Are Some People Already Immune to COVID-19 Without Getting It or Receiving the Vaccine?

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

There are several factors that give some people resistance or even immunity to COVID-19 even though they’ve never had the virus or received the vaccine.

Now that many people have been fully vaccinated for months, there is discussion about just how long this will protect us from getting the virus, or at least getting deathly ill from it. Additional doses being offered to some 28 days after their second dose of a mRNA vaccine, and booster shots offered to others eight months after receiving the second dose of a mRNG vaccine are creating concern about how long the protection lasts.

There is also a great deal of interest in individuals who have some resistance to the virus or are actually immune to it. Medical researchers already recognized within months of the onset of the pandemic that there were certain people who were heavily exposed to COVID-19 but didn’t contract it. For example, health care providers working on the front lines with people who have the virus and are contagious or people who live with and care for a number of family members all of whom are ill with the virus but the individual is not.

In one study conducted in Ecuador, it was shown that 80 percent of participants recovering from the virus and 44 percent of unexposed participants had a strong COVID-19 virus-specific T-cell response. Researchers hypothesized that the high rate of T-cell response in unexposed subjects was likely due to previous exposure to coronaviruses associated with the common cold or other viral or microbial antigens. In the studies conducted examining T-cell response in individuals never exposed to COVID-19, the positive immune response rates ranged from 28 percent to 50 percent.

According to Russian scientist Areg Totolyan, head of the St. Petersburg Pasteur Institute, there are several reasons why some people are much less susceptible to contracting COVID-19 than most. His research has shown that there are three factors which contribute to decreases susceptibility to the COVID-19 virus.

First, people with elevated levels of interferon alpha neutralizes the viral particles that have yet to enter the cells. Second, a high concentration of lymphocytes in the blood which are the primary cells of the immune system helps fight off the viral cells recognizing them as foreign. Third, those who carry specific genetic markers found among the genes that are responsible for encoding the immune response in humans have increased protection against COVID-19.

According to Totolyan, there are a number of other factors that could contribute to immunity or lower susceptibility to the COVID-19 virus but he stated that research on them has just started.

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