Super Immunity is a term used to describe people who are particularly robust against COVID-19 and new research has found that there are a couple of ways it can emerge within a person. The enhanced immune protection appears to come from varying combinations of vaccination and infection, leaving those affected armed with an impressive defense against the disease.
Published in the journal Science Immunology, the findings are built upon lab data from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) which revealed there’s more than one way to become super-immune to COVID-19. The winning combinations? A breakthrough infection after vaccination, or a natural infection followed by vaccination.
As for natural versus breakthrough infection, there’s no significant difference with both combinations of infection and vaccination leading to Super Immunity. Praise be.
“It makes no difference whether you get infected-and-then-vaccinated, or if you get vaccinated-and-then-a-breakthrough infection,” said co-senior author Dr Fikadu Tafesse, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine, in a statement. “In either case, you will get a really, really robust immune response – amazingly high.”
While previous research from OHSU had already established that breakthrough infections were associated with Super Immunity, this new research is the first to compare breakthroughs following vaccination against natural infections preceding vaccination.
The effect? Blood serum analyses revealed antibodies were abundant and at least 10 times more potent compared to the protection afforded by vaccines on their own. However, it’s important to note that the results are built upon research that was done before Omicron emerged so while the researchers expect the immune response is similar the conclusions can’t necessarily be generalized to the new variant.
While natural infection will on its own generate some kind of an immune response, where it differs greatly from vaccination and breakthrough infection is in that much higher rates of variation exist as to who ends up with what level of protection.
“Immunity from natural infection alone is variable. Some people produce a strong response and others do not,” said co-author and associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine Dr Marcel Curlin. “But vaccination combined with immunity from infection almost always provides very strong responses."
It’s also pertinent to say that the findings aren’t a call to action for vaccinated people to start hitting up COVID parties. While Super Immunity sounds sexy, super spreader events aren’t and at a time when SARS-CoV-2 continues to circulate at alarming rates it’s never a good idea to invite infection.
“The likelihood of getting breakthrough infections is high because there is so much virus around us right now,” Tafesse added. “But we position ourselves better by getting vaccinated. And if the virus comes, we’ll get a milder case and end up with this super immunity.”
Hooray for vaccines.