Asian Reporter web extra, January 25, 2022
An OHSU researcher holds a plate of plasma samples that contain
COVID-19 antibodies, to be evaluated in OHSU's in-house COVID-19 testing
lab. Researchers have been studying antibody testing approaches. (Photo/Kristyna
Wentz-Graff/Oregon Health & Science University)
OHSU releases 104-person study researching "super
By Erik Robinson, OHSU
PORTLAND, Oregon — New laboratory research from Oregon Health &
Science University (OHSU) is revealing more than one path toward robust
immunity from COVID-19.
A new study finds that two forms of immunity — breakthrough
infections following vaccination or natural infection followed by
vaccination — provide roughly equal levels of enhanced immune
protection. The study was published online today in the journal
"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 Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular
microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine. "In either
case, you will get a really, really robust immune response — amazingly
The research follows an OHSU study published in December that
described extremely high levels of immune response following
breakthrough infections — so-called "super immunity." That study was the
first to use multiple live SARS-CoV-2 variants to measure
cross-neutralization of blood serum from breakthrough cases.
The new study found that it doesn’t matter whether someone gets a
breakthrough infection or gets vaccinated after a natural infection. In
both cases, the immune response measured in blood serum revealed
antibodies that were equally more abundant and more potent — at least 10
times more potent — than immunity generated by vaccination alone.
The study was done before the emergence of the highly transmissible
omicron variant, but researchers expect the hybrid immune responses
would be similar.
"The likelihood of getting breakthrough infections is high because
there is so much virus around us right now," Tafesse said. "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."
Researchers recruited a total of 104 people, all OHSU employees who
were vaccinated by the Pfizer vaccine, and then carefully divided them
into three groups: 42 who were vaccinated with no infection, 31 who were
vaccinated after an infection, and 31 who had breakthrough infections
following vaccination. Controlling for age, sex, and time from
vaccination and infection, the researchers drew blood samples from each
participant and exposed the samples to three variants of the live
SARS-CoV-2 virus in a Biosafety Level 3 lab on OHSU’s Marquam Hill
They found both of the groups with "hybrid immunity" generated
greater levels of immunity compared with the group that was vaccinated
with no infection.
A path toward endemic COVID
With the wildly contagious omicron variant now circulating across the
globe, the new findings suggest each new breakthrough infection
potentially brings the pandemic closer to the end.
"I would expect at this point many vaccinated people are going to
wind up with breakthrough infections — and hence a form of hybrid
immunity," said senior co-author Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D., assistant
professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and medicine
(infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Over time, the virus will run into an ever-expanding pool of human
OHSU scientists say they haven’t tested multiple rounds of natural
infection, although many people will likely find themselves in that
category, given that millions of people in the United States and around
the world remain entirely unvaccinated. With the spread of the highly
contagious omicron variant, many unvaccinated people who were previously
infected are likely to confront the virus again.
For that group, previous research reveals a much more variable level
of immune response than vaccination, Messer said.
"I can guarantee that such immunity will be variable, with some
people getting equivalent immunity to vaccination, but most will not,"
he said. "And there is no way, short of laboratory testing, to know who
gets what immunity. Vaccination makes it much more likely to be assured
of a good immune response."
Senior co-author Marcel Curlin, M.D., agreed.
"Immunity from natural infection alone is variable. Some people
produce a strong response and others do not," said Curlin, associate
professor of medicine (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of
Medicine and director of OHSU Occupational Health. "But vaccination
combined with immunity from infection almost always provides very strong
"These results, together with our previous work, point to a time when
SARS-CoV-2 may become a mostly mild endemic infection like a seasonal
respiratory tract infection, instead of a worldwide pandemic."
In addition to Tafesse, Messer and Curlin, co-authors included
Timothy Bates, Savannah McBride, Hans Leier, Gaelen Guzman, Zoe Lyski,
Devin Schoen, Bradie Winders, Joon-Yong Lee of the Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory, and David Xthona Lee.
The study was funded by a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable
Trust; an unrestricted grant from the OHSU Foundation; the National
Institutes of Health, training grant T32HL083808 and grant R01AI145835;
and OHSU Innovative IDEA grant 1018784.
The study authors acknowledge the research participants for their
generous contributions; OHSU’s COVID-19 serology study team and the OHSU
Occupational Health Department for recruitment and sample acquisition;
and the OHSU clinical laboratory under the direction of Donna Hansel,
M.D., Ph.D., and Xuan Qin, Ph.D., for SARS-CoV-2 testing and reporting.
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