Scientists at Pirbright show that immunity to SARS-CoV-2 decreases over time after vaccination, but that a booster could help restore this immunity and can help the immune system recognise new variants of the virus, including Omicron BA.1 and BA.2.
Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been pivotal in the protection of populations across the globe, especially older adults and the clinically vulnerable.
Since the vaccination programme began there have been questions raised on how long protection lasts against the virus and how effective the vaccines are against different variants that emerge.
Pirbright scientists led a collaborative study with scientists from Imperial College London, The University of Surrey in Guildford, and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to understand the immune response of individuals aged 70-89 who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
This vaccine works by triggering the immune system to create Y-shaped proteins, known as antibodies, that can stick to the viral spike proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus. If a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2 the antibodies attach to these spike proteins preventing the virus from binding to, and entering the human cell. Antibodies also act as a beacon to alert the immune system to help fight the infection.
The individuals in this study had received two doses of the vaccine three weeks apart. Their antibody levels were measured three and 20 weeks after the second dose. Results suggested that immunity decreased 20 weeks after vaccination which could leave individuals susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2.
Researchers also investigated the ability of antibodies to recognise more than 20 different variants, including Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron. Results highlighted that some SARS-CoV-2 variants can partially or wholly avoid the immune response that was created by vaccination. However, in all cases boosting with a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine improved the immune system’s ability to recognise and neutralise those variants. This highlights the importance of additional booster vaccines.
Dr Dalan Bailey, Head of the Viral Glycoproteins group at Pirbright said: “Research comparing immune responses to different SARS-CoV-2 variants and understanding the role of different mutations is vital in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and in predicting the outcome of new variants. This is especially important in older adults where the antibody response may be different and where SARS-CoV-2 has caused so many hospitalisations and deaths”.
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Notes to Editors
The paper 'Neutralizing antibody activity against 21 SARS-CoV-2 variants in older adults vaccinated with BNT162b2’ will be available in Nature Microbiology with the DOI/link https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-022-01163-3
This research was funded by by the MRC funded G2P-UK National Virology Consortium; G2P-UK; A National Virology Consortium to address phenotypic consequences of SARS-CoV-2 genomic variation, The Pirbright Institute’s BBSRC institute strategic programme grant and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under grant agreement No 773830: One Health European Joint Programme.
About The Pirbright Institute
The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.
The Institute is an independent company, limited by guarantee and a registered charity, governed by a Board of non-executive Trustee Directors.
With an annual income of £37 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £43.7 million strategic investment from BBSRC UKRI during 2021-2022, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.
For more information about The Pirbright Institute see: www.pirbright.ac.uk
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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