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Vaccination and natural infection give best protection against new COVID-19 strains, study finds

Experts say the combination improves the quality of consumers’ antibodies

COVID-19 virus breaking down
Photo (c) Jordan Siemens - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from UCLA explored the best ways for consumers to be protected against the new strains of COVID-19. According to their findings, a combination of previous COVID-19 infection and a COVID-19 vaccine was associated with the greatest protection from the virus

“The main message from our research is that someone who has had COVID and then gets vaccinated develops not only a boost in antibody amount, but also improved antibody quality – enhancing the ability of antibodies to act against variants,” said researcher Dr. Otto Yang. “This suggests that having repeated exposures to the spike protein allows the immune system to continue improving the antibodies if someone had COVID then been vaccinated.” 

Assessing antibody strength 

The researchers compared the antibody levels from 25 participants involved in the study: 15 people who were recently vaccinated – with no history of COVID-19 infection – and 10 people who hadn’t been vaccinated but had previously tested positive for COVID-19. The unvaccinated participants were vaccinated after a few months, and then the researchers compared their antibody levels again. 

Ultimately, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine helped all the participants produce antibodies that protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, that protection was amplified for those who had previously been infected with the virus. The antibodies these participants produced were stronger against every strain of COVID-19 the researchers tested.

It’s important to note that this study was performed prior to the emergence of different virus variants and consumers’ eligibility for booster shots. Because of this, the researchers believe more work is necessary to understand how protection against the virus will fare for consumers who haven’t been infected with COVID-19 but have received boosters. 

“Overall, our findings raise the possibility that resistance of SARS-CoV-2 variants to antibodies can be overcome by driving further maturation through continued antigenic exposure by vaccination, even if the vaccine does not deliver variant sequences,” the researchers wrote

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