Memory B cells persist for at least a year, and maybe longer, in people who were infected with the virus or were inoculated against it, new research suggests.
Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.
Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.
Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.
The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.
“The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.
The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds. But those viruses change significantly every few years, Dr. Hensley said. “The reason we get infected with common coronaviruses repetitively throughout life might have much more to do with variation of these viruses rather than immunity,” he said.
In fact, memory B cells produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and enhanced with vaccination are so potent that they thwart even variants of the virus, negating the need for boosters, according to Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who led the study on memory maturation.
“People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies,” Dr. Nussenzweig said. “I expect that they will last for a long time.”
The result may not apply to protection derived from vaccines alone, because immune memory is likely to be organized differently after immunization, compared with that following natural infection.
That means people who have not had Covid-19 and have been immunized may eventually need a booster shot, Dr. Nussenzweig said. “That’s the kind of thing that we will know very, very soon,” he said.
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