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COVID-19 Patients Could Be Immune To Virus For Years, New Study Shows

Preliminary results of a new study found that COVID-19 patients produced B cells months after infection that could potentially protect people from reinfection for years.

A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccination as part of a vaccine study at Research Centers of America on August 07, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida. | Getty Images
A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccination as part of a vaccine study at Research Centers of America on August 07, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida. | Getty Images

Patients who recovered from COVID-19 could be immune for months and even years from severe cases of the virus, new research found, bringing new light to the question of immunity. 

In an ongoing study conducted in part at the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at La Jolla Institute for Immunology, researchers studied 185 COVID-19 patients aged 19 to 81 who had a range of asymptomatic, mild, moderate, and severe cases. The study has not been peer-reviewed and will require more analysis, researchers said.

The preliminary results showed that some patients were still producing neutralizing B cells more than six months after their diagnoses. B cells can create antibodies and remember a virus for years after infection or vaccination. The study found that while antibody numbers decreased 3 to 5 months after infection, B cells were “more abundant” six months after infection than after one month. Researchers stated that “immune memory” is a key component in containing COVID-19. 

Researchers also found that people who were once infected with SARS — another coronavirus strain — still produced the protective immune cells (that were found in COVID-19 patients) up to 17 years after being infected. The immune response could lessen COVID-19’s severity and minimize it to a condition similar to a common cold or an asymptomatic disease, according to the study. 

But the preliminary findings add to the ever-changing research about COVID-19. Since its discovery and rapid spread, more than 55 million people have been infected worldwide, including at least 1.3 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

Members of the medical community have expressed concern about COVID-19 patients becoming vulnerable to the virus again, after studies showed patients’ antibody levels dropped a few months after contracting COVID-19. Experts have disputed those concerns, saying that antibody levels naturally drop in the body once the infection subsides. Even though the body no longer shows the high level of antibodies, immune cells could remember the virus and produce the antibodies again during another infection. 

In rare cases, some people have contracted the virus twice. In one case out of Hong Kong, the second infection was much less severe than the first, leading scientists to believe that the body built up some immunity, but not completely. 

While studies on immunity are ongoing, more promising COVID-19-related news came this week: a second COVID-19 vaccine candidate was announced and showed in clinical trials to have a 94.5% effectiveness rate — just one week after another vaccine candidate showed more than a 90% effectiveness rate.