An electron microscope image of the new strain of coronavirus. Courtesy of NIAID-RML

A new study by researchers at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology found nearly all COVID-19 survivors retain immune cells that can fight re-infection for at least eight months and likely longer.

The findings, based on analyses of blood samples from 188 COVID-19 patients, suggest that responses to the virus from the body’s immune system can last for at least eight months after the onset of symptoms from the initial infection.

“Our data suggest that the immune response is there—and it stays,” said Dr. Alessandro Sette, who co-led the study with Dr. Shane Crotty and Research Assistant Dr. Daniela Weiskopf.

“We measured antibodies, memory B cells, helper T cells and killer T cells all at the same time,” said Crotty. “As far as we know, this is the largest study ever, for any acute infection, that has measured all four of those components of immune memory.”

The findings, published in the Jan. 6 online edition of Science, mean that COVID-19 survivors could have protective immunity against the coronavirus for months and perhaps years after infection.

The team cautioned that protective immunity varies dramatically from person to person. People with weak immune system memory may be vulnerable to a case of recurrent COVID-19, or may be more likely to infect others.

“There are some people that are way down at the bottom of how much immune memory they have, and maybe those people are a lot more susceptible to reinfection,” said Crotty.

The researchers will continue to analyze samples from COVID-19 patients in the coming months and hope to track their responses 12 to 18 months after the onset of symptoms.

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is was founded in 1988 as an independent, nonprofit research organization with a goal of achieving life without disease.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.