Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve had the virus?

Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve had the virus?

  • January 19, 2021

It’s a question that has no doubt crossed our minds especially in recent weeks, with the start of COVID-19 vaccination rollout: Do I need to get vaccinated if I’ve already had the virus?

And the answer is: Yes.

Regardless of previous infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have had the COVID-19 virus should plan on getting vaccinated when it’s their turn.

“It’s a pretty straightforward question,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja. “Yes, you need to get vaccinated.”

After someone recovers, their immune system should keep them from getting sick again right away.

“Your immune system is able to identify the virus, and protect itself,” said Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how long this immunity lasts or how strong it is, though recent research suggests the protection could last for several months.

It’s impossible to know how long a person might be immune, said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “There’s no way to calculate that.”

Vaccines, by contrast, are designed to bring about a more consistent and optimal immune response. And they should boost whatever preexisting immunity a person might have from an infection, experts say.

“Since we’re in this pandemic, and don’t have a handle on it, the safer approach is to vaccinate,” Kulkarni said. “You don’t lose anything and you stand to benefit.”

If you’ve been infected in the last three months, the CDC says it’s OK to delay vaccination if you want to let others go first while supplies are limited.

“All things being equal you would want the person with no protection to go first,” Adalja said.

Study: Clinical, laboratory, and temporal predictors of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor candidates. Image Credit: Cryptographer / Shutterstock

Study predicts good passive immunotherapy donors to combat COVID-19

  • January 19, 2021

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), continues to spread worldwide. Since the virus first emerged in late-2019, over 95.55 million cases and more than 2 million deaths have been reported.

Study: Clinical, laboratory, and temporal predictors of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor candidates. Image Credit: Cryptographer / Shutterstock

Many countries have commenced targeted vaccination efforts to control the spread of the virus and immunize vulnerable groups. However, vaccine rollout may still lag behind ongoing infections, as fast-spreading new variants threaten many countries. Finding an effective therapy to help patients fight the infection remains crucial.

Passive immunotherapy treatment, wherein SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) from the plasma of recovered patients are administered to acutely sick patients, is a promising method for COVID-19 treatment in severe cases.

A team of researchers at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the National Institute of Health, USA, recently studied the neutralizing antibodies from patients recovering from COVID-19 to investigate which clinical factors predict good passive immunotherapy donors.

In the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the research team measured SARS-CoV-2-nAb titers in the plasma of 250 people with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Convalescent plasma

In the USA, convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients was approved under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 23, 2020. This mode of therapy uses antibody-containing blood from recovered individuals to help promote passive immunity in severely ill patients still battling the infection.

Blood donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19 is processed to remove blood cells, leaving behind the plasma and neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The plasma given to severely ill patients will help boost the body’s immune system. In a recent phase II clinical trial in Argentina, scientists found that convalescent plasma with high levels of neutralizing antibodies, particularly when given early in the infection, had a marked beneficial health impact.

Yet, not all SARS-CoV-2-infected people produce a strong neutralizing antibody response. Hence, convalescent plasma from donors should be screened for SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibody activity to make sure the recovered patients are suitable donors.

The study

In the current study, the researchers tested the serum of 250 potential convalescent plasma donors with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein S1 domain, nucleoprotein (NP), and for neutralizing antibodies.

The team found that among the participants, 97 percent were seropositive on one or more assays. About 60 percent of the donors had nAb titers. The correlates of higher nAb titer included old age, male, and severity of the illness. Also, patients with more severe COVID-19 symptoms, like the difficulty of breathing and fever, had higher levels of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Moreover, a longer period between the infection and antibody screening had decreased nAb titers. The study results showed that severe COVID-19 illness produces higher levels of antibodies than less severe illness. This also means that the neutralizing antibodies in the blood of recovered patients wane over time.

COVID-19 seems to be one of a group of infections where the sicker one is, and presumably the more virus and therefore the more antigen that is around, the higher the levels of antibody,” Dr. David Koelle of the Koelle Laboratory, University of Washington, said in a statement.

He explained that the potential cause of this discrepancy is that the immune system in people who had a severe illness, was not effective in stopping it. There is a probable temporal race between the proliferation of the virus and host adaptive immunity.

The researchers concluded that nAb titers correlated with disease severity, sex, and age. Also, they suggested that commercially available SARS-CoV-2 immunoglobulin G (IgG) results can become an alternative for nAb testing.

Functional nAb levels were found to decline and a small proportion of persons recovered from COVID-19 lack adaptive immune responses,” they added.

Source:

Journal reference:

‘Immune cop’: La Jolla scientists identify the lungs’ sensor that detects virus that causes COVID-19

‘Immune cop’: La Jolla scientists identify the lungs’ sensor that detects virus that causes COVID-19

  • January 18, 2021

Scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla say they have identified the sensor in human lungs that detects SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and signals the body to mount an antiviral response. The discovery may lead to improved treatment for those diagnosed with the disease.

The sensor in the lungs, called MDA-5, was found to be “the immune cop that’s tasked to keep an eye out for SARS-CoV-2 and call for backup,” said Sumit Chanda, director of the immunity and pathogenesis program at SBP and senior author of the study.

“MDA-5 recognizes replicating viruses in lung cells and activates interferon,” Chanda said. Interferon, a signaling protein released by cells in the immune system, is “the body’s own frontline defender against viral invasion,” he said.

Once activated, interferon “provides a broad alarm to cells in our body to reposition themselves into an antiviral state to better stave off infection of SARS-CoV-2 and primes the immune system to mount a vigorous response to viral infection,” Chanda said.

“Without a proper interferon response, viral infections can lead to deadly, out-of-control inflammatory reactions,” he said.

Before the study, it was known that activating interferon is key to a coordinated immune response to the virus, but the sentinel switch that controls the process, now revealed as MDA-5, was unknown.

Chanda’s study was published Jan. 12 in Cell Reports. It was co-authored by Xin Yin of SBP and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Paul De Jesus, Kristina Herbert, Laura Martin-Sancho, Yuan Pu, Laura Riva, Chih-Cheng Yang and Sunny Yoh of SBP; Jun Kanamune, Shimpei Gotoh and Yuki Yamamoto of Kyoto University; Kouji Sakai of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo; Judd Hultquist of Northwestern University; and Lisa Miorin and Adolfo Garcia-Sastre of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The study surveyed 16 viral RNA binding proteins in human lung epithelial cells and identified MDA-5 as the predominant sensor responsible for activating interferon. MDA-5 detects double-stranded viral RNA — a form the SARS-CoV-2 virus takes when it replicates to spread the infection.

“SARS-CoV-2 appears to disable the innate immune arm of our surveillance system,” Chanda said, “which in the case of SARS-CoV-2 is controlled by MDA-5 and prevents the activation of interferon. … Data suggests that we need this activity to control early stages of viral infection and avoid the worst outcomes of COVID-19.”

“Whether our bodies can defeat the virus’s offensive tactics and activate interferon greatly influences the severity of disease,” he said. “Past studies have shown that interferon responses are higher in patients with mild to moderate cases, compared to reduced levels in critically ill patients.”

Even as COVID-19 vaccine programs roll out across the globe, Chanda said “there is still a tremendous need to develop effective therapies for COVID-19 and to prepare for future outbreaks.”

“It’s possible that patients who become critically ill are deficient in the interferon signaling pathway,” he said. “From a therapy standpoint, finding ways to reinforce this response can lead to therapeutics that can help control early infection of SARS-CoV-2. This research opens new avenues toward therapies that enhance the MDA-5 signaling to boost interferon levels early in infection to prevent severe disease.”

The discovery also will “pave the way for even better and possibly longer-lasting vaccine protection through the development of what are called vaccine adjuvants,” which are added to a vaccine to boost immune response, he said. “The better a vaccine can model the events that occur during natural infection, the better the vaccines can be.”

The research has implications beyond COVID-19, Chanda said, because “several coronaviruses now appear to trigger this MDA-5 response.”

“Finding new therapeutics and vaccine adjuvants can help us battle future coronavirus outbreaks,” he said. ◆

Researchers develop new technique to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells

New technique may enable researchers to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells

  • January 13, 2021

Scientists from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have developed a technique that will enable researchers to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells that are capable of targeting viruses, cancer and other diseases.

The approach could increase scientists’ understanding of how these critical immune cells respond to a wide range of illnesses and advance the development of T cell therapies. This includes immunotherapies that aim to boost the function and quantity of cancer or virus-targeting T cells and therapies intended to regulate the activity of T cells that are overactive in autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the new method, called CLInt-Seq, combines and improves upon existing techniques to collect and genetically sequence rare T cells.

“T cells are critical for protecting the body against both infections and cancers,” said Pavlo Nesterenko, first author of the new paper and a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Owen Witte. “They’re both the effectors and organizers of the body’s adaptive immune response, which means they can be used as therapeutics and studying their dynamics can shed light on overall immune activity.”

T cells stand out from other immune cells because they are equipped with molecules on their surfaces called T-cell receptors that recognize fragments of foreign proteins called antigens.

Our bodies produce millions and millions of T cells per day and each of these cells has its own distinct set of receptors. Every T-cell receptor is capable of recognizing one specific antigen. One T-cell receptor might recognize an antigen from the virus that causes the common cold while another might recognize an antigen from breast cancer, for example.

When a T cell encounters an antigen its receptor recognizes, it springs to action, producing large numbers of copies of itself and instructing other parts of the immune system to attack cells bearing that antigen.

Researchers around the world are exploring methods to collect T cells with receptors targeting cancer or other illnesses like the SARS-CoV-2 virus from patients, expand those cells in the lab and then return this larger population of targeted T cells to patients to boost their immune response.

The problem is that in most populations of cells we have access to, whether it be from peripheral blood or samples taken from other parts of the human body, T cells with receptors of interest are found in very low numbers. Existing methods for capturing and identifying these T cells are labor-intensive and need improvement.”


Dr. Owen Witte, Senior Author and Founding Director, UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center

Part of the reason this process is inefficient is that when T cells recognize the antigen for which they have the corresponding receptor, they send out signals that prompt other cells nearby to partially activate.

“These so-called bystander cells are excited by the activity around them, but are not really capable of reacting to the antigen that provoked the immune response,” said Witte, who holds the presidential chair in developmental immunology in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and is a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When researchers attempt to isolate T cells with specific receptors using traditional methods, they end up capturing many of these bystander cells. CLInt-Seq alleviates this problem by incorporating a technique that enables researchers to distinguish T cells with receptors of interest from most bystander cells.

Isolating T cells with specific receptors is only the first step. In order for these isolated cells to be useful, they need to be analyzed using droplet-based mRNA sequencing, also known as Drop-seq, which can measure messenger RNA expression in thousands of individual cells at once.

“Once you know the sequence of a T-cell receptor of interest, you can use that information to develop therapies that either make more of that cell in the case of fighting cancer and viruses or introduce regulatory T cells with this receptor sequence to curb an overactive immune response in a given area,” Nesterenko said.

The process of isolating T cells with specific receptors requires that the cells’ contents are fixed in place using chemicals that form bonds between the proteins inside each cell and their surroundings – this technique is known as cross-linking. Unfortunately, cross-linking degrades the T cells’ RNA, which makes Drop-seq analysis very challenging. CLInt-Seq overcomes this hurdle by utilizing a method of cross-linking that is reversible and thus preserves the T cells’ RNA.

“The innovation of this system is that it combines an improved method that identifies T-cell receptors with more specificity with a chemical adaptation that makes this process compatible with droplet-based mRNA sequencing,” Witte said. “This addresses challenges at the heart of finding T-cell receptors for treating cancer and other diseases as well as viral infections – from acute viruses like the virus that causes COVID-19 to chronic viruses like Epstein Barr or herpes.”

Moving forward, the Witte lab is utilizing this technology to address a number of scientific questions, including identifying T-cell receptors that react to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and developing T-cell therapies for prostate cancer.

Source:

Journal reference:

Nesterenko, P.A., et al. (2021) Droplet-based mRNA sequencing of fixed and permeabilized cells by CLInt-seq allows for antigen-specific TCR cloning. PNAS. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2021190118.

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N.J. COVID vaccine: Should I get a coronavirus vaccine if I’ve already had the virus?

  • January 12, 2021

Here’s a question on the minds of many people as the coronavirus continues to spread and vaccines become more available: Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve had the virus?

Health experts say yes. Regardless of previous infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should plan on getting vaccinated when it’s their turn.

“It’s a pretty straightforward question,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja. “Yes, you need to get vaccinated.”

After someone recovers, their immune system should keep them from getting sick again right away.

“Your immune system is able to identify the virus, and protect itself,” said Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how long this immunity lasts or how strong it is, though recent research suggests the protection could last for several months.

It’s impossible to know how long a person might be immune, said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “There’s no way to calculate that.”

Vaccines, by contrast, are designed to bring about a more consistent and optimal immune response. And they should boost whatever preexisting immunity a person might have from an infection, experts say.

“Since we’re in this pandemic, and don’t have a handle on it, the safer approach is to vaccinate,” Kulkarni said. “You don’t lose anything and you stand to benefit.”

If you’ve been infected in the last three months, the CDC says it’s OK to delay vaccination if you want to let others go first while supplies are limited.

“All things being equal you would want the person with no protection to go first,” Adalja said.

In New Jersey, more than 214,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered as of Monday, according to Gov. Phil Murphy. The state plans to provide daily updates on the vaccination process under a new tab on the coronavirus dashboard.

The 214,000 number includes 199,293 first doses and 14,984 second doses.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.

The Day - Your stars May 31

The Day – Should you get a COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve had the virus?

  • January 12, 2021

Should you get a COVID-19 vaccine if you’ve had the virus?

Yes. Regardless of previous infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should plan on getting vaccinated when it’s their turn.

“It’s a pretty straightforward question,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja. “Yes, you need to get vaccinated.”

After someone recovers, their immune system should keep them from getting sick again right away.

“Your immune system is able to identify the virus, and protect itself,” said Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how long this immunity lasts or how strong it is, though recent research suggests the protection could last for several months.

It’s impossible to know how long a person might be immune, said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “There’s no way to calculate that.”

Vaccines, by contrast, are designed to bring about a more consistent and optimal immune response. And they should boost whatever preexisting immunity a person might have from an infection, experts say.

“Since we’re in this pandemic, and don’t have a handle on it, the safer approach is to vaccinate,” Kulkarni said. “You don’t lose anything and you stand to benefit.”

If you’ve been infected in the last three months, the CDC says it’s OK to delay vaccination if you want to let others go first while supplies are limited.

“All things being equal you would want the person with no protection to go first,” Adalja said.

Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I've had the virus?

Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve had the virus?

  • January 12, 2021

Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve had the virus?

Yes. Regardless of previous infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should plan on getting vaccinated when it’s their turn.

“It’s a pretty straightforward question,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja. “Yes, you need to get vaccinated.”

After someone recovers, their immune system should keep them from getting sick again right away.

“Your immune system is able to identify the virus, and protect itself,” said Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how long this immunity lasts or how strong it is, though recent research suggests the protection could last for several months.

It’s impossible to know how long a person might be immune, said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “There’s no way to calculate that.”

Vaccines, by contrast, are designed to bring about a more consistent and optimal immune response. And they should boost whatever preexisting immunity a person might have from an infection, experts say.

“Since we’re in this pandemic, and don’t have a handle on it, the safer approach is to vaccinate,” Kulkarni said. “You don’t lose anything and you stand to benefit.”

If you’ve been infected in the last three months, the CDC says it’s OK to delay vaccination if you want to let others go first while supplies are limited.

“All things being equal you would want the person with no protection to go first,” Adalja said.

___

The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: FactCheck@AP.org.

Read previous Viral Questions:

If I’ve already had the coronavirus, can I get it again?

How quickly do I need a second COVID-19 vaccine shot?

Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Researchers develop new technique to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells

Researchers develop new technique to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells

  • January 12, 2021

Scientists from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have developed a technique that will enable researchers to more efficiently isolate and identify rare T cells that are capable of targeting viruses, cancer and other diseases.

The approach could increase scientists’ understanding of how these critical immune cells respond to a wide range of illnesses and advance the development of T cell therapies. This includes immunotherapies that aim to boost the function and quantity of cancer or virus-targeting T cells and therapies intended to regulate the activity of T cells that are overactive in autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the new method, called CLInt-Seq, combines and improves upon existing techniques to collect and genetically sequence rare T cells.

“T cells are critical for protecting the body against both infections and cancers,” said Pavlo Nesterenko, first author of the new paper and a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Owen Witte. “They’re both the effectors and organizers of the body’s adaptive immune response, which means they can be used as therapeutics and studying their dynamics can shed light on overall immune activity.”

T cells stand out from other immune cells because they are equipped with molecules on their surfaces called T-cell receptors that recognize fragments of foreign proteins called antigens.

Our bodies produce millions and millions of T cells per day and each of these cells has its own distinct set of receptors. Every T-cell receptor is capable of recognizing one specific antigen. One T-cell receptor might recognize an antigen from the virus that causes the common cold while another might recognize an antigen from breast cancer, for example.

When a T cell encounters an antigen its receptor recognizes, it springs to action, producing large numbers of copies of itself and instructing other parts of the immune system to attack cells bearing that antigen.

Researchers around the world are exploring methods to collect T cells with receptors targeting cancer or other illnesses like the SARS-CoV-2 virus from patients, expand those cells in the lab and then return this larger population of targeted T cells to patients to boost their immune response.

The problem is that in most populations of cells we have access to, whether it be from peripheral blood or samples taken from other parts of the human body, T cells with receptors of interest are found in very low numbers. Existing methods for capturing and identifying these T cells are labor-intensive and need improvement.”


Dr. Owen Witte, Study Senior Author and Founding Director, Broad Stem Cell Research Center, University of California, Los Angeles

Part of the reason this process is inefficient is that when T cells recognize the antigen for which they have the corresponding receptor, they send out signals that prompt other cells nearby to partially activate.

“These so-called bystander cells are excited by the activity around them, but are not really capable of reacting to the antigen that provoked the immune response,” said Witte, who holds the presidential chair in developmental immunology in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and is a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When researchers attempt to isolate T cells with specific receptors using traditional methods, they end up capturing many of these bystander cells. CLInt-Seq alleviates this problem by incorporating a technique that enables researchers to distinguish T cells with receptors of interest from most bystander cells.

Isolating T cells with specific receptors is only the first step. In order for these isolated cells to be useful, they need to be analyzed using droplet-based mRNA sequencing, also known as Drop-seq, which can measure messenger RNA expression in thousands of individual cells at once.

“Once you know the sequence of a T-cell receptor of interest, you can use that information to develop therapies that either make more of that cell in the case of fighting cancer and viruses or introduce regulatory T cells with this receptor sequence to curb an overactive immune response in a given area,” Nesterenko said.

The process of isolating T cells with specific receptors requires that the cells’ contents are fixed in place using chemicals that form bonds between the proteins inside each cell and their surroundings – this technique is known as cross-linking. Unfortunately, cross-linking degrades the T cells’ RNA, which makes Drop-seq analysis very challenging. CLInt-Seq overcomes this hurdle by utilizing a method of cross-linking that is reversible and thus preserves the T cells’ RNA.

“The innovation of this system is that it combines an improved method that identifies T-cell receptors with more specificity with a chemical adaptation that makes this process compatible with droplet-based mRNA sequencing,” Witte said. “This addresses challenges at the heart of finding T-cell receptors for treating cancer and other diseases as well as viral infections – from acute viruses like the virus that causes COVID-19 to chronic viruses like Epstein Barr or herpes.”

Source:

Journal reference:

Nesterenko, P.A., et al. (2021) Droplet-based mRNA sequencing of fixed and permeabilized cells by CLInt-seq allows for antigen-specific TCR cloning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2021190118.

New studies indicate immunity to virus lasts at least 6-8 months after recovery

New studies indicate immunity to virus lasts at least 6-8 months after recovery

  • December 25, 2020

New studies are boosting assessments that immunity to COVID-19 lasts at least 6-8 months after recovery from the disease.

Research published in Science Immunology this week examined 25 patients recovering from the illness. Though antibodies — the immune system proteins that attack virus particles — began dropping in blood samples some 20 days after symptoms appeared, memory B cells that produce antibodies continued to rise in the blood for 150 days and remained high until the 240-day point. This signals subjects’ bodies were primed to fight off the virus for some eight months.

Meanwhile, researchers in two other studies found that people who made antibodies to the coronavirus were much less likely to test positive again for up to six months and maybe longer.

The results bode well for vaccines, which provoke the immune system to make antibodies.

Read: COVID-19 antibodies vanish fast. That doesn’t mean mass reinfection looms

A study published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine involved more than 12,500 health workers at Oxford University Hospitals in the United Kingdom. Among the 1,265 who had coronavirus antibodies at the outset, only two had positive results on tests to detect active infection in the following six months and neither developed symptoms.

That contrasts with the 11,364 workers who initially did not have antibodies; 223 of them tested positive for infection in the roughly six months that followed.

An image produced by US researchers shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (red), covering human bronchial cilia (blue), and mucus (yellow). (Ehre Lab, UNC School of Medicine)

A third study by the National Cancer Institute study involved more than 3 million people who had antibody tests from two private labs in the United States. Only 0.3% of those who initially had antibodies later tested positive for the coronavirus, compared with 3% of those who lacked such antibodies.

The results showed that people with antibodies from natural infections were “at much lower risk… on the order of the same kind of protection you’d get from an effective vaccine,” of getting the virus again, said Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the US National Cancer Institute.

“It’s very, very rare” to get reinfected, he said.

The institute’s study had nothing to do with cancer — many federal researchers have shifted to coronavirus work because of the pandemic.

“It’s very gratifying” to see that the Oxford researchers saw the same risk reduction — 10 times less likely to have a second infection if antibodies were present, Sharpless said.

His institute’s report was posted on a website scientists use to share research and is under review at a major medical journal.

The findings are “not a surprise … but it’s really reassuring because it tells people that immunity to the virus is common,” said Joshua Wolf, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis who had no role in either study.

“We don’t know how long-lasting this immunity is,” Wolf added. Cases of people getting COVID-19 more than once have been confirmed, so “people still need to protect themselves and others by preventing reinfection.”


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Hospitals still in "dire need" for convalescent plasma donations to help fight COVID-19

Hospitals still in “dire need” for convalescent plasma donations to help fight COVID-19

  • December 20, 2020

Despite vaccines for the COVID-19 virus rolling out across the U.S. this week, hospitals and healthcare facilities are still feverishly working to help patients suffering from the virus recover.

Convalescent plasma is just one treatment doctors have found that helps curb the severity of the COVID-19 virus and foster a quicker recovery in patients.

When a person gets sick, the body creates antibodies to fight the infection. People that have recovered, or “convalesced,” from COVID-19 are able to donate their plasma, which has these COVID-19 antibodies.

Research has shown when these antibodies are transfused into a person suffering from the virus, their immune system gets a boost, helping them to recover easier and quicker from the disease.

UCHealth began providing convalescent plasma to patients this past spring when cases of the virus began to surge.

“At the start of this pandemic, we thought giving convalescent plasma was a good idea, but now we have good evidence across the country that is reduces the risk of death by 20% up to 40%,” explained Steven Schuster, hematologist and medical director of oncology research for UCHealth. “This is a big deal and we are using more of it.”

Julie Christen donates convalescent plasma in April for COVID patients after she herself got the virus in March. She donated at UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Center in Fort Collins. (Photo courtesy Kati Blocker, UCHealth)

To date, more than 226 people have donated convalescent plasma, generating over 800 useable units.

Michelle and Doug Sogge of Greeley and their son Lee Sogge and daughter Morgan Sogge are just some of the people who were inspired to donate their convalescent plasma after contracting the virus.

Lee, who was first to contract the virus in mid-May, experienced mild symptoms and was able to recover quickly. However, Michelle and Doug got his the hardest with symptoms that included fatigue and shortness of breath. Michelle and Doug’s symptoms lasted for around 5 to six weeks.

“We kind of all knew what we had. We all showed similar symptoms and some different symptoms and some were sicker longer than others,” said Michelle Sogge, a nurse at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies. “My husband spent a couple of nights in the hospital so he was a little bit sicker longer.”

The Sogge family from left to right: Lee, Michelle, Morgan and Doug all were diagnosed with COVID-19. Lee and Doug Sogge donated their convalescent plasma to help other people suffering from the virus. (Photo courtesy Michelle Sogge)

Their daughter Morgan Sogge, a nurse with Banner Health, had no symptoms of the coronavirus and didn’t know she had contracted COVID-19 until she was tested for antibodies. Morgan Sogge has been working on the frontlines of the battle against the virus caring for patients.

“It’s been a roller coaster because starting out there were so many unknowns and we didn’t know how to fix it,” Morgan Sogge said. “Now this second go around, I feel that we have a little more answers and things to try, but it’s a touch and go process.”

With Michelle and Morgan both being nurses, they were aware of the concept and use of convalescent plasma in treating diseases.

All four of the Sogge family members decided to see if they were eligible to donate their plasma and contacted the UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Center in Fort Collins.

“We all wanted to do it,” Michelle Sogge said. “We thought it was a great way to help others.”

However, with Morgan showing no symptoms and Michelle being ruled out for other things, only Doug and Lee were eligible to donate. Between the two, they were able to make convalescent plasma donations four times.

“It’s a lot like giving blood really,” Doug Sogge explained. “ You are hooked up to a machine that draws your blood out, spins out the plasma and then pops the blood right back into you. It’s painless.”

While cases continue to rise, the number of people donating convalescent plasma isn’t increasing, said Kaitlin Zobel, donor recruiter at UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Centers.

“We are definitely at a critical need,” Zobel said. “We’ve been at a critical need for about two to three weeks since the surge has surged again. We are transfusing more weekly than we have ever before.”

People interested in donating convalescent plasma can fill out a short online form. Once their form has been submitted, a representative from the blood center will call them to collect a little more information and schedule a donation time.

FILE – In this Oct. 27, 2020, file photo, a tester prepares to administer a swab test at a drive-in COVID-19 testing site in Federal Heights, Colo. With Colorado experiencing its highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations, Gov. Jared Polis extended a statewide mask mandate for another 30 days and said state employees will work remotely through the end of November into December. Polis said Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, that Colorado has had more than 1,000 coronavirus patient hospitalizations over the past three days. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The process can take from 60 to 90 minutes the first time you donate, Zobel said.  Following donations could take less time.

To be eligible to donate convalescent plasma, you will need to meet eligibility requirements of:

  • A prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test
  • Complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days before the donation
  • Experienced symptoms within the past three months
  • Meet all requirements for a regular blood donation
  • Not have received a COVID-19 vaccination

Like with blood donations, donors are advised to eat a good meal and drink plenty of water — 8 to 16 ounces of water hourly— the day before and prior to their convalescent plasma donation, Zobel added. Water makes the veins “juicy” and well hydrated veins makes the donation process easier.

“There’s lots of misconceptions with fasting before giving blood and I think people mix that up with lab work,” Zobel said. “We definitely want to hone in on the fact that people should eat a really good meal before and have some calcium before like cheese or milk.”

People that donate their convalescent plasma should not have any fears about losing antibodies for themselves, Zobel said.

“There is no evidence that donating and giving up your antibodies means you are less immune,” she said. “So we want to make sure that is very clearly communicated with donors, especially with those who have a high concern.”

All usable plasma collected at the UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Center is used to treat patients across Colorado.

“It’s a little bit of a drive for some people, but there’s a big payoff for that drive,” Zobel said.

For more information on convalescent plasma donation, or to make an appointment for donation, go to http://bit.ly/3avtCRI or call the Garth Englund Blood Donation Center in Fort Collins at (970) 495-8987.

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