Antibodies induced by the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may be better at neutralizing the virus and it’s variants than having natural immunity, according to new research. The results suggest that even after recovering from COVID-19, the vaccine likely remains the best way to protect yourself against re-infection, particularly against new and more infectious variants.
The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Natural immunity versus vaccination has been a hot debate raging since the first doses of anti-COVID mRNA were delivered in late 2020. Opponents to the jab claimed that, much like many other infectious diseases, our immune systems would make long-lasting antibodies against the virus once we had contracted it for the first time, and any subsequent infections could be fought off. Scientists expressed doubts about the longevity of natural immunity, and countries that attempted herd immunity via minimal lockdown measures largely failed.
However, to date, limited data have shown whether the vaccine-induced antibodies fare better than natural immunity.
In this new study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, used a series of in vitro assays to determine the number of antibodies produced by the vaccine and natural immunity, and whether this correlates to how much of the virus is neutralized.
Forty one serum samples were taken from 33 donors, all with a documented history of COVID-19 infection, and compared to a sample of 28 donors who had all received two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna. Those who were vaccinated had a 16.8-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies when compared to the natural immunity group, and a 30.1-fold increase over another group who were newly-diagnosed COVID-19 patients.
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers discovered this increase in antibodies translated to a similar improvement in virus neutralization, suggesting vaccinated people have more antibodies and are therefore more effective at neutralizing COVID-19. When faced with a different variant, the vaccinated samples’ antibodies were far more effective at neutralizing it compared to natural immunity-induced antibodies.
The researchers concluded that mRNA vaccine-induced antibodies were likely more effective against infectious variants than natural immunity.
While the study includes an accurate assay for COVID-19 neutralization, it cannot confirm that vaccines are more effective outside of laboratory conditions and doesn’t include some factors that cannot be represented in the model, such as 3D structures of the viral spike protein and its receptor. It also notes that there was a difference in median age between the natural immunity and vaccinated groups, though this should not account for the dramatic difference in antibody levels.