Study reveals how our immune system reacts to COVID-19 variants

07 July 2021

Photograph by Janie Barrett, Sydney Morning Herald. 

A new study has revealed that those infected by early variants in 2020 produced sustained antibodies, however, these antibodies are not as effective against contemporary variants of the virus. Co-senior author Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot of the University of Sydney and Kids Neuroscience Centre, was part of a team that developed highly sensitive tools to measure antibody protection.

As profiled in the Sydney Morning Herald by Anna Patty, the research, published in the peer-reviewed health research journal PLOS Medicine, "has been touted as one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of the body’s own immune response against COVID-19". It suggests vaccination is more effective than the body's natural immune response following infection and shows the need to invest in new vaccine designs to keep pace with emerging COVID variants.

Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot,

We can learn a great deal from these people who were infected in the first wave in Australia, as they were infected with the same variant that our current vaccines are based on,” she said. “While the approved vaccines are showing good responses, our study highlights the importance of continued vaccine development, especially taking into account the differences in variants.

We think that vaccination gives a more homogeneous response compared with natural infection. But we haven’t tested vaccinated people in our study.

The study was made possible by a partnership between the University of SydneyKids Research, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Networkthe Kirby Institute at UNSW SydneyAustralian Red Cross LifebloodSt Vincent’s Hospital and NSW Health Pathology as well as other local and international collaborators.

Read the paper in PLOS Medicine here.

This work was supported by Snow Medical and various grants including two NSW Health COVID-19 Research Grants and multiple grants from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), among others. Refer to the paper for full details. Associate Professor Brilot has received honoraria from Biogen Idec and Merck Serono as an invited speaker. All other authors declare no competing interest. Ethics approval for this study was granted by St Vincent’s Hospital (2020/ETH00964) and Lifeblood (30042020) Research Ethics Committees.