated. “Our study implies that the long-term outcome is going to be a tapering-off of the severity of the worldwide epidemic.”
Omicron Variant Concern
The study could also offer more important information regarding the new and highly mutated Omicron coronavirus variant that is quickly spreading both here in the United States and across the world. This particular strain—first detected in southern Africa approximately three weeks ago—is known to feature more than thirty mutations to the spike protein, which could be associated with a decrease in antibody protection and higher transmissibility rates.
“We have not examined the Omicron variant specifically, but based on the results of this study we would anticipate that breakthrough infections from the Omicron variant will generate a similarly strong immune response among vaccinated people,” Tafesse noted.
The study’s authors contended that the results highlight the fact that vaccination remains crucial to ending the nearly two-year-long pandemic.
“The key is to get vaccinated,” Curlin said. “You’ve got to have a foundation of protection.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.