Skip to main content

Immune memory and the coronavirus

The British Society for Immunology has partnered with the Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh to present a three-part animated series for public audiences on the human immune system and how immune memories form in response to infections like coronavirus.

The human immune system is remarkable and complex. Typically, the memory it forms in response to infection or vaccination helps to protect us against future disease. Immunologists study the details of how it functions – research that continues to change the way we prevent and treat existing and emerging diseases.

The following three-part series is intended to provide interested public audiences with an introductory overview, in the context of SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 infection and vaccines, to how the immune system works, how immune memories form, and what happens when immune memories fade or fail to form. If something in particular sparks your interest, there are links at the bottom of the page to other resources which focus on the topics mentioned.

The animations are narrated by Professor Donald Davidson, Chair of Host Defence & Inflammation Biology at the University of Edinburgh and BSI Public Engagement Secretary. They were produced by Dr Lana Woolford at Cloud Chamber Studios, an Edinburgh-based science animation company. Thank you to Dr Ryan Thwaites, Research Associate at Imperial College London and BSI member, for providing expert scientific advice.

The scientific content of the animations are accurate at the time of publishing in December 2020.

Part: Emergency response I


COVID-19 changed the world in 2020. Questions around testing, vaccines, treatments, who gets ill and who doesn't – these all relate to immune memory. Part I explains how your body's immune system works and what happens when we get a viral infection like coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

YouTube Video

Part II: How do cells remember?

What are T and B cells? Part II explains how your immune system remembers a previous infection to protect you, and how vaccines take advantage of this.  

YouTube Video

Part III: Why do immune systems forget?

Why does the span of immune memory change so much between different diseases and in different groups of people? Part III explains the different ways in which our immune systems can appear to 'forget'.

YouTube Video

Find out more

What roles do the different types of immune cell have?

BiteSized Immunology is a developing online resource designed to form a comprehensive guide to the immune system.

BiteSized immunology 

Supercytes is a game and learning resource from the Centre for Inflammation Research which explains the roles of different immune cells in the human body. Some have unique properties, and others have many different, dynamic and overlapping roles.

Supercytes cartoons

What happens during a COVID test?

Testing for COVID-19 can be informative and important for science, medicine and public health. But what does it mean for you?

Different types of COVID-19 tests and how they work

How are vaccines made?

Vaccines are made of water, the active ingredient, an adjuvant to stimulate the immune response, stabilisers, and traces of components used to make the vaccine. Our infographic explains the different ingredients found in vaccines.

What's in a vaccine?

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

In these videos, expert immunology scientists answer common COVID-19 vaccine questions and explore the details of when vaccines may become available, who will receive the vaccines, how long immunity might last to a vaccine, how herd immunity can protect us and lots more.

COVID-19 vaccine Q&As with immunology experts

Discover our new infographics about how genetic vaccines, including the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and viral vector vaccines, such as the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, work.

Types of vaccines for COVID-19

COVID-19 research at the Centre for Inflammation Research

The Centre for Inflammation Research is based within the Queen's Medical Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh. The centre specialises in researching the mechanisms and consequences of inflammation in the body, in health and illness. This research enhances our knowledge and informs the development of new diagnostic tools, treatments and preventative approaches to diseases.

Inflammation is one of the key hallmarks of the body's response to COVID-19. An effective and appropriate inflammatory response helps aid complete recovery. However, a poorly controlled, mistimed or inappropriate response can cause harm; resulting in lack of oxygen, fluid in the lungs and multiple organ failure.

Within the Centre for Inflammation Research, the STOPCOVID project aims to understand how coronavirus causes inflammation and what treatments could be used to stop a damaging response, and the ICECAP project studies what has happened to the body when a patient dies of COVID-19.

Special thanks to the following people for translating subtitles:

Gustavo Palacios - Spanish/Español

Sandrine Prost - French/Français

Samanta Mariani, Giulia Tagliavini and Cecilia Boz - Italian/Italiano

Annika Frede and Clara Kunst - German/Deutsche

This work was supported by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office through a Translational Clinical Studies grant (ref TCS/18/02).

Action Medical Research contributed funds to support public engagement work at the Centre for Inflammation Research (grant reference GN2703).

LifeArc provided £2m to the University of Edinburgh’s STOPCOVID project to support the development of new medicines for COVID-19.

UK Research and Innovation provided funding for the University of Edinburgh’s ICECAP project (grant reference MR/V028790/1).


Partnership logos for immune memory