3 February 2021
The British Society for Immunology has published a new expert report which rapidly reviews current research on immunity and COVID-19 and sets out the key recommendations for future research.
This report has been produced by our Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce, an expert advisory group that aims to identify the immunology research priorities to guide future studies and treatments and inform public health measures to control the Coronavirus spread.
The report aims to help researchers, funders and policymakers navigate existing research findings and focus future research on areas that will make the biggest difference to patients and society. The project has also been condensed into a question and answer blog, which is more accessible for those without a research background.
Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, Chair of the British Society for Immunology COVID-19 and Immunology taskforce, and Professor of Immunology at University of Surrey, said:
“Understanding what constitutes effective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is extremely important. It allows us to understand how individuals might be protected from COVID-19 after they have been sick with the disease. Understanding the intricate details of how immunity is generated following vaccination also helps us to design the most effective vaccination programme and develop more effective COVID-19 vaccines for the future.
“The research recommendations in this British Society for Immunology report clearly outline the next steps we need to take to uncover vital questions about the long-term protection from COVID-19 conferred by vaccines. It is only through detailed studies of how immunity is generated and a strong monitoring programme of vaccine-mediated immunity that we will be able to control the virus and exit the current pandemic.”
This review lays out what we do and don’t currently know about immunity to SARS-CoV-2 induced by vaccination and natural infection. This includes the effectiveness and longevity of the immune response in different individuals, the immune markers used to measure and track immunity, the importance of both understanding whether vaccines confer sterilising or protective immunity and of monitoring vaccine-mediated immunity against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.
The report outlines four research recommendations to help increase our knowledge of the immune system's response following COVID-19 vaccination and natural infection. A better understanding of the immunological protection to COVID-19 via research studies and proper surveillance protocols will ensure the UK comes out from the pandemic swiftly while minimising risks.
- To establish detailed studies of the immune response following COVID-19 vaccination and natural infection to identify how long immunity conferred by vaccination might last, how often booster vaccinations might be needed and to support the development of future vaccines.
- To use structural biology modelling to build our understanding of how potential mutations in the virus may affect infectiousness. If we can predict these, we can proactively develop vaccines to combat them before they arise.
- To implement ongoing, detailed monitoring of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that might emerge on a global scale and assess the level of protection that current COVID-19 vaccines might provide against these variants.
- To monitor how well the different COVID-19 vaccines work in different age groups to make sure that the right vaccines are given to the right patients.
Our huge thanks to all members of our Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce who gave their time to contribute to this work. To find out more about other BSI activities on Coronavirus, please visit our 'Connecting on Coronavirus' website section.