This may be the best news about coronavirus yet

It’s been generally accepted over the past few months that COVID-19 patients are immune to the coronavirus for roughly three months post-recovery.

Now, however, a new study just released by Monash University is challenging that narrative. Australian researchers say reinfection-blocking “COVID immune memory” among recovered patients lasts for at least eight months.

These findings are quite positive for more than just one reason. Besides the obvious benefits of a longer immunity period for the recovered, this research also makes the strongest argument to date that coronavirus vaccines will indeed ensure protection for extended periods.

The three-month immunity period theory rose to prominence months ago due to earlier research showing that the initial coronavirus antibodies present in recovered patients’ bodies typically disappear within a few months. While that much still appears to be true, this new study has unearthed yet another layer to this complex topic.

This time around the research team discovered that a specific variation of immune cells, known as memory B cells, “remember” the coronavirus and can quickly stage a counter-offensive if SARS-CoV-2 shows itself within the body again. On a more detailed level, if these cells detect the coronavirus once again, they’ll activate an immune chain reaction that rapidly produces new protective antibodies.

“These results are important because they show, definitively, that patients infected with the COVID-19 virus do in fact retain immunity against the virus and the disease,” says study leader Menno van Zelm, an associate professor at the Monash University Department of Immunology and Pathology. “This has been a black cloud hanging over the potential protection that could be provided by any COVID-19 vaccine and gives real hope that, once a vaccine or vaccines are developed, they will provide long-term protection.”

A group of 25 COVID-19 patients was analyzed for this project, with 36 blood samples being taken in total. Those samples were collected between day 4 post-infection to day 242 post-infection, to gauge antibody counts over various periods.

Just like prior research had found, patients’ antibody levels started to drop off around 20 days post-recovery. No surprise there, but then it was noted that even in the absence of antibodies patients’ memory B cells remembered and recognized one of two coronavirus “components” (the spike and nucleocapsid proteins). Even after as long as eight months post-recovery, these memory B cells were still present in collected blood samples.

In conclusion, study authors say these findings help explain why, among millions of confirmed patients all over the globe, very few genuine cases of reinfection have been confirmed. 

Considering all of the recent news out of the United Kingdom about a new coronavirus strain, these results are a welcome relief from the seemingly never ending barrage of bad news that was 2020. Here’s hoping that good news will continue to pour in as we turn the calendar toward 2021.
The full study can be found here, published in Science Immunology.