In yet another move that seems to indicate that COVID-19 is unlike any virus that has ever existed, Dr. Anthony Fauci told McClatchy DC that people previously infected with and recovered from COVID-19 should get the vaccine anyway:
“I believe they should” take the vaccine, Fauci said, addressing concerns among individuals who have already recovered from infection. “The final decision is going to be awaiting both FDA input, because we know that there were a certain percentage of the people who were in the original vaccine trial that had evidence they had been previously infected. So we need to see what the outcome of those individuals were.”
This should raise all kinds of questions for several reasons. First, why were people with evidence of having been infected enrolled in the vaccine study? If they had active antibodies, they were likely already protected from infection. Even Dr. Fauci admitted that, after President Trump recovered from COVID-19. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he said:
The problem with the word immune is it means different things to different individuals, Jake. If he means that he’s been infected and having been infected and recovered that he will not get infected again, that’s true for a limited period of time. But what we do not know is how long that protection lasts. So, technically speaking, from an immunological standpoint, he has an immune response in him that very likely would protect him from being reinfected.
And, truth be told, science has provided some understanding of the immune response to COVID-19. Several studies have shown that exposure to other coronaviruses, like SARS and those that cause the common cold, may provide some protection against COVID-19. This is because the immune system has both short- and long-term components.
Antibodies are the short-term immune response. We know these exist and that they provide some level of protection because we are testing for them. The long-term immune response is governed in part by T cells. These cells have a “memory” for certain properties of a virus and can mount an immune response when the T cells detect them. These two systems are working together in our bodies at all times to keep us healthy and free from illness. The way they function is also the underlying science behind every vaccine against a virus.
Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.
The research, published online, has not been peer-reviewed nor published in a scientific journal. But it is the most comprehensive and long-ranging study of immune memory to the coronavirus to date.
“That amount of memory would likely prevent the vast majority of people from getting hospitalized disease, severe disease, for many years,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology who co-led the new study.
This is consistent with earlier studies on crossover immunity from other coronaviruses. They demonstrated that people who had survived SARS maintained crossover immunity to COVID-19 after 17 years. Researchers were surprised to see those who had not had SARS but were exposed to other coronaviruses also had an active immune response to COVID-19. One study concluded that this type of response might be present in 40-60% of the population.
In a study published Friday in Science, the group, led by George Kassiotis, who heads the Retroviral Immunology Laboratory at the institute, reports that on average only 5 percent of adults had these antibodies, but 43 percent of children did.
Researchers who did not participate in the study were intrigued by the finding. H. Benjamin Larman, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, called it a “well-done study that puts forward a compelling theory which is supported by their data.”
This could be why German researchers asserted that children act as a “brake” on infection and Swiss health experts noted the lack of risk to elderly relatives from children. It could also be why a large detailed genetic analysis in Iceland could not find a single infection in children under the age of 10.
All of this leads to several questions. First, exactly what percentage of people in the vaccine trials had already been infected with COVID-19? If these individuals are removed from the study, what are the effective rates? With a largely confirmed natural immune response, it would be impossible to credit the vaccine for preventing illness. Also, were the study subjects tested for innate immunity bases on T-cell or B-cell activity? If not, it cannot be certain the vaccine was responsible for the lack of illness in any given subject.
And while it may not hurt, no science supports recovered patients getting vaccinated at this point or for compulsory immunization of children in the absence of a preexisting condition that would compromise their immune system.
However, it is not surprising to hear this from Dr. Fauci, considering he denied the outcome of at least two dozen studies on natural immunity in congressional testimony under direct questioning from Senator Rand Paul. Weird, since one of the studies was released from Fauci’s agency, the NIH. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield also did not include this information when he said 90% of the population was still susceptible to COVID-19.
But never fear, Dr. Fauci expects to have the same or a larger role in the Biden administration COVID-19 response. He also supports national mask mandates and praised the response of America’s worst governor, New York’s Andrew Cuomo. It will be up to governors like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Brian Kemp in Georgia to defy any federal orders and litigate them. It is up to Congress to find out why the response isn’t being governed by accepted science.