3 February 2021
Urgent research into immunity to COVID-19 following vaccination, coupled with a robust and widespread monitoring programme, are crucial to a safe and quick exit from the pandemic, according to an expert report published today by the British Society for Immunology’s taskforce on Immunology and COVID-19.
The immune system is extremely complex and there are many different potential routes whereby it can generate immunity to a disease post-infection or post-vaccination. Understanding the details of how will help to inform vaccine strategies in the future and provide us with a sustainable route to provide protection to people from COVID-19.
This new British Society for Immunology report analyses what we currently do and don’t understand about immunity to COVID-19, examining the effectiveness of the immune response, both following natural infection and after vaccination, as well as the difficulties in measuring immunity and determining its longevity. The report outlines four research recommendations to increase our understanding of how the immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 in different populations, with a particular focus on issues around monitoring for and responding to emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.
- 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 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.”
Notes for editors
This briefing note ‘Immunity and COVID-19’ has been produced by the British Society for Immunology’s taskforce on Immunology and COVID-19. The Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce is 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 15 leading immunologists in the taskforce have rapidly reviewed current research on immunity to COVID-19 and set out the key recommendations for future research. This expert group was established with The Academy of Medical Sciences in early April 2020 and it is chaired by Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters.
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The British Society for Immunology has also published a free ‘Guide to vaccinations for COVID-19’ for the public, aimed at providing easy to understand information on how vaccines work and answering common questions. It can be downloaded for free from our website.
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