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Those who haven't contracted COVID may be key to defeating virus

COVID-19 coronavirus
Posted at 11:47 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 23:47:50-04

(WXYZ) — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, over half of Americans may have avoided getting infected with coronavirus.

Scientists say those who haven’t caught COVID-19 may hold the key to defeating it.

There is evidence that suggests some people may have what’s called “super immunity,” meaning their bodies appear to be naturally resistant to the virus and the immunity isn't traced to vaccination.

Now, this type of natural immunity is considered rare. But it’s important that scientists study these cases. We need to understand why some people are able to avoid getting infected because the answers could shed light on how to beat this incredibly contagious virus.

Here’s a good example: Researchers in the United Kingdom followed a group of health care workers early in the pandemic. Some of those workers got rid of the virus from their systems fairly quickly, even before their bodies made antibodies to fight off the virus.

When the scientists looked into why this might have happened, they found that exposure to previous seasonal cold viruses had played a key role, most likely because T-cells provided cross-protection. T-cells are produced by our immune system, and our bodies make them to help stop the spread of infection.

While T-cells may not have recognized the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the cells could have recognized genetic parts of previous seasonal coronaviruses that are also contained in the new virus behind the pandemic.

If T-cells can detect different parts of coronavirus and fight it off, then scientists could study how this happens and potentially improve our vaccines by targeting the same parts of the virus that the T-cells are targeting.

Right now, our T-cells that are produced by COVID-19 vaccines or because of a COVID-19 infection actually target the virus’ spike protein, which we all know changes, mutates and causes new variants to pop up.

So, if our vaccines could instead attack the virus’ internal machinery and not the spike protein, then they could become more efficient at preventing infection and hopefully prevent infection from all future coronaviruses as well. There are companies working on a new single shot that would hopefully offer this broader protection.

In the meantime, it’s important for people to get vaccinated and boosted and to consider a second booster shot if you’re 50 and older. Our numbers may still be low, but there’s one thing we know with certainty, and that's the virus is very unpredictable.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.