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Researchers Suggest COVID-19 Infection After Vaccine May Create Super Immunity

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People who contract a breakthrough infection after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine may acquire “super immunity” to the virus, according to new research from Oregon Health & Science University.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that antibodies in people’s blood samples who had a breakthrough infection were up to 1,000% more effective than those who got infected two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

As part of the study, blood samples were collected from 52 people, all university employees who received the Pfizer vaccine. A total of 26 people were identified as having mild breakthrough infections following vaccination. Of those cases, 10 involved the highly-contagious delta variant, nine were non-delta and seven were unknown variants, according to the study.

“You can’t get a better immune response than this,” said Dr. Fikadu Tafesse, senior author and assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at OHSU. “These vaccines are very effective against severe disease…”

A new study has found that with each additional vaccination, your immune system strengthens its response to future exposures. This can be advantageous when new variants arise.

“I think this speaks to an eventual end game,” said co-author Dr. Marcel Curlin, associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the pandemic, but it points to where we’re likely to land: Once you’re vaccinated and then exposed to the virus, you’re probably going to be reasonably well-protected from future variants.”

The group also measured the immune response to live virus exposed to blood sampled from people with breakthrough cases and compared it with the immune response to the control group, the university said. They found that breakthrough cases had more antibodies at baseline. Consequently, those antibodies were “substantially better” at neutralizing the live virus.

There are still some details that need to be examined with the omicron variant. However, based on their results, it’s anticipated that breakthrough infections will generate similar immune responses in those who have been vaccinated.

“The key is to get vaccinated,” Curlin said. “You’ve got to have a foundation of protection.”

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