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Does hybrid immunity confer better protection?

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Immunity

Individuals already infected with the coronavirus should not skip vaccination as a growing body of evidence suggests vaccination added with natural immunity causes particularly robust protection, including all the variants of the virus. 

Termed hybrid immunity — including natural immunity acquired after an infection amalgamated with the immunity rendered by the vaccine — seems to render superior and stronger protection than infection or vaccination individually.

Shane Crotty, a professor of immunology at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, explained a dramatic increase in immunity in individuals previously infected and then gets at least one dose of vaccine. He also described this hybrid immunity to be 100 times better against some of the most concerning variants, which is very much significant.

Fikadu Tafesse, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Oregon Health and Science University, too agree with this statement. His research demonstrated that vaccination can increase levels of neutralizing antibodies against variant forms of the coronavirus in individuals who had been previously infected. He explained that vaccination will provide better protection than infection alone. 

Though a previous infection with Covid-19 renders some degree of immunity, which can vary among individuals, with some vulnerable to reinfection. 

Deepta Bhattacharya, a professor of immunology at the University of Arizona stated the antibody levels to be variable after recovering from infections, with individuals in the lower end of the spectrum probably more susceptible to reinfections. However, even a single vaccine in these people can shoot up the antibodies, including those that neutralize variants of concern.

A study by researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City investigated how different types of immunity would protect against potential variants by designing a modified version of the coronavirus spike protein with 20 naturally occurring mutations. They tested the action of antibodies against it. 

They tested these modified spike proteins in lab dishes against antibodies from- 

  • People already recovered from Covid-19,
  • People who had been vaccinated,
  • People who had hybrid immunity. 

The spike proteins evaded the antibodies from the first two groups, sparing the antibodies generated from hybrid immunity. 

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also published a study demonstrating that in the previously infected people, vaccination decreased the risk of reinfection by more than two times, over the natural infection alone. 

Shane Crotty states that hybrid immunity renders the immunological advantage that stems in the memory B cells, which are immune cells that makes antibodies to fight off the virus. He regarded them to be the antibody factories, escaping the spotlight. He further explained that, when the virus escapes the first line of defence, which are the circulating antibodies, the memory B cells start making more antibodies. 

These cells can produce antibodies to specific threats after being exposed to the threat. But memory B cells don’t only make antibodies against previous infections, they can also produce antibodies that could target yet to arrive variants of viruses.

Although memory B cells’ antibody-generating abilities activate both after vaccine-induced immunity and natural infection, research has found its level higher in people with hybrid immunity than the other two. This could explain the presence of a wider breadth of antibodies in people with hybrid immunity.

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