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T-cells respond to COVID-19 six months after infection

Published on 03/11/20 at 01:08pm

There is evidence that human T-cells can respond to coronavirus six months after the body is initially infected, according to a new study.

The research was carried out by the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, the University of Birmingham, the NIHR Manchester clinical research facility and Public Health England. 

The study was conducted in 100 people and showed that all had a cellular immune response against coronavirus six months after infection, with a response 50% higher in those who had experienced symptomatic disease.

The study also collected serum and blood samples from more than 2,000 healthcare workers, including the 100 who tested positive. These samples were collected monthly to measure the volunteers' antibody levels and blood samples were taken after six months to measure the T-cell response. 

Antibody levels fell by about 50% during the first two months but plateaued, and the T-cell response after six months correlated with the magnitude of the peak antibody response. 

Paul Moss, the study’s lead author from the University of Birmingham, said: “This data is reassuring. However, it does not mean that people cannot be re-infected. We need to have much larger population studies to show that. This can’t be taken as confirmation that an ‘immunity passport’ would be feasible.”

Charles Bangham, the Chair of Immunology at Imperial College London, also remarked: “This excellent study provides strong evidence that T-cell immunity to SARS-CoV-2 may last longer than antibody immunity. These results provide reassurance that, although the titre of antibody to SARS-CoV-2 can fall below detectable levels within a few months of infection, a degree of immunity to the virus may be maintained. However, the critical question remains: do these persistent T cells provide efficient protection against re-infection?”

Conor Kavanagh

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