With Omicron quickly taking over from Delta as the dominant variant here in the UK, and over 89 thousand new cases reported yesterday alone, many of us are becoming increasingly (and understandably) concerned. But, it seems there's a small silver lining amidst all the bad news, with a new study indicating that fully vaccinated people who catch COVID-19 might have "super immunity".
While at first, the thought of catching COVID despite being double vaxxed might have you scratching your head, it's important to remember that vaccinations don't equal 100% protection. "A breakthrough COVID infection is when an individual gets COVID, despite being fully vaccinated," explains Dr Rachel Ward, GP and BBC Breakfast doctor. "No vaccine gives 100% protection from getting an infection, and COVID-19 is no different. Though vaccination gives excellent protection against COVID-19 infection, as case numbers rise in the population, the number of breakthrough infections will also increase."
With that in mind, how does catching breakthrough COVID translate into this so-called "super immunity"? According to this study carried out in the US, which compared 26 vaccinated people who caught the virus to those who never tested positive, the group who had infections after being vaccinated saw a surge in antibodies – an increase of 2000% to be exact.
Speaking about what this huge surge in antibodies means, study author Fikadu Tafesse (a molecular microbiology and immunology professor) said: "The increases were substantial, up to a 1000% increase and sometimes up to 2000%, so it’s really high immunity."
"It’s almost 'super immunity'," Tafesse continued.
Also speaking on the study's findings Dr Monica Gandhi, from the University of California in San Francisco, said: "This is one of the first that shows a breakthrough infection following vaccination generates stronger immunity than prior infection or vaccination alone."
Although it's unclear whether the study included cases of Omicron or another variant, the outcome still offers a promising outlook as we move into the second year of the pandemic. "What we're saying is, we know life happens. If you happen to be exposed to the virus, you’ll have this amazing immune response," Professor Tafesse points out.
Marcel Curlin, another co-author of the study, agreed, adding: "I think this speaks to an eventual end game. 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."
"Our study implies that the long-term outcome is going to be a tapering-off of the severity of the worldwide epidemic."
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